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Jewish World Review June 14, 2000 /11 Sivan, 5760

Jonathan Tobin

Jonathan Tobin
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From Lebanon to Jerusalem

Israel prepares for one more round of major concessions -- IN JANE AUSTEN’S classic novel of manners, "Pride and Prejudice," the heroine’s father, Mr. Bennet, reacts to a particularly humiliating episode by wryly confessing to his daughter that, despite his shame, he will get over it, “and probably sooner than I should.”

Listening to Israeli officials explaining why their army’s skedaddle out of Lebanon was not really a humiliating defeat, you get the feeling that they, too, are following the lead of Austen’s character and getting over it — and sooner than they should.

Nations, like most individuals, are usually determined to think well of themselves. According to observers of Israeli public opinion, most Israelis have understandably decided that even a humiliating exit from Lebanon is better than an honorable extension of Israel’s involvement in that quagmire of sectarian strife.

If, in the process, many of Israel’s Lebanese Christian allies were either disgracefully left to the tender mercies of Hezbollah terrorists or washed up as penniless refugees on the shore of the Kinneret, most Israelis seem to think it was an acceptable trade-off for an end to Israeli casualties in Lebanon.

Then, there was last month’s equally appalling incident in which Palestinian Authority “police” fired on Israeli troops. It is of note that on the same day, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak was pushing through the Knesset a plan to hand over a Jerusalem suburb to the Palestinians.

He appeared to think everything was just fine. Putting a positive spin on disaster is something his government is turning into an art form.

The question is: What does this mean in the long term?

This week, I had the opportunity to discuss this question with Israel’s ambassador to the United States, David Ivry.

Ivry is a former commander of the Israeli Air Force and part of the generation of heroes who led Israel to victory in all of its previous wars. Today, the former pilot spends his time explaining the policies of the Barak administration to the U.S. government and American Jews.

“The ‘security zone’ didn’t provide security,” Ivry said. He believes that the “low-intensity conflict” in Lebanon against Hezbollah terrorists — who happen not to play by the same rules as Israel — could never be won by the Jewish state. Though the end of the security zone must be considered a “victory” for Hezbollah, Ivry hoped the end of the Lebanon debacle would strengthen Israel’s ability to deter Arab attacks.

“Time will give the answer,” he said. “Right now, we can’t say.”

As to the future, though Ivry said he does not buy into the idea that missile technology has made strategic depth obsolescent, he made it clear that Barak has not given up on his plan to make peace with Syria via a handover of the Golan Heights.

“For 33 years, we convinced you [Americans] that the Golan Heights is a strategic asset,” Ivry told me. “It is still a strategic asset. What we are saying now is that we are ready to give it up in return for long-term peace. We don’t have any illusions that we are going to have short-term peace. But the idea of peace without giving up the Golan is not realistic.”

Ironically, Ivry’s main task seems to be rationalizing a policy of across-the-board retreat. Credible Israeli sources are reporting that Israel’s negotiators in the final-status talks are considering giving the P.A. and its despotic leader, Yasser Arafat, up to 93 percent of the territories, forcing the evacuation of many Jewish settlements.

Even more shocking is the news that Barak’s negotiators are contemplating “sharing” Jerusalem with Arafat by allowing the P.A. leader to take “administrative control” of Arab neighborhoods in the city. That would effectively divide Israel’s capital.

When I asked Ivry about Jerusalem, it was the answer he didn’t give that confirmed the reports about Barak’s plans. In fact, the former Air Force chief gave no indication that he knew where his government’s chief pilot was intending to land the country.

When I pressed him as to whether the Barak government had any “red lines” in its negotiations with the Palestinians, rather than spouting the usual ringing rhetoric about Jerusalem’s unity, he declared: “I don’t know. That’s part of the negotiations. I cannot tell you what are the red lines ... Let’s give him [Barak] a chance.”

That lukewarm assurance explains why Barak’s Cabinet is in an uproar over the fact that they, too, are being kept in the dark about where the country is going. Last week, Interior Minister Natan Sharansky circulated an open letter to Barak in the Israeli press wanting to know if Barak was serious about dividing Jerusalem, while going almost all the way back to the June 1967 borders elsewhere.

This highlights the Achille’s heal of the Oslo process. By putting off the difficult issues like settlements, refugees and Jerusalem until the end, it created a dynamic whereby Israel was inevitably forced to give more and more merely to keep the process from blowing up. In the end, Arafat will take home more concessions than anyone would have dreamed possible seven years ago.

From Ivry’s point of view, a proposed referendum of Israeli voters on the final peace package will settle the issue once and for all and quiet the “extremists” who oppose Barak. “The people are going to decide,” said Ivry. “Sometimes, the extremists are louder than the majority in the center. I hope the referendum will expose this.”

That may well prove to be true. But it is interesting to note that the government of Israel is doing little to prepare its American supporters for the next round of concessions. Ivry is sufficiently impressed with American Jews and their prowess on Capitol Hill that he says we are the equivalent of a few Israel Defense Forces’ divisions.

But, as difficult as it has been to reverse decades of policy indoctrination on the Golan, it will take a lot more than a general’s pep talk to convince his American Jewish troops that “sharing” Jerusalem will enhance Israel’s security. As Ivry himself noted, Americans are talking more about Jerusalem’s future than anyone in Israel.

If Barak expects his American Jewish “divisions” to be mobilized effectively to support the final-status agreement — and help secure the American funds he requires to pay for them — then he must start paving the way now.

It is time for the Israeli government to tell us frankly which way it’s heading on Jerusalem and other issues. If it doesn’t, then David Ivry will find that his goal of creating a “united voice” on behalf of Israel will be rougher than any air mission he ever undertook.

JWR contributor Jonathan S. Tobin is executive editor of the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent. Let him know what you think by clicking here.

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© 2000, Jonathan Tobin