Etched in their minds

By Ze'ev B. Begin

The cafes are open, even those that were shattered to pieces. The shopping malls are packed with people, even the malls that were blown up. People take the bus to work and thousands of picnickers swarm to the nature sites. Couples are marrying, children are being born. The majority of the public agrees with the statements by Israel's defense ministers that the country's citizens are showing excellent resolve in the face of terrorism. That's not true.

The logic of terrorism is cruel but simple: inducing governments to change their positions by intimidating the citizens. Hence the yardstick by which to measure the effectiveness of terrorism. By that yardstick, there is only one conclusion to be drawn from the Israeli case: The terrorism perpetrated by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Hamas against Israel has been a very successful project.

For many years after 1967, Israeli governments and the majority of the public objected to negotiations with the PLO, opposed the establishment of an Arab state between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, supported the widening of Israel's borders to include parts of Samaria, Judea and the Gaza District, insisted on the application of Israel's sovereignty to greater Jerusalem, and were against the return of the Arab refugees into the State of Israel. Those positions have been eroded. Official negotiations with the PLO have been conducted for the past 10 years, the majority of the public does not oppose the establishment of an Arab state west of the Jordan and, moreover, the majority of the Jewish respondents in a March 1999 survey (conducted by Tel Aviv University's Steinmetz Center for Peace) thought that "the Palestinians' demand for an independent state is justified." So justified that last week the government, under Likud leadership, adopted a plan based on the vision of the establishment of an Arab state in the western Land of Israel.

On the Jerusalem question, the Israeli government in 2000 put forward an official proposal according to which the city would be divided and on the Temple Mount, Israel would make do with sovereignty over the subterranean section. Regarding the border issue, the public and its leadership - all the way to the far ends of the Israeli left - took a resolute position: The 1949 armistice lines demarcate the smallest territory to which Israel can agree. Not any more. By 1996, high-ranking officials in Israel suggested that the Gaza Strip be expanded at the expense of the Halutza area in the western Negev. A look at the map shows that in this area, the proposal is congruent with the United Nations' partition map of 1947.

So what's left? The last Zionist bastion: opposition to the return of Arab refugees to the State of Israel. However, the foundations of that bastion, too, are being undermined. In July, 2000, according to another survey by the Steinmetz Center, 22 percent of the Jewish respondents supported the idea "to allow 100,000 refugees to return to their former homes inside the Green Line, that is, within the State of Israel." In January, 2001, an Israeli cabinet minister and a member of the delegation to talks with the PLO at Taba put forward a proposal for "a just solution for the Palestinian refugees based on UN General Assembly Resolution 194, providing for their return" [emphasis added - Z.B.B.]. In April, 2003, 32 percent of the Jewish respondents in a survey agreed to the proposition that "a limited number of refugees will return to Israeli territory within the framework of family reunifications." Recently an Israeli jurist recommended (Haaretz, April 14, 2003, Hebrew edition) that Israel adopt the UN's proposed model for peace in Cyprus, which includes the return of refugees in a quota limited to 10 percent of the population that will absorb them. In the Israeli case, that would mean more than 500,000 refugees.

During this entire period, the basic positions of Hamas and the PLO remained intact. Not an iota has been changed. The Palestinian Covenant, which rejects the right of the Jews to maintain a Jewish state, has not been annulled, as the chairman of the Palestinian National Council, Salim Zaanoun, admitted in February, 2001. The demand to realize the refugees' right of return to their original homes within Israel continues to be put forward vehemently. The goal remains "Palestine, liberated and Arab," "from the river to the sea," or, in the words of the late moderate, Faisal Husseini, "We have to bring about the dissolution of the Zionist entity, gradually."

How did all this come to pass? How, in the face of the rigid and steadfast Arab stand, did the positions of the Israeli public and government move closer to some of the positions of the PLO and Hamas? Since two-thirds of the Jewish public repeatedly attributes to the Arabs the intention of destroying Israel, the explanation for this phenomenon does not lie in eruptions of good will or in a readiness to compromise in response to reported softening in the position of the enemy. Only one reason can account for that long-term change of positions: the pressure of terrorism.

The naive desire for "just a little respite" has been shown to be a powerful agent of erosion. The horrors of repeated murders intimidated the public and wore it down and induced Israel's governments to abandon their basic policy guidelines. The only consistent element in the Israeli position has been the constant retreat from its stated positions on issues that are critical to the country's future. Evidently, terrorism works.

Submission to violence, under the alluring slogan "Don't be just, be wise," is not only morally but also practically flawed. The distress signals sent out by Israel are received loud and clear in Gaza and Jenin, and are also correctly deciphered. The tactical dispute there does not override the logical conclusion of the leaders of the terrorist organizations that violence is drawing them closer, step by step, to the realization of their goals. That conclusion is not based on the wishful thinking of fired-up zealots, but on a chain of irrefutable facts. This is how any observer with eyes in his head would analyze the erasure of clear "red lines" and the dissolution of solid Israeli positions.

Successful projects are not terminated, and contrary to the rumor that was floated here about 60 years ago, our neighbors are not dumb. They can teach us the value of soumud - of clinging to one's land and one's goal. They adhere to Article 9 of the Palestinian Covenant, which asserts that: "Armed struggle is the only way to liberate Palestine. This is the overall strategy, not merely a tactical phase." They are watching and reading and learning and understanding. They know that the Jews want to live well. Now. From the knowledge they possess, which by now includes the economic explanations by members of the Israeli government for their decision to accept the "road map," despite their initial reluctance to do so, our neighbors conclude that in order to live well now, the Jews are ready to continue their retreat, both political and physical. Under these conditions the prospect for peace is not small. It is nil.

Our peace activists resemble generals. The latter are convinced that the campaign will be decided after they conquer just another hill, one more chunk of a commanding terrain, while the former are certain that they need just one more clandestine meeting in order to bring the ordeal to a happy end. Following the failure of the Camp David summit in July 2000, Israel's foreign minister stated that only four additional days were needed to reach an agreement with the PLO. In January, 2001, upon the failure of the Taba conference, he took a more sober approach: This time he declared that two weeks were missing to complete the task.

Neither two weeks nor two months nor two years - because after years of retreat, we have succeeded in etching the minds of the chiefs of the terrorist organizations with a simple awareness that is grounded in reality: Faced with force, ultimately, the Jews yield. Fourteen reservations? Red lines? For Israel? Come on.

The writer is a former minister and Likud MK.