By Christopher Barder

It is scarcely worthy of comment per se that so far so much surrounding the Israeli elections has concerned matters of security policy. This, of course, is not unusual for Israeli politics. But what is particularly remarkable about it is that it is so little worthy of remark. Why should this nation have uppermost in its political debate matters concerning frontiers, safety for its citizens, threats to security, what is or is not safe? (And this almost ceaseless and continuous for 50 years, at that!)

Indeed, this issue may legitimately be taken further still. It should be a matter of the utmost concern that debate over what the borders of Israel should be exists in the context of Arab sensibilities. For this fact itself speaks volumes about the nature of relations with those whose long­standing hostility and track­record of aggressive endeavour still has a profound impact on Israeli politics and society. Thus when the late Yitzhak Rabin commented that one made peace with one's enemies, it was what is nowadays called a 'sound bite' but actually lacked truthful content. One cannot 'make peace'. It is not an objective reality to be made by one side. It cannot be readily and easily imposed by one side, although aggressive desires and intentions may be deterred. Nor indeed is it made with enemies. Rather it results from changes of heart that evidently have produced friendship that stands tests and withstands disagreement, and from this change of heart and attitude, from the steadfastness of this new­found friendliness, peace flows. Enemies must cease being so before the reality of peace can occur.

Trust, in international relations, as in any others, must be earned and also be seen to be well founded. If it is a matter of gambling then it is not firmly founded. It is plain enough that if good will needs purchasing, it cannot at the same time be genuine and bona fide. The dire fact of the matter is that Israeli politics reflect the need to try to buy Arab toleration and acceptance ­ of Israel's right to exist, and also even, of her de facto existence. Thus, as in no other country's case in the world, the degree of land to be surrendered in the process of trying to appease and buy acceptance is a determinant of the platform of political parties. The level of risk to be taken with citizens' lives has become an issue separating these parties, one from the other (hence the disgraceful oxymoron 'victims for peace' characterised one interpretation of the causes of Islamic murder). Willingness to trust the words of avowed enemies, hitherto absolutely undependable, marks off one set of voters from another.

Despite these realities, lurking and prominent, the disgraceful nature of them passes the rest of the so­called liberal, democratic world by. So the Israeli right is made to appear as if it does not really want peace and is morally corrupt for not accepting the idea of Arab good will ­ on which the DOP and Oslo accords are predicated. Since however not their school books and not their professional organisations, not their news media, nor their politicians, have even begun to speak or broadcast warmly or in friendly attitude concerning Israel, there are no grounds for accepting strategic weakening. But the Likud appears to have suffered a loss of identity and principles. It has suffered major figures departing. The new 'centre' parties are actually further to the left than Labour traditionally was before the 1992 elections and Israel's true safety is arguably less than at any time since 1973.

The left of centre 'Jerusalem Report' put on its cover page for October 12, 1998 '25 Years After the Yom Kippur War Could Israel Be Surprised Again?' Its finding was that to some extent the answer rested on the outcome of negotiations with the Palestinians. But it is not negotiations which make security, any more than pieces of paper do. Rather, it is changes in outlook and perception which make these worthwhile. So far no evidence exists to show either that the PLO leadership's 'constituency', or their own beliefs and statements, are at all different to what they were. Since the Palestine National Covenant was declared 'caduq' by Yasser Arafat in 1988, eleven years have changed nothing. President Clinton's attendance at the most recent pretence at advertising changes in the document still made no difference as the body was not the one cited in the Covenant as the one which could change it. The committee meeting ­ revealingly ­ about incitement cannot even agree on a definition.

Corruption and brutality in the PA governing regime, not to mention armaments smuggling, mean that Israel's neighbouring Arab entity reveals no trace of those qualities required in a neighbour. It adheres to the spirit and letter of agreements if at all with extreme reluctance, builds where it should not and tolerates car thefts continuously. Why should any of this tempt anyone to vote in favour of further concessions and transfer of assets? The persistence of Arafat is worthy of tribute, according to Shimon Peres recently, but his persistence is that of attitudes of violence, hatred and murder. That Israeli votes should involve acceptance of appeasement of dictatorial evil in the form of him and Hafez el­Assad is a tragedy. That, in the face of this, the Right needs to rally, unite and spell out the realities unequivocally should appear obvious. It is by no means clear that it does.

Benjamin Netanyahu has purported to seek 'reciprocity' from the PA. He has, however, continued the process of land surrender regardless. He knows the original accords were illegal in a number of ways but has set about declaring that he regards them as binding. He set out, perhaps, to make them work. That might, even if misguided, have been a noble objective. One reason his government fell was that some felt things (at Wye for example) had gone far enough. Can anyone seriously now think that the accords have worked? If so then there is nothing to fear for any Israeli choosing to shop in Nablus, Jenin, Ramallah, Kalkilya, Gaza or anywhere else. If that is not so, then the weakening and costs to Israel of continuing with the demands of Oslo remain pointless and the process should stop.

If in turn the matters of frontiers and security are so controversial and undetermined after nearly six years of the 'peace process' then it is time to say 'no more' and for all reasonable people to accept the unpalatable reality. It is to be hoped that the Israeli elections will reflect this sooner rather than later. Election platforms need to reflect truth and reality, not dreams which have already failed.

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