The Ongoing Nightmare

By P. David Hornik

The legacy of Oslo is not just political damage but erosion of Zionist values.

WITH the end of the Rabin-Peres Oslo regime one has the sense of finally waking up from a nightmare. The only trouble is that many aspects of it refuse to go away. Before 1992, when the Labor coalition took office,a functional consensus that encompassed most of the Likud and something then still called the Labor "hawks" or "central stream" ensured that certain interests would be safeguarded.

In the brave new world we now face, an Israeli prime minister loath to give up the Golan Heights is portrayed by the Western countries, the Arab governments and the local media and opposition as an intransigent hawk pushing the region toward war.

Jerusalem, too - also once thought to be part of the "Israeli consensus" - is now very much at issue as the PA fights to entrench itself in the eastern part of the capital. Beyond these and other aspects of Israel's deteriorating geopolitical position, the Rabin-Peres government weakened and possibly destroyed certain fundamental Zionist-Israeli values, like antiterrorism. Israel, often in heroic contrast to other Western states, refused to accept the murderous ideology of terrorism or give in to terror itself. Today, little remains of that concept. Instead Israel has become the world's most dramatic appeaser of terrorism. By making a statesman out of Yasser Arafat - and the handshake between the PLO leader and an unenthusiastic Netanyahu set the seal on that - Israel signaled that terrorism does pay and will even reap a reward if the perpetrators persist in it for long enough. Israel's reward for this message was three years of the worst terror the state has ever known.

Settlement of the land is another basic value that united society and held great symbolic power. To be sure, beginning in 1967 debates raged over where to settle, who should settle, and why. But before Oslo a significant part of Labor was thought to be committed to settling some parts of the territories, and to Zionist settlement per se. As the reality of Oslo emerged, however, Labor-affiliated settlers in the Golan and the Jordan Valley learned that they were fodder, pawns, freiers.Today idealistic settlement is strictly associated with the national-religious sector. With the Labor movement's abandonment of settlement it has vanished as a value from secular Israeli society.

With the loss of the principles of antiterrorism and settlement, could army service be far behind? Undoubtedly, more general trends of materialism and hedonism made their contribution here. Still, every inquiry I have seen into the decline in willingness to serve cites the belief that "peace is around the corner" as a major factor. It could hardly be otherwise, considering that since 1993 Labor and Meretz have constantly beguiled the public with this seductive, poisonous message. Instead of saying what needs to be said - that life in the Middle East cannot be like life in America or Benelux, but that certain values make our perseverance here worthwhile - they encouraged every wish and fantasy of an easy, self-centered existence.

MOST fundamentally, the Rabin-Peres government damaged the most central Zionist value of all: independence. The main thing, after all, that is supposed to distinguish Israel from Diaspora Jewish communities is that it takes responsibility for its own fate rather than relying on the good graces of non-Jews.Yet at every turn the previous government sought to transfer responsibility for our well-being to others. The PLO was brought into Gaza and West Bank cities to protect us from terrorism; Norwegian observers were brought into Hebron; the great day was supposed to come when Israeli soldiers would be cleared off the Golan and replaced by American soldiers acting as our shield against Syria.

Where there had been self-reliance there would be peace treaties shored up by our distant, giant benefactor, America.

The political legacy of Oslo is that Israel is under intensifying pressure to make concessions that, not long ago, a large part of the Labor Party would have considered unacceptably dangerous. The ideological legacy is that values of antiterrorism, settlement, army service and independence have been damaged or even destroyed.

The new government's task is both to contain the political damage and to try and reverse the ideological erosion. So far it is working hard at the former while only just beginning to address the latter. (c) Jerusalem Post 1996

P. David Hornik is a Jerusalem writer and translator.

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