I dispute the conventional wisdom that the debate over Palestinian statehood at the Likud Central Committee should never have taken place. For the sake of Israel’s national interests I am glad it did.
The humiliation of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon – who received a rousing hero’s welcome upon entering the hall – was regrettable and could have been avoided, as could the circus atmosphere and unseemly personality conflicts.
But despite this, with Labor government ministers now calling for the immediate establishment of a Palestinian state, it is very important and appropriate for the Likud party to reaffirm its opposition and to promote a public debate over the life-and-death ramifications of such a policy.
Israelis should count to 10 before mindlessly endorsing the ritual incantations being expressed here and abroad calling for the speedy establishment of a Palestinian state. They must not remain silent and be perceived as implicitly endorsing the Left’s simplistic view that unilateral territorial concessions and the creation of a Palestinian state will solve all of Israel’s problems.
With all the bloodshed we have endured these past months, should we rush headlong into endorsing yet another gamble for peace? Have we not punished ourselves enough these past nine years, burying our heads in the sand and refusing to face unpleasant realities? In the Likud Central Committee more than a week ago, Binyamin Netanyahu presented a powerful case for opposing a Palestinian state. He did this without trying to turn the clock back: His resolution did not signal that Greater Israel was on a comeback trail. Indeed, he repeatedly stressed that he was adamantly opposed to restoring Israeli rule over Arabs.
No responsible person can dismiss Netanyahu’s view that as of now, a Palestinian state could represent a very real existential threat to Israel. All we have to do is look back at our experiences with the Palestinians since the signing of the Oslo Accords. They have cynically breached every single agreement. Their rhetoric, backed up by terrorist acts, never deviated from the stated goal of destroying Israel. Why should one assume that in the near future Yasser Arafat – or one of his successors – would change this behavioral pattern?
We are encouraged to believe that the newly created state of Palestine will be democratic, and that we will receive iron-clad guarantees from the international community relating to our security. We are also assured that the “moderate” Arab states are going to exert a positive influence on the Palestinians.
Who are these moderates? The Saudi Arabian fundraisers for suicide bombers and their Syrian allies? Our Egyptian “friends”? And for security, are we expected to rely on the Europeans, who endorse United Nations resolutions justifying “armed resistance” and condemn us for defending ourselves? As for long term guarantees, the track record of all third parties – even our American friends – is appalling.
SHARON SHOULD welcome a Likud resolution demonstrating to the international community that his own party is fed up with the lies, the cheating, the terror, and the murders inflicted upon us by our Palestinian neighbors. They are sending a clear message that under the current circumstances, the conditions are not ripe for the establishment of a Palestinian state and that third-party guarantees are simply not adequate.
Indeed, after the Likud meeting, Sharon himself stated that the prerequisite to a Palestinian state would be a reformed entity based on the rule of law – a genuinely democratic state. It would require an agreement that we control the borders, airspace, and the right to limit alliances with foreign powers. Failing that, we could suddenly discover Iraqi or Iranian troops deployed on our doorstep.
The vast majority of Israelis do not seek a Greater Israel or wish to control the destiny of the Palestinians. Most desperately seek separation from the Palestinians, as long as it does not endanger their existence or encourage Palestinians to believe that Israel is fleeing in desperation. Most Israelis, including Netanyahu and many supporters of Likud, are not opposed to a Palestinian homeland. In fact, the gulf between the position presented by Sharon and that of Netanyahu is largely semantic: Both reject Palestinian sovereignty in the current climate. Netanyahu believes that outright rejection at the present moment is critical in order to convey the existential threat to Israel that a Palestinian state would present. However, few would doubt that in the event of a truly revolutionary change in Palestinian attitudes and behavior, Netanyahu – like most of us – would rethink his position.
Israel’s policies have never been set in stone. If and when we have neighbors reconciled to peaceful coexistence with us, we will reconsider our current stance. Until that time, we are obliged not to remain passive or silent while the international community sanctimoniously reiterates support for the immediate creation of a Palestinian state without taking our right to live in an environment of peace and security into account. Failure to publicly articulate our concerns now could result in our waking up one day to find ourselves confronted by an internationally sanctioned diktat to accept a Palestinian state lacking even the minimal elements required to ensure our security.
Sadly, a scenario for peaceful coexistence with the Palestinians is not yet on the horizon. It was therefore appropriate, indeed essential, for Likud as a political party that purports to represent national interests to reaffirm – loudly and clearly – its opposition to simplistic formulations for Palestinian sovereignty which could be a prescription for disaster.
The writer is senior vice president of the World Jewish Congress. e- mail: [email protected].