IMRA'S COMMENTARY ON WITHDRAWAL

By Dr. Aaron Lerner

(Broadcast in English on June 18, 1998 in Jerusalem, and 97.3 FM throughout Israel - recording available on http://www.a7.org)

Much has been said about the impact on the ground of a 13 percent withdrawal: the isolated settlements, the creation of more safe havens for terrorists and, ultimately, the critical expansion of the areas which Arafat can try to include in a Palestinian state next May, at the end of the 5 year interim period.

All of these concerns are genuine and real. And yet, there are those who counsel that the withdrawal should be accepted as an inevitable fact and that instead of fighting the withdrawal, we should participate in trying to minimize the costs.

The irony is that months ago when Prime Minister Netanyahu asked the IDF to come up with a 13 percent withdrawal which would not hurt the settlements they came to the conclusion, after investing considerable time in the project, that it was impossible to carry out a 13 percent withdrawal without hurting the settlements. At the time I hoped that Netanyahu carried out the exercise so that he could prove to his critics that his objections to such a move were based on the cold hard unavoidable facts on the ground. Now I don't know.

And while I can assure you that if and when Netanyahu does announce a 13 percent withdrawal he will serve it with a healthy serving of misinformation, this won't protect him - and us - from one of the most serious consequences of such a move.

I have followed Netanyahu's technique from the front row seats of the Likud Central Committee meetings which he typically uses to launch major policy changes. The phony speech at the Cinerama after he returned from his first meeting with Arafat. The empty words about reciprocity at the Tel Aviv Exhibition Grounds before his cabinet approved the first withdrawal after Hebron. (That's right - many forget that after Hebron Netanyahu pushed through cabinet approval of a withdrawal without Palestinian compliance. The only reason the troops didn't move was that Arafat rejected it as too small.)

But all the canned music, all the party hacks, all the half truths and even temporary stock market surges, won't be able to change one critical effect of this capitulation: the loss of credibility in the eyes of Israel's supporters.

Since his election, a core of influential supporters in America - both columnists and politicians - have staked their professional reputations on the word of Binyamin Netanyahu. When he said "national security" they took it as the gospel truth. When Netanyahu said that a 13 percent withdrawal was simply impossible they wrote columns and made speeches and signed letters supporting his position and charging the Clinton Administration with endangering Israel's security.

When Netanyahu explained that Israel's insistence on Palestinian compliance was not a bargaining tactic but instead a genuine requirement for peace these friends of Israel spread the word in a way that Israel's own information program could never hope to.

Yes. A properly orchestrated domestic campaign with enough misinformation and disinformation can probably yield Netanyahu enough support to push a withdrawal through a public referendum. But none of this will stop that core of influential American supporters from turning their backs on Netanyahu. For while the domestic fog may comfort Netanyahu's coalition partners, these important supporters will know that they have been manipulated. That by accepting Netanyahu's claims at face value they themselves have damaged their own credibility.

It won't take long after such a withdrawal. A few weeks. At most a few months. And Netanyahu will find himself again having to explain to the world why the demand that Israel withdraw from "X" is unacceptable. How withdrawing from "X" compromises Israel's vital security interests. But those American columnists and legislators will think twice and three times before echoing Netanyahu's words. And without this critical support, Israel will find itself unable to offset Clinton's pressure with congressional support.

The withdrawal being debated today is not just another step down the Oslo path. It represents instead crossing what can be arguably called the last red line.

For once Netanyahu abandons what he has clearly and explicitly termed vital security interests, he will find it next to impossible to convince anyone that other security based territorial requirements - or for that matter any requirements - are genuine and non-negotiable.

Does Netanyahu realize this? I am sure he has been told this. But I don't know if he is listening. I can only hope, for our sakes and for the sakes of our children and future generations, that Binyamin Netanyahu has the sense and the will to look beyond the intrigues and machinations surrounding the interim withdrawal being considered today and soberly considers the potentially catastrophic costs which acquiescing on such a clearly stated security - based position would have in the not too distant future.

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Dr. Aaron Lerner is the Director of IMRA (Independent Media Review & Analysis)
POB 982 Kfar Sava
E-Mail : imra@netvision.net.il



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