Essay: For a real Knesset debate

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Have we lost our minds? How else can one explain the curtain of silence which greeted the devastating press interviews by outgoing chief of General Staff Moshe Ya’alon?

Ya’alon predicted that:

* Current government policies might culminate in a new round of terror directed at the major population centers – including Tel Aviv – which could be inundated by suicide bombers and Kassam rockets.

* Even a retreat to the ’67 armistice lines will not achieve a settlement. The current Palestinian leadership will only be satisfied when Tel Aviv is conceded and Jewish sovereignty is ended.

* Mahmoud Abbas and Arafat are birds of a feather, and Abu Mazen’s determination to promote the Arab “right of return” is set in stone.

* About the two-state solution, Ya’alon says, “We have created a paradigm that generates an illusion.” A Palestinian state under the existing leadership would intensify the existential threat to Israel.

* The realization seeping into Palestinian consciousness that terror was harming their cause will be totally undermined by Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza. The “victorious” terrorists will be able to strengthen their argument that by continuing to kill our civilians they will ultimately overcome Israel’s will to resist.

The devastating Ya’alon scenario conveys the fear that by renewing our former delusions about having peace partners we are inviting a replay of the Oslo debacle.

The response to Ya’alon were murmurs that, having been prematurely retired, he has become a disgruntled and embittered has-been. Neither the prime minister nor his cabinet, or even the opposition, felt a need to respond.

This is outrageous. Moshe Ya’alon, who pleaded to deaf ears in successive governments to prepare for Arafat’s return to terror, is probably one of the most sophisticated strategic thinkers to ever head the IDF. More importantly, he was the principal architect of the highly successful military response to terror, demonstrating that contrary to the mantra of the bleeding hearts and capitulationists, terrorism can be significantly neutralized by resolute military responses. Ya’alon’s dual-track policies of proactive military initiatives – including targeted assassination – combined with the construction of the security fence have been fully vindicated, resulting in the reduction of terror to the lowest levels since the outbreak of Palestinian violence in 2000.

It was precisely when the terrorists were in disarray and reduced to their lowest level that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon stunned the nation with a call to “end the occupation,” followed by his announcement of unilateral disengagement. He struck a responsive chord with many Israelis who had concluded that settlements in areas surrounded by hostile Palestinians could not be sustained.

YET DESPITE this, General Ya’alon felt obliged to tell his prime minister that in his military estimation, the proposed unilateral disengagement is a prescription for disaster. An outraged Sharon, until then a staunch supporter of Ya’alon, responded by effectively sacking the military chief a year before Ya’alon’s retirement.

There are of course those who insist that Ya’alon was solely motivated by sour grapes. But unlike his predecessors, Ya’alon does not appear to be harboring political ambitions. He never had dreams of a Greater Israel. He is neither a religious Zionist nor a settler, nor right-wing. Indeed, Haaretz journalist Ari Shavit, who recently interviewed him, describes Ya’alon as an incorruptible man whose clean record no one could match, “a principled ascetic, honest and modest. An Israeli from another era; a man of truth.”

CAN THE only country in the world facing an existential threat simply ignore such a warning from the retiring head of its defense establishment? After hearing such views, are we willing to continue blindly trusting the policies promoted by our prime minister – policies which on the surface lack any long-term strategic content? Policies based on cliches like retaining “the united and eternally undivided capital of Jerusalem” and “no further withdrawals from the territories,” which even idiots recognize as cynical rhetoric?

After all, even Palestinian Civil Affairs Minister Muhammad Dahlan warned Israel that unless Palestinian demands are met, a third “intifada” is inevitable.

In a sense, one could say that Ya’alon has legitimized the Likud rebels. In the light of his public statements, it behooves those of Sharon’s Likud followers – who admit privately that they don’t understand where his policy is leading us – to set aside political expediency and act on behalf of the national interest by finding the courage to say what they really believe.

If the Knesset ignores Ya’alon’s cri de coeur that the House of Israel is in danger, history will judge our leaders harshly for failing to live up to their responsibilities during a time of crisis. After all, Ya’alon is not merely relating to unilateral disengagement; he is challenging the entire basis of our current policy.

I don’t know if Ya’alon is right. But when a man with his qualifications feels impelled to share such fears with the people, at least a full debate and review is warranted.

To expedite this, the time has come for Prime Minister Sharon to do what he has assiduously avoided: provide the Knesset and the nation with a comprehensive review of his intentions, including where his real endgame lies, and to subject himself to a full Knesset debate, which should lead to an informed discourse throughout the nation.

We stand once more at the crossroad, and need to make decisions that will have existential implications on our long-term future. Over 1,000 Israelis have already lost their lives. If the Knesset does not act now and conduct an informed debate on these issues, it would amount to a dereliction of responsibility, and history will condemn the leaders of Israel far more harshly than in the wake of the 1973 Yom Kippur War disaster.

End the silence. Start an enlightened debate.

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