The media frenzy surrounding the lifting of the siege on Arafat and the mutual accusations being traded on the Israeli side of the fence have drowned out other sounds, no less important, accompanying this bizarre theatrical event.
The sound of the great sigh heaved by the whole country, for one, which may not have been heard with sufficient clarity by the outside world. In perfect unison, a silent prayer went up from the hearts of millions of Israelis: Blessed art Thou, who unravels Gordian knots - meaning the president of the United States, of course.
Every child in Israel understood that the IDF had ground to an embarrassing halt at the Muqata. It could neither swallow nor vomit. All around, the buildings had been pulverized before the eyes of the protesting world, but Arafat and his men remained in their last stronghold, safe and snug, eating the pita and wearing the underwear supplied fresh each morning by their besiegers.
Was the defining significance of the liberation properly reported and fully understood? The image of Arafat waving his "V" for victory was obviously easier to capture on camera than the (metaphorical) salutes by every politician in Israel when the U.S. president announced that an immediate halt to the siege was in America's vital interests. But the fact is, they did jump to attention, one and all. Even the most aggressive nationalists supported the decision to pack up and leave - because the siege bothered America.
Similarly, one wonders if the abrupt silence that suddenly befell the various Jewish and Christian lobbyists, those raucous choristers of the settler fan club, was adequately recorded or broadcast to the world. Not one of those loud mouths would dare to sound off when the White House determines that Israel is prejudicing the national security of the United States. Even the loudest among them understand that the security of the United States is the same thing as the security of Israel.
It is important that this pan-Israeli sigh of relief echo through the corridors of the U.S. administration and Congress. In it lies the great hope that one day soon, when Desert Storm II is over and Bush II tries yet again to impose a "new world order," the Muqata will be there as a precedent, if Washington is wise enough to invoke it. What happened at the Muqata - the IDF's invasion, in hot-blooded self-defense, its brutal and ultimately embarrassing stay there; and its eventual, redemptive exodus on the peremptory order of the protective superpower - all this could become the microcosm for the whole occupation and the longed-for day that we withdraw.
Because on our own, we will never extricate ourselves: Not with a peace accord, because Arafat rejected it, and not by unilateral withdrawal, because the settlers and their supporters are blocking the way. The lesson of the last two terrible years is that unless the United States pulls us out by the scruff of the neck, we will continue to wallow in the mire, our souls sullied by oppressing others, being killed and killing in return, quarreling amongst ourselves and growing progressively weaker.
America's national security interest in Israel's withdrawal from the territories is clear, and it will become even more so after the confrontation with Iraq. What has been proven on a small-scale in the Muqata affair is that for the U.S. to promote this interest - and in the bargain, save Israel in spite of itself - the American president must speak plain words to his own people, and to Israel and its friends. He must firmly state that Israeli occupation compromises the national interests of the United States.
To save Israel in spite of itself? Yes, this is a slogan once invented by people considered hostile to Israel, and adopting it today has its dangers. But by not adopting it, by persisting in the jingoistic clamor, Jewish and Christian, that is keeping Washington from taking resolute action in the region, the prospects that face Israel are immeasurably more dangerous.
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