Machlokes / Controversy

Jewish World Review July 10, 1998 / 16 Tamuz, 5758

Is he
dead-wrong about
being dead-right?

By Gary Rosenblatt

THE LACK OF PROGRESS on the Israeli-Palestinian front is more than frustrating. Itís dangerous. The effects are often less than dramatic, but they are cumulative, as seen from a variety of disturbing events in recent days.

Over the weekend, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Jordanís King Hussein and Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasir Arafat met in Cairo, and issued a warning about the chances of violence in the area increasing if there is no forward movement in negotiations. This could be interpreted as empty saber rattling, but these are the three Arab leaders who have committed to resolving their differences with Israel peaceably, and they are clearly frustrated with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Put aside for a moment the question of whether it is fair to blame Netanyahu for the stalemate and let us simply acknowledge that there is almost no trust between the Israeli leader and Mubarak, King Hussein and Arafat.

If the basic premises still hold that the Mideast conflict must be resolved through direct negotiations and that the longer they are delayed the more dangerous the situation to all the parties, then we have plenty of reason to worry. There have been several flare-ups between Israelis and Palestinians in the last few days in Hebron and Gaza, any one of which could have led to large-scale violence. In Gaza, a 12-hour standoff between Israeli and Palestinian police, with guns pointed at each other, was resolved only through international diplomacy. But how long can the bullet be dodged?

In late September 1973, King Hussein flew in to Tel Aviv and held a secret meeting with Israeli leaders to warn that a war was imminent. Golda Meir, the prime minister at the time, did not believe him, instead relying on her own security people who concluded that the warning was a trick. Eleven days later, the Arabs launched the Yom Kippur War, which cost Israel more than 2,500 lives.

In recent days, King Hussein has been warning Israel that the situation in the territories is highly charged and could explode in violence at any time. Whatís different this time is that Israeli intelligence analysts are agreeing with the dire assessment, but Netanyahu does not seem to be taking these concerns seriously.

Even his closest advisers admit that they are unsure of Netanyahuís thinking. In the last several weeks he embraced the idea of a national referendum on redeployment, then dropped it. Similarly, he suggested a Madrid-style international conference, but that too came up empty. Critics insist that these are stalling tactics to suggest creativity and movement when there is neither. Defenders prefer to focus on the fact that it is the Palestinians who are the most serious offenders when it comes to non-compliance of the Oslo Accords.

What we have here is two parallel universes, with both Israel and the Palestinians insisting that they are the aggrieved party, pointing to the other as the cause for mistrust and inaction.

Washington is trying to appear even-handed, though it is clear that frustration with Netanyahu is running high. Its highly publicized proposal for redeployment follows Netanyahuís demand for quid-pro-quo guarantees from the Palestinians; the fact that Israel continues to delay is hurting its relationship with Washington in subtle ways. For example, the Clinton administrationís recent diplomatic overtures to Iran are worrisome to Israel, not only because they come at a time when Tehran is developing long-range missiles but because Jerusalem is being kept out of the loop in formulating a strategic policy. And at the United Nations, Washington did not seem to go out of its way to avert a resolution upgrading the Palestinian Authorityís observer status.

So the conclusion that Netanyahu is most to blame for the Mideast stalemate is taking its toll.

How can it be that this Israeli leader, who rose to his countryís highest office on the strength of his mastery of the media, manages to have a more negative image than one of the worldís deadliest terrorists?

In part this proves that, more than ever, historic memory is fleeting, and counts for almost nothing on the stage of current events. Arafatís bloody past is forgotten. Today he is perceived as the long-suffering leader of an oppressed people whose violent outbreaks are understood, if not condoned, by most world leaders.

Netanyahu can continue to harp away at Palestinian transgressions, scoring points with the right wing of his cabinet and constituency, or he can confront the reality that if he does not take a meaningful step forward, the situation can deteriorate into serious and prolonged violence. He should not make overtures to please the Palestinians, but to protect his own people, since he has always asserted that Israeli security is paramount.

Otherwise he will go on winning the battle -- in the sense of defying the U.S. and the Arabs -- but risk losing the war.

New JWR contributor Garry Rosenblatt is Publisher and Editor of the New York Jewish Week


©1998, Gary Rosenblatt