Paper And Pandering

Aaron Lerner, 22 October, 1996

What is Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's goal in Hebron? To reach an agreement that, on paper, is palatable to his coalition, or one which comes to grips with the reality on the ground?

There are troubling signs that the former may be the case. And the most dangerous temptation for anyone dealing with the thorny issues of the Arab Israeli conflict is to ignore reality. Last week Mr. Netanyahu turned his back on reality when he told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that there is no proof of Arafat having given an order for his police to target and kill Israeli soldiers in the recent rioting.

It isn't a particularly convincing argument; not always in history has it been easy to provide documented evidence of the "smoking gun," in other words, of a leader directly ordering an illegal act. Arafat's incendiary rhetoric immediately before the rioting and his enthusiastic television and radio propaganda during the fighting helped sustain the outrage.

So why did Netanyahu say there was no evidence? Does he believe that or want to believe it or does he just want the nation to believe it?

If the former, one can at least take solace in the hope that the prime minister may be brought to his senses. But if the latter is the case, if Netanyahu is merely trying to weaken the opposition to dangerous concessions in the peace process, the situation is grave.

This approach of ignoring reality can be seen in the way Science Minister Benny Begin's frequent warnings are received at cabinet meetings. Rather than addressing the reams of material Begin brings to the meetings, Minister of Health Tzachi Hanegbi told a "Haaretz" reporter last week, "I only that the quotes Begin brings to cabinet meetings have less significance than he gives them."

"These children are all our children," proclaimed Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai when 50 Jewish kindergartners greeted him in Hebron on Sunday, "but we are talking of an era of peace." If the terms of the redeployment agreement take peace as a given, if they just assume that the Jews and Arabs of Hebron will live together in harmony and tranquillity, certainly there will be no security.

Just last week Palestinian negotiators warned that Palestinian soldiers would shoot any Israeli soldier who dared to cross into Arab Hebron. They have also made it clear that they have no intention of extraditing murderers, disarming militias or maintaining order if future talks go sour.

And when one considers that the Palestinian demands for a final arrangement - including such things as the division of Jerusalem and the return of refugees - would be unacceptable even to Meretz and Labor, there is every reason to expect that the talks will eventually reach an impasse.

There can only be one reasonable response to such a blunt warning as we have received from the Palestinian negotiators: Armed Palestinians must be barred from Hebron. Anything less is an invitation to disaster. Considering recent events, it is hardly an unreasonable "confidence building measure" demanded from the Palestinian side.

Hebron will serve as a watershed for the Netanyahu government.

If it accepts an agreement that looks good on paper but proves unworkable in the field the prime minister will have launched his government on the road to the abyss his supporters thought they had avoided when they got him elected last.

[Reprinted from The Jerusalem Post 10/22/96]

Dr. Aaron Lerner is an Associate of IMRA (Independent Media Review & Analysis)

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