In his timely work, The Firebugs, Swiss playwright Max Frisch tells the distressing story of Gottlieb Biedermann, a cautious businessman who contends with an epidemic of arson by implementing a deadly series of self-deceptions. Ultimately, Biedermann invites the arsonists into his home, lodges them, feeds them a sumptuous dinner, and even provides them withmatches. Not surprisingly, the play ends, for Biedermann, on an incendiary note. It also ends, predictably, with a pathetic and revolting disclaimer from an academic "expert" who has counseled appeasement all along.
There is an enormously important lesson here for present-day Israel. Faced with an epidemic of "arson" from militant Islamic terrorists, Jerusalem has responded exactly like the playwright's weak and foolish character. Asking the terrorists into Israel's very "home," because it believes that entreaty and capitulation are preferable to courage and struggle, the Government of Israel, too, is prepared even to help light the fuse. Pretending that Hamas and P.L.O. are truly distinct and discrete - a delusionary pretense that fits comfortably with the simple polarities favored by so many Israeli experts, professors and pundits - Messr. Peres now looks to his "Palestinian partners" for Israel's security and survival. It should come as a surprise to no one, therefore, that arson has become a growing problem for Israel.
To a significant extent, the terrible harm that has been done by Peres is done and cannot be undone. Indeed, by creating the conditions whereby each successive act of anti-Israel terrorism now compels the Government to reaffirm its commitment to the Peace Process, Peres has created a lose-lose scenario. Should he begin to back off from such explicit reaffirmations, all those who have set out to destroy the Process will have succeeded. Should they maintain such reaffirmations, the steady "progress" of the Process will ensure only escalating levels of terror, of fatal or near-fatal forms of "arson."
What, then, should be done? It is time to be frank! This Peace Process was destined to fail. Founded upon a series of false assumptions and incomprehensibly unreasonable expectations, it is leading Israel toward unprecedented disaster. Taken together with ongoing and still planned surrenders of vital territories to enemy states (yes, "enemy" states, regardless of linguistically formal "peace agreements" signed with Israel), further concessions to Hamas/P.L.O. will threaten the Third Temple itself.
If I am correct, and the well-publicized distinctions between Hamas and P.L.O. are essentially false - a deliberate contrivance of both groups designed to weaken Israel from within - then Jerusalem's "Palestinian partners" (the obscene term used by the Government Spokesman only minutes after the Tel-Aviv bus bombing) are already at the fuse. As long as the Peace Process is sustained, the P.L.O. will make it impossible for Israel to do what is needed to survive. If, on the other hand, I am wrong, and Hamas is truly separate in every way from P.L.O., the dangers of the Process may be just as serious. This is because, if I am wrong, a Palestinian state created by P.L.O. would inevitably be taken over and directed by Hamas or its Islamic equivalents. There is no way, in the current Middle East, that a secular Palestinian authority could endure. Either way, therefore, Israel loses.
Most likely, Hamas/P.L.O. offers Israel a "good cop/bad cop" routine. Cast as the good cop, Arafat and his P.L.O. promise to protect Israel if only the Jewish State offers them its confidences. With such an offering, Peres is instructed, the far more menacing Hamas can be kept safely at bay. It is an offer that Israel, imprisoned by the Peace Process, now can't refuse. Only later, when perhaps it is already too late to turn back, Peres will discover that the two cops were working together, that he has been "had."
None of this is meant to suggest that the two "cops" necessarily know that they are cooperating against their prisoner. There is nothing necessarily conspiratorial in their cooperation. For those who have already concluded that I am incorrect in this metaphor, kindly consider this: Hamas/P.L.O. cooperation can be just as injurious to Israel's survivalwhere it is tacit and unintentional as where it is explicit and deliberate. Even if Hamas and P.L.O. have very different agendas, and even if each terror group views the other as an authentic competitor, they may well recognize, openly or inadvertently, the overriding benefits of cooperation.
At the end of The Firebugs, in the closing moments of the play, as the sky reddens from fire, the all-too-familiar "professor," the expert, exclaims:
"I can no longer be silent. Cognizant of the events now transpiring, whose evil nature must be readily apparent, the undersigned submits to the authorities the subsequent statement../..../..(Amid the shrieking of sirens, he reads an involved statement, of which no one understands a word. Dogs howl. Bells ring. There is the scream of departing sirens and the crackling of flames. The Professor hands Biedermann a paper.) I disassociate myself!"
There is a very important lesson here for Israel. The Jewish State must cease immediately to arm the arsonists. The citizens of Israel should read immediately The Firebugs. This play should be required reading for all these citizens, and very, very soon!
LOUIS RENE BERES (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) is a Professor Department of Political Science, Purdue University happens to be a professor, but is assuredly not an "expert." He was also born in Switzerland, in Zurich, hometown of the playwright Max Frisch.