By Aaron Lerner

[November 19, 1998] I'll be frank with you. When I consider everything that has happened in recent days I get the feeling that we are in a free fall to disaster. The atmosphere is more like a hospice, where, at best, efforts are made to ease the pain, than an emergency room, where the situation is critical but at least there's a team at work trying to save situation.

Here are a few of the lows:

I heard NRP Minister of Transportation Shaul Yahalom explain in a radio interview that even if Netanyahu started tearing down settlements that he would support him since, after all, Barak would tear down more of them. We can take this line to any point: Sure Netanyahu is going to divide Jerusalem again, but if Barak did he wouldn't insure that Jews could pray at the Western Wall.

Speaking of Yahalom, I am far from convinced that he is an altruist. After the '96 elections Yahalom decided that the "NRP moderate niche" was good for his future and he set out to get a series of magazine articles on the theme. Now don't get me wrong, far be it for me to claim that other opinions have no place. And Yahalom has every right to hold his views and try to convince others to adopt them. But that isn't what Yahalom did. Instead he went out and labeled his political rivals within the national religious camp "extremists". This is not the language of debate.

This is the language of repression.

Netanyahu's reaction to Arafat's warning that he will use force, if necessary, to take control of eastern Jerusalem, marks another deterioration. Netanyahu's reaction was to orchestrate what appeared to be a retraction but really wasn't one. Yes, Arafat says he hopes to settle disputes with Israel via peaceful means, but that doesn't mean that he won't declare a state on May 4th. I discussed this with Marwan Kanafani, Arafat's spokesman, and he reiterated the Palestinian position that the terms and conditions of the five year interim agreement are just that - for five years.

And that five year period ends on May 4, 1999.

So what is Arafat saying? That he "hopes" it will be possible to settle issues with Israel via negotiations. And what if Netanyahu isn't willing to divide Jerusalem? I wasn't able to get an answer from Kanafani on that one because we had a bad cellular phone connection, but Marwan Barghouti, who heads Fatah in the West Bank, assured me that there was nothing to worry about. After all, a few years ago Netanyahu wasn't willing to withdraw even one percent!

Let's keep our eyes on the ball and not be impressed by Netanyahu's theatrics over minor disputes with Arafat. They may give the impression that he is being tough but its only window dressing. When it comes to the real issues, the issues which have ramifications also in the so-called "final status", Netanyahu is extremely soft.

Consider the weapons issue. Yes, the PA just issued a declaration banning illegal weapons. And they may even confiscate some arms. But, ultimately, the security threat which illegal weapons present to Israel by civilian held weapons is minor as compared to the security threat posed by illegal weapons held by the PA's own security forces.

Israeli intelligence reports that Arafat's army is already equipped with anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles as well as Katyushas and mortars. And this is before the airport opens in Gaza. There is an essentially wall to wall Israeli consensus that there cannot be a foreign army this side of the Jordan River equipped with these devices.

But Netanyahu failed to deliver on this issue at Wye. In fact, Arafat's spokesman told me that as far as he knows this wasn't even an issue at Wye. The only question apparently raised about official PA forces was the size of the police force, and that's easy enough to fudge.

I'll repeat it again for emphasis: everyone recognizes that Israel can't allow a Palestinian army equipped with missiles this side of the Jordan and that army is already here. Yet Netanyahu took no concrete steps now, when he still had cards to trade, to rectify the situation. What is going on? Today we are willing to sacrifice our security in the desperate hope that we will enjoy a few months of quiet in return.

This attitude of sacrificing the welfare of future generations for the sake of short-term gain runs counter to Jewish tradition. The story is told (Ta'anit, 23a) of Honi Hame'agel, the Jewish Rip Van Winkle, who saw an old man planting a carob tree. He asked the man why he was working so hard, since the tree would bear fruit only in 70 years. Replied the man: "I found a world with carobs because my forefathers planted them, and I say: I also plant a carob tree ... for my children after me."

We owe it to ourselves, to previous generations who sacrificed to much to get us here as well as to the unborn future generations, to resist the temptation to forfeit the future in return for what at best may be momentary relief. I say "at best" because its far from clear that we will even enjoy one day of respite as a result of Netanyahu's dangerous concessions.

These past weeks I have focused on criticizing the government. But that does not mean, by any stretch of the imagination, that I am satisfied with what the opposition has done. Labor MK Dalia Itzik is the exception which proves the rule. She studied the Wye Agreement and recognized that Netanyahu made dangerous concessions. But she didn't just lambaste Netanyahu on the floor of the Knesset along with her colleagues in the Labor Party. When the time came to vote, she refused to vote in favor of the deal.

Ehud Barak also believes that Netanyahu made dangerous concessions. Concessions which he himself would never have agreed to. But instead of doing the responsible thing he voted to support Wye, arguing that he was supporting "peace". But a bad deal is a bad deal is a bad deal.

Frankly speaking, I think that Barak is making the biggest mistake In his political career. If he were smart he could pass Netanyahu both on the Left - being up front about the concessions he is willing to make and on the Right by being clear and decisive about policy red lines which Netanyahu has crossed.

If you are looking for some temporary relief I suggest you read what some of the Palestinian intellectuals are saying about the situation. Edward Said, for example, upon seeing Jewish construction in and around Jerusalem, claimed that Israel had succeeded in its efforts to take claim to the city. He also is pessimistic about the large Israeli settlement blocs.

Yes. We are still stronger, bigger and strategically placed. We can move on from this. It is only a question of getting out of the hospice and back into the emergency room. Its up to each and every one of us to let the alternative leadership know that they aren't alone. I know that it's not easy, but when you consider how much worse our position will be in the future if we don't act, the time to act is now.


Dr. Aaron Lerner is the Director IMRA (Independent Media Review & Analysis).

 HOME  Maccabean  comments