Reprinted from The Jerusalem Post on March 30, 1999
SNAKES AND LADDERS
By Aaron Lerner
Theoretical ladders may play well with some of the Israeli electorate that seeks simple solutions to difficult problems. How did the philosopher get out of the slippery pit? He asserted that there was a ladder and climbed out.
These days such theoretical ladders abound. The European Union justified its declaration reaffirming "the continuing and unqualified Palestinian right to self-determination including the option of a state" by asserting that the EU "is convinced that the creation of a democratic, viable and peaceful sovereign Palestinian state would be the best guarantee of Israel's security." But the EU has no grounds to assume that such a state would be either democratic or peaceful.
As Yossi Sarid, an ardent supporter of a Palestinian state, declared (Ha'aretz March 23, 1995) "We have to recognize that the elections in the region are not democratic but I have not taken it upon myself to change the traditional Arab society."
Palestinians also don't share the EU's illusions about democracy. In late January, the Center for Palestine Research and Studies survey of Palestinian adults found only 35.5% rating the status of democracy and human rights under the Palestinian Authority (PA) as "good" or "better" (in contrast, 64.2% gave Israel that score).
As for "peaceful?" The situation among PA security forces has gotten so out of hand that LAW - the Palestinian Society for the Protection of Human rights and the Environment, called last week for the PA to disarm its security forces and issue weapons only to a "limited number of properly trained personnel" and then only "on occasions where such force is warranted.
"The carriage and ownership of firearms," LAW notes, "should be made illegal." Yes, many tens of thousands of weapons are out there. In March of 1995, then US secretary of state Warren Christopher demanded that Yasser Arafat immediately seize all private weapons inside the autonomy. At the time, according to Arafat's own report to the US, there were some 26,000 illegal weapons in the Gaza Strip alone. Nothing happened then and nothing has happened since.
THE EU assertion that the Palestinian state would be "peaceful" also assumes that the Arab-Israeli conflict would be resolved with the declaration of the Palestinian state. But that is not in the cards. Last Sunday, PA Minister of Planning and International Cooperation Nabil Shaath's interview in Le Monde wheeled out a favorite ladder of Oslo supporters, when he mentioned discussions he held with Yossi Beilin about declaring a Palestinian state with a land swap of no more than 5% of the West Bank which has Israeli settlements, for Israeli territory adjacent to the Gaza Strip. But as Shaath explained to Le Monde reporter Mouna Naim, the most difficult issues - including Jerusalem - would be left unresolved.
With the February CPRS poll finding 91.3% of Palestinians rejecting Jerusalem remaining Israel's unified capital and only 3.3% preferring the Israeli Left's proposal of having the Old City under joint sovereignty and the remainder of east Jerusalem under Palestinian sovereignty, the die is cast for conflict. So much for Beilin's ladder.
Perhaps the most prominent theoretical ladder this week was the Central Party platform. Sure the platform calls for "defendable borders, strengthening [Israel's] defense-technology strength, setting security arrangements that would foil the possibility of a surprise attack on Israel and a heavy price to states that would consider returning to the cycle of war." (Paragraph 9).
Yet for all those platitudes, the platform clearly has complete withdrawal from the Golan Heights in mind, mentioning "territorial compromise" for both parties and "no return to the 1967 lines" only within the context of final status with the Palestinians.
Ironically, the very week that Yitzhak Mordechai outlined a philosophy that relies on Israel's defense-technology edge to compensate for the withdrawal to less defendable borders, the Pentagon announced the F-16 sale to Israel with American, rather than the more appropriate Israeli ELTA radar. As defense minister, Mordechai failed to parlay his status as Clinton's favorite to include the ELTA radar in the package rather than the same US radar that the United Arab Emirates will be getting.
Last year the Israel Air Force's (IAF) fallback position, if it was stuck with American radar, was that the IAF should at least get its operating codes so that its key could be changed to prevent others from jamming it. Israel couldn't even achieve that minimum demand.
If Mordechai believes Israel should sacrifice strategic territory to satisfy the Arabs, yet declines to follow through on insisting, in practice, that the Jewish state retain its technological edge over America's Arab arms clients, I can only wonder what theoretical ladder he has left.
Such theoretical ladders may play well with some of the Israeli electorate that seeks simple solutions to difficult problems. But the State of Israel doesn't just deserve - its long-term survival requires - a direction firmly grounded in reality. Otherwise we will find ourselves stuck in an ever deepening pit.
(c) Jerusalem Post 1999
Aaron Lerner is director of Independent Media Review and Analysis.