Beware of a false dawn

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The impending war and its subsequent impact on the region makes it mandatory for leaders in the national camp to review their current policies and future strategies.

Over the past months our leaders have been reassuring Israelis that President George W. Bush would never impose a Palestinian state on Israel unless our basic security requirements had been met and the Palestinian Authority “reformed” itself. Israel was also told not to be too concerned with the Quartet’s road map, against which it had registered over 100 objections.

As a nation that has suffered more than its fair share of self-delusion, it is crucial that during these critical times we resist duping ourselves into heralding yet another false dawn. Take the following chilling scenario:

The Americans achieve a clear-cut military victory in Iraq. They decide to rebuild their bridges with the Europeans and the rest of the world. Britain’s Tony Blair, whose own political future remains at risk, pleads with Bush to impose a peace settlement in the Middle East and to do so in “an evenhanded” manner in conjunction with the Quartet. Bush stands by his loyal British ally and announces his determination to “end the cycle of violence” and achieve a Middle East peace settlement in which both partners are obliged to make sacrifices.

Arafat, who by now has fulfilled the Quartet’s requirement to “democratize” by appointing his deputy as prime minister, remains in effective control. Under his instructions the Palestinians effusively welcome the president’s statement and call on Israel to withdraw its forces and “end the occupation.” They also undertake “to do their best” to halt terrorism, especially within Israel proper.

Notwithstanding Israel’s “very close” relationship with the Americans, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer calls on the IDF to withdraw to pre-intifada positions, demands an immediate freeze on all settlements, and states that the time is now ripe for an immediate resumption of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon calls on President Bush and pleads that Israel cannot accept demands which amount to rewarding terrorism. He reminds the president that the Palestinians’ end goal remains the destruction of Israel and that they are still not willing to take the necessary steps to root out terrorism.

Sharon fails to persuade Bush, and Israel once again assumes the role of sacrificial lamb. The US suspends economic aid and threatens to impose economic sanctions. The Europeans, with great delight, institute a total boycott. A Palestinian state is enthusiastically endorsed by the international community.

A few years later we wake up one morning and learn that hostile forces are massing on our borders.

AN UGLY scenario indeed. And highly improbable. But utterly inconceivable?

No. In fact, in terms of previous cozy understandings or reliance upon friends, elements of this nightmare are deja vu.

To forestall such events Israel must initiate an international campaign outlining the security requirements Israel regards as crucial prerequisites before it can endorse a Palestinian state.

Israel needs to emphasize that its position is based on the Middle East policy speech delivered by Bush on June 24, which clearly makes Palestinian statehood conditional on prior democratic reform and implicitly endorses:

* The necessity of the Palestinians to explicitly announce an end to the conflict and forgo an Arab right of return.

* A Palestinian commitment to demilitarization, which Israel will supervise and enforce without reliance on third parties.

* Demonstration of Palestinian willingness and ability to control terror.

* An enforceable commitment to ensure that incitement against Jews in Palestinian schools, mosques and media will be suppressed.

Israel must remind its friends that this is not a conflict between two peoples over land. It is about the Arab rejection of our right to Jewish sovereignty in our homeland. It must also reiterate that the society Arafat has created is an evil entity which endorses child sacrifice, indoctrinates youngsters in schools and mosques and sanctifies as martyrs those who murder Jews.

However, Israel should be under no illusions.

We will lose this vital battle in the war of ideas if in the midst of such a campaign the government collapses as a consequence of squabbles within the national camp.

It is therefore high time and absolutely critical for the Right hard-liners in Likud as well as the NRP and National Union to become realistic, more pragmatic and flexible rather than dogmatically taking “principled” stands and isolating themselves from the mainstream into barren opposition roles.

Politics amounts to the art of the possible. Like it or not, the entire international community, including our only remaining friends, the Americans, is now fully committed to the establishment of a Palestinian state. And while most sane Israelis obviously oppose a Palestinian state under the current circumstances, it is also clear that in the context of a settlement, the vast majority of Israelis would be willing to endorse Palestinian statehood.

We now stand at a crucial crossroads. Those opposed to a Palestinian state under any circumstances must realize that no policy can be permanently engraved in stone.

Should a crisis erupt in our relations with the Americans, there is a vital need for the presence of representatives of the national camp to act as watchdogs in government against those willing to make compromises without adequate security safeguards.

If, after losing a battle, they retreat once again into opposition they will create a vacuum, paving the way for the formation of a government which could include unreconstructed Oslo apologists and other defeatists. Paradoxically, under these circumstances resignation from the government would amount to a prescription for accelerating the formation of a Palestinian state under the worst possible conditions.

We have an extraordinarily good case, which would be utterly undermined by the government’s collapse. If we can succeed in winning the hearts and minds of decent people and convince our American friends that we are fighting the same battle against Arab fundamentalism and international terror, Israel will overcome.

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