Despite the bitter loss of so many innocent lives in recent years, there is a feeling of deja vu as our leaders recycle the same blunders of the past.
We always attain peaks of popularity whenever we make unilateral concessions. So it was not surprising that Israel was showered with praise after the Gaza withdrawal. But regrettably, President Bush was simultaneously elevating Mahmoud Abbas to the category of a “decent” and “peace-loving” man despite his determination not to dismantle the terror infrastructure and his ongoing statements publicly sanctifying suicide bombers as “martyrs”.
What is even more disconcerting is that despite this brief interlude when the world is not demonizing us, we continue to undermine our credibility by shooting from the hip, making idle threats and proclaiming policies which are routinely retracted under pressure.
For example, Prime Minister Sharon boasted that the principal dividend of disengagement was a commitment by President Bush to support Israel’s retention of the major settlement blocs. He failed to mention that, predicated on a caveat that the Palestinians had to agree to such an arrangement, such support was somewhat meaningless.
Nevertheless, initially Sharon reiterated his commitment to develop Maale Adumim, the lynchpin of the settlement bloc adjacent to Jerusalem. He refused to suspend the expansion of building based on natural growth or the ongoing development of a Jewish populated corridor to link the settlement with Jerusalem, without which the capital will almost certainly be divided.
Condoleezza Rice responded by informing a Senate committee that “we told the Israelis in no uncertain terms that [this] would contravene American policy” and that Israeli activity in that area had already resulted in Washington deducting “some of the resources we provide to the Israelis as part of their loan guarantees”. Sharon immediately backed down.
Another example: Sharon announced he would prevent Hamas from participating in the Palestinian elections. But President Bush refused to support him, although his Administration would certainly have been outraged at a suggestion to allow Ba’ath or Al Qaeda parties to participate in the Iraqi elections.
In view of the growing recognition that it is a charade for the PA to present itself as a peaceful alternative to Hamas, perhaps the government should have hesitated before committing itself to such a policy. The Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, the official security arm of the PA, already hold joint press conferences in Gaza with Islamic Jihad, and recently proudly claimed credit for the brutal murder of the youngsters in Gush Etzion. More recently they publicly endorsed Iran’s call to eliminate Israel.
Abbas was shrewd enough to exploit Sharon’s consistent capitulation to American demands. So he went one step better, announcing that in lieu of disarming Hamas and other terror groups he would enroll them into the PA Security Force under “one gun”. The new body, designed to introduce law and order, would therefore include murderers and orchestrators of suicide bombings. To complete the circle, the Quartet had the chutzpa to ask Israel to provide the force with additional arms.
Then, “to strengthen Abbas,” the Americans urged us to release more terrorists whom the PA leader describes as “prisoners of freedom”. What can be more obscene than demanding the release of killers likely to resume their murderous activities in order to “strengthen” a regime which adamantly refuses to curtail terrorist activities? Not surprisingly, many of Israel’s most wanted terrorists today are former prisoners released prematurely for political considerations.
It gets worse. Despite the dastardly murder of the youngsters at a bus-stop by Abbas’s own military wing, President Bush, Condoleezza Rice and James Wolfensohn demand and pressure Israel to open its borders, allow freedom of movement of goods and people between and through the West Bank, Gaza and Israel, and enable Palestinians to work inside the Green Line. President Bush even went so far as to warn that Israel would be “held to account” for actions that negatively impacted on the quality of Palestinian lives. Amazingly, Sharon appears to have agreed to demands which unquestionably compromise our security.
It is all utterly bizarre. Could one hypothetically visualize a country like Belgium being pressured to display “restraint and greater flexibility” towards Luxemburg whose rulers refused to intervene to prevent terrorists operating on their soil from dispatching suicide bombers or directing rockets against Belgian civilians?
How does the Sharon Government reply to these outrageous demands which represent a prescription for additional Jewish funerals? By a curtain of silence, which creates the impression that the requests are not unreasonable. And our friends abroad, Jews and Gentiles, also remain silent because they cannot read our minds and do not wish to appear more extreme than the Israeli government itself.
What should we do? As the country now moves into election mode, we should call on our leaders to get their act together and begin a long overdue campaign to promote our case to the world. They should reiterate that we are willing to negotiate a final settlement including further territorial concessions based on reciprocity.
Our leaders should announce that unless the Palestinians close down their terror infrastructure within a prescribed time, the obligations imposed on us by the Quartet in relation to the Road Map will be considered null and void. They should announce that after the elections we will unilaterally initiate a gradual annexation of the major settlement blocs, beginning with those adjacent to Jerusalem.
We must also announce that in the absence of a curtailment of terror, Israel will adopt whatever additional measures are required to defend its civilian population, including increasing selective assassinations of terrorists.
Terrorist groups have already proclaimed that Kassam rockets will soon rain down on Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. We must state emphatically that for every rocket which lands on Israeli soil, instead of targeting empty fields, after warning residents, we will level those areas from which the rockets were launched. We can no longer wait for Jewish blood to flow before taking such steps. That may sound brutal, but safeguarding the lives of civilians is the primary obligation of any government.
As elections loom, we must press all candidates competing for political leadership to become engaged in the war of ideas. We should also demand that the Foreign Ministry reinstate closer ties between its Embassies and Israel’s most reliable ally, Diaspora Jewry, which has been sidelined by successive Israeli governments since the Oslo Accords.
Despite the failure of politicians in recent years to implement their proclaimed policies, the political upheavals we are undergoing may force a more focused political debate on the real issues facing the country. Israel remains a democracy and the determined application of “people power” could force the next government to avoid repeating the tragic blunders that cost so many innocent lives over the past decade.