Reprinted from The Jerusalem Post of September 3, 1998
If Netanyahu can cut a deal which ensures true peace and does not compromise Israeli interests, more power to him. But if he can't, he can be assured that the country is not pressing him with stopwatch in hand.
Some people are mourning what they see as the closing of the "window of opportunity to make peace." But the so-called "window" never really offered peace. Instead it provided ad hoc justifications for mindless concessions. For the "concede now" crowd, the fall of the USSR heralded a golden age. Israel could trade its ability to defend itself for guarantees from the world's only remaining superpower.
While Uncle Sam would ensure that Israel's neighbors would not try to take advantage of the Jewish state's lack of strategic depth, regional prosperity would neutralize the threat of the Islamic fundamentalists. The defeat of the Islamic fundamentalists through prosperity, even if possible, assumed a sufficient condition for such prosperity in the Middle East to be the resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
The world economy could go to hell in a basket, oil prices could plunge, but for some reason the "concede now" crowd didn't think it would matter. The economic shock waves now pulsating across the globe serve as a harsh reminder that the Middle East is anything but an insular economy. When Shimon Peres suggested that the best defense against Syria is a line of Syrian hotels he surely assumed that they would have a respectable occupancy rate.
"Concede now" advocates argued that the fall of the USSR would remove the supply of Soviet weapons systems from the equation. But the opposite has happened. The Russian arms industry continues to develop and market weapons systems which rival the West and arrangements have been made (with the help of, among others, the Saudis ) to renew supplies even to Syria, despite its much touted debts.
The fall of the Soviet Union has made the region that much more dangerous as a cash-hungry Russia offers previously restricted technology and know-how to anyone willing to pay for it. And that's just the officially sanctioned activity. The world now is witness to the transfer of material for non-conventional weapons by criminal elements taking advantage of the chaotic situation in Russia and the former constituent states.
To make matters even worse, Asiatic weapons suppliers are also more active than ever before. The CLINTON administration has demonstrated only too well its penchant to avoid fulfilling its leadership role. Revelations by former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter that US Secretary of State Albright has been responsible for blocking more critical inspections in Iraq than Saddam Hussein send a clear warning to anyone who advocates basing Israeli security on third-party supervision.
Despite these developments, as well as increasingly disturbing developments in the new Fatahlands, President Weizman, who claims to sense the pulse of the nation, essentially calls for peace (treaties) at any price. But that's not what the Israeli people think. They don't want Netanyahu to rush negotiations.
This week, for example, an IMRA-commissioned Gallup poll of Israeli Jews found that less than one-third support accelerating talks with the Palestinians in order to sign the agreements before Yasser Arafat's health forces him off the scene. Israelis don't have Oslo fantasies. While Oslo enthusiasts routinely claim that the overwhelming majority of Israelis support Oslo, the polls don't back the claim. Just this week a survey of Israeli Jews commissioned by Tel Aviv University's Steinmetz Center for Peace Research found that less than 42% support the Oslo agreement.
This should come as no surprise, considering that the survey found Israelis feel the peace process has hurt security, Jewish unity, the democratic nature of the country and even the economy. Israelis also strongly reject Palestinian demands, with only 20% supporting the removal of all or most settlements and less than 11% solidly supporting handing over eastern Jerusalem to Arafat even if that turns out to be the only thing preventing the completion of a peace treaty.
And they are realistic about the ramifications of their stand, with only about a third believing that Oslo will lead to peace in the coming years. In retrospect, the primary goal of Oslo, as explained by the late prime minister Rabin, has already been achieved, with 97% of the Palestinian population no longer subject to Israeli control over their daily lives. That is not what is on the table today.
Last week Prime Minister Netanyahu asserted that he would sign a treaty with either Syria or Arafat by the year 2000. If Mr. Netanyahu can cut a deal which ensures true peace and does not compromise Israeli interests, more power to him. But if he can't then he can be assured that, President Weizman notwithstanding, the country is not pressing him with stopwatch in hand.
(c) Jerusalem Post 1998
Dr. Aaron Lerner is director of Independent Media Review and Analysis.