Reprinted from The Jerusalem Post of March 7, 1997

THAT SENSE OF BEING A FREE PEOPLE

By Yisrael Harel


Binyamin Netanyahu has snapped the Right's spinal cord;
the national camp is in ideological paralysis.

Whatever Israel's final borders, the process we are embroiled in can only undermine our independence and destroy the inner force that drove us to achieve it. That precious sense of being a free people, as opposed to just another vassal state, is in real danger.

Netanyahu's dependency on President Clinton, his craving for Clinton's attention and support, call to mind another prime minister, Lebanon's Rafik Hariri. He's another one who doesn't make a move without a pilgrimage to the palace of his country's true leader, Hafez Assad. There he details his intentions and plans, and either gets the thumbs up, or doesn't. An unfair comparison? I admit it.

Lebanon didn't capitulate willingly. It was occupied by the Syrians, whose army now sits in Damascus dictating government policy. Netanyahu, on the other hand - the man who was propelled into office under the banner of firmness and national pride - is submitting quite easily to Clinton (whose pressure on him is nothing like Nixon's was on Rabin, or Bush's was on Shamir). What really matters to him are the dividends of power, and the notice and admiration of the media. Among the strategic assets he has received in return are photos of the president as babysitter, frolicking with Yair and Avner Netanyahu in the Oval Office.

PEOPLE close to Netanyahu at different stages of his career explain his lack of loyalty to ideology, declared beliefs, friends, party and family, by saying that his character is fundamentally flawed. Well, that flaw is showing itself now, and no experience in government will correct it. And the more political and social crises we face - and plenty are in store over the next few years - the more Netanyahu's character flaws will emerge.

Because of them, we could find our national existence in danger. Only a profound, fundamental flaw in the prime minister's character can explain the totally illogical way he behaves even when he isn't under pressure, when there is no political conflict involved.

Recent examples are the decision to give Roni Bar-On the attorney-generalship, other bizarre appointments to the Prime Minister's Office and to the team handling negotiations with the Palestinians, the ditching of worthy and stalwart associates and aides, and the hugs and superlatives showered on "friend" and "partner" Yasser Arafat, after Arafat incited the killing of IDF soldiers.

Then there are those utterly incomprehensible things Netanyahu said to US senators during his last visit to the US - which surprised Arafat himself - about it not being so significant if the Palestinian Covenant wasn't amended. (Just a few short months ago, the issue was "a matter of life or death.") Finally, there was Netanyahu's use of Tammany Hall tactics to neutralize his Likud opponents at the party's central committee meeting this week. Even people like Moshe Arens and Yitzhak Shamir, who paved Netanyahu's road to power, were silenced, and left the meeting angrily.

David Levy and Ariel Sharon are among those who, years back, warned about Netanyahu's deep character flaws; but not many in the right wing were prepared to listen. The Right's assessment that here was the charismatic candidate who could lead them to election victory outweighed any misgivings - but now people like Limor Livnat, Rafael Eitan and Zevulun Hammer are expressing those very same concerns, albeit behind closed doors.

Yes, ministers and MKs like Benny Begin and Ariel Sharon aren't sleeping very well these days. They lie awake worrying about what this man may bring down upon us.Yet they aren't doing anything useful, getting together with responsible Laborites, for example, and coming to an agreement about the closest possible date for new elections.

This is what must happen, before it is too late. All true Israeli patriots, Left or Right, religious or secular, must put aside all other considerations, particularly narrow political and personal ones. If they don't, they won't be able to make excuses later. They won't be able to say, "We weren't warned."

Yisrael Harel heads the Foreign Relations and World Jewish Organizations Committee of the Council of Jewish Residents of Judea, Samaria and Gaza.
(C) Jerusalem Post 1997


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