Sometimes I miss Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu. This happens when Prime Minister Ariel Sharon strikes again and again. The prevailing opinion, at least among the former left, whereby there is no one - and never has been anyone - worse than Netanyahu, does a certain injustice to the ninth prime minister of Israel, and does better by his replacement from the Likud, the 11th prime minister, Sharon, than he deserves.
The poor man's mite: Netanyahu upheld at least a provision or two of the agreements Israel signed with the Palestinians and even met with their leaders from time to time. Sharon, however, only shoots and kills them; jails them in a gigantic prison and rubs their noses in the dust; with a shocking lack of humanity, wreaks havoc with their women who are about to give birth and their sick people; is responsible for a growing number of war crimes; endangers the region more than all his predecessors; and is rolling Israel down an unprecedented, slippery slope.
The worst days of Netanyahu were better than the best days of Sharon. It is difficult, therefore, to understand why the hatred of Netanyahu in its day swelled to far more immense proportions than that now directed at Sharon, a far greater warmonger than his predecessor. The almost primordial fear that grips certain circles at the possibility of Netanyahu's return is unreasonable relative to the current situation. How much worse can the return of Netanyahu be than the continuation of Sharon? How much worse can times be than the present, under the unholy trinity of Sharon, Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer and Chief of Staff Shaul Mofaz?
Netanyahu was a very bad prime minister, unworthy of the full force of the demonization of him. Sharon is a horrifying prime minister, unworthy of even a pinch of the forgiveness and legitimization he enjoys. Netanyahu was bad for peace, Sharon is a hundred times worse. Judging by the test of results, Sharon is responsible for far more bloodshed than Netanyahu, and there is more to come. And another grain of comfort: In Netanyahu's day, there was at least the semblance of a peace camp or a political left; in Sharon's time, after the days of Ehud Barak, the left is shattered and not a trace of it remains.
Netanyahu has now reissued his book that he first published in 1996. Its topic - could it be otherwise? - is the war against terror. It is hard to get to the bottom of how Netanyahu became an international expert on his own behalf on matters of terror, of all things. Perhaps it is once again the fact that his mythic brother was killed in an action to free victims of terror. But in our country, there are several more bereaved brothers who lost their dear ones in terrorist actions. Does this qualify them to be experts on terror? Or is it the international institute that bears his brother's name that qualifies him? Or perhaps it was his military service in that unit that is sufficient to turn a person into an international expert on terror? Ehud Yatom also served in that unit, and look what has become of him. And Ehud Barak also served in that unit, and where is he now?
As prime minister, in any case, Netanyahu did not come across as a great expert on the war against terror: Terror was here before he became prime minister, and while he was prime minister, and it continues to be here afterward. A thousand (Yoni) Netanyahu institutes and a hundred books by (Benjamin) Netanyahu will not put an end to terror as long as no one is dealing with its causes, reasons and roots, from which Netanyahu flees as if from fire, in this book as well. Therefore, this book is not of much value.
This is a book that was written for Americans, and no doubt they will know how to evaluate it differently. They will love to read banal distinctions, such as the one between "passive security" and "active security," and will be delighted to hear about Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat's connections with Cuban President Fidel Castro, another person they perceive as the enemy of humanity. Like Netanyahu, they too do not take much interest in the roots of the terrible hatred toward them. Its existence is enough for them, along with their heavy bombers and their smart bombs, which kill children, to wipe it out.
This is a guide to war on terror like other guides in the American bookcase, like how to travel the world on a dollar a day, how to grow a garden without soil, how to love your wife. An almanac for the war on terror, the author of which is trying to persuade readers that if only they follow his advice - to kill, to bomb, to freeze bank accounts, to boycott, to shun and to arrest - terror will come to an end.
What about the occupation?
In the world after September 11, this book has a good chance. United States President George W. Bush will love the advice it dispenses. Netanyahu is convinced that because of this book, the Americans have been taking the steps he recommends.
His first recommendation - democracy. In Netanyahu's eyes, this has been good for peace and for war for years. The fact that some of the greatest injustices in the word today are being committed by two democracies, the United States and Israel, escapes him. He should ask the Palestinians and the Afghanis.
The high-flown talk of the values of democracy, like that in the enlightened countries of Israel and the U.S., as opposed to the failed, evil, black world, is what gives rise to the terror that is disturbing the Western world's afternoon nap. He writes that the intellectual defense batteries of a free society, like all the foundations of liberty, must be ceaselessly reinforced. The constant development of democratic values is an essential condition for the intellectual defense against the powerful attraction of terror. He goes on to say that this means, above all, that it is necessary to nurture the idea that the essence of the nature of democracies, which distinguishes them from dictatorial regimes, is the commitment to resolve conflicts in nonviolent ways and to solve problems through reasoning and debate, and if the problem is of supreme importance - by the ballot, and not with weapons.
Sublime words indeed, but what about the occupation? Is Israel really a "democratic society" as long as it controls three million people who are living under its cruel occupation? And what "ballot" can they, those who have been occupied by democratic Israel, use at a time when even their sick cannot get to the nearest hospital?
Israel, it must be said here, has left only one way open to the Palestinians and this is the way of violence. Without F-15s and Merkava tanks, they are left, horrifically, only with terror. But Netanyahu has an answer to this as well: Nothing, but nothing, justifies terror.
He writes that the fact, which must be stressed again and again, is obvious to everyone that nothing justifies terror, that terror is inherently evil, and that the various reasons, real and imagined, that the terrorist offer to justify their deeds have no significance. Furthermore, he adds, in the long march, which has not yet ended, from barbarism to civilization, humanity has tried to set limits to conflicts. It has legislated laws of war that prohibit attacks directed at defenseless civilians even during times of war. Without this restriction, he says, there is no meaning to the term "war crimes." If everything is permissible, states Netanyahu, the killing of a million children in the gas chambers at Auschwitz and Dachau is also permitted.
Bravo. Both the "purity of arms" and the mention of the Holocaust, the two of them on one ticket. It is possible and necessary to agree with the things Netanyahu has said here; it would only take a bit of honesty to realize them in the case of Israel. For what is terror? And who is a terrorist? Is not an army that uses tanks to prevent women who are about to give birth from getting to a hospital, and whose babies are born straight into their death, as has happened not once and not twice during the past year - and are not exceptional cases in any way - a terror-army? Is not demolishing hundreds of civilian homes, with all their meager property, also an act of terror? And what about shooting rockets into streets? And wholesale "eliminations"? And the siege?
How can this terror be wiped out? Hasn't the international community decided clearly and firmly in the Geneva Convention what war crimes are? For example, the Jewish settlements in the territories. So, where is Israel in what Netanyahu calls the long march, which has not yet ended, from barbarism to civilization?
Always right, always moral
And another bit of infuriating self-righteousness: The taking of strong steps against terror, Netanyahu says, has not led to any significant or prolonged damage to civil liberties in any democratic state. Indeed?? There is one of three possibilities: Either Israel is not a democracy, or the damage to the Palestinians in the context of the war against terror is not damage, or their oppression has nothing to do with the war on terror. If not, how can the contradiction be resolved?
Possibly, as in other instances: Israel is something different. We are always right, always moral, always allowed to to whatever we do under any conditions, and we must not apply the world's conditions to ourselves, chosen and selected as we are.
A light unto the nations, as Netanyahu describes it: In the military field, he says, Israel has served as a model for the uncompromising struggle against terror. He explains that the refusal of the various governments of Israel, one after the other, to submit to the demands of terrorists - a refusal that has been manifested in repeated attacks by Israeli forces on terrorists who have held hostages, from Ma'alot to Entebbe - and Israel's policy of hunting down terrorists in their lairs, have proved to other states that it is possible to combat terror.
This is heartening. And what, it is nevertheless necessary to ask, has come of all these attacks and the hunting down of terrorists in their lairs? Only more and more terror. There is no other country so beset by terror as ours. Heaven forbid that other countries follow in our footsteps. This is a nightmarish guide, and in this too, the Netanyahu guidebook has failed.
It is a bit embarrassing, as we have already said, how the author of this book has set himself up at the center of world affairs, how George Schultz said to him that former president Ronald Reagan had read his previous book on the way to some international conference on terror in Tokyo. Schultz said that the president had praised the book. And how Time magazine had copied an article of his from the book, as he put it, and how key people in the American administration have all read it, and how advisor Charlie Hill told Netanyahu that they acted according to his advice and the results were positive.
And Netanyahu the Middle East specialist: The believers in extremist Islam and pan-Arabism, he says, do not hate the West because of Israel. Rather, he states, they hate Israel because of the West. OK. But maybe they hate Israel because of the occupation, and because of 1948 and because of 1967 and because of all the years since then, because of the robbery and because of the humiliation and because of the torture of their brothers? Does this not influence their hatred?
The 1967 borders, says Netanyahu, are "grounds for instability." And what about the present borders? The cradle of stability? The foundations of peace? Because Netanyahu is like that - cliche after cliche, baseless and false, like pure olive oil in the ears of the Americans and some Israelis, and to hell with the reality.
Two developments are threatening the world, according to Netanyahu: the establishment of the Islamic Republic in Iran and the establishment of the Palestinian Authority. To that extent! Arafat himself, says Netanyahu, has contributed more to the spread of international terror than any other person, in a fine display of Israeli spin, not to say cheap propaganda. And it is only the Israeli occupation that ensures peace in the world, from one end of it to the other. The cockles of the heart also warm at what is defined as Israel's ambitious efforts to eliminate the refugee camps [Gaza - G.L.] and to move the inhabitants to permanent housing.
Oh humane Israel, the kind and the merciful, that solves the problems of the refugees and builds housing projects in Gaza. And where is the destructive Israel? What about the destruction it wreaks there to this very day? And what about the moral responsibility for the fact of them being refugees? Let us not be pedantic about trivial things. Gaza, after all, was "liberated" in the Six-Day War, as Netanyahu puts it, and the suicide bombers, he writes, are mostly unfortunate, disturbed individuals who have not been absorbed in society. What society and what disturbed individuals? Hasn't Netanyahu heard of despair? Of people who really do have nothing to lose? Who have nothing to get up for in the morning?
The world as a whole, writes Netanyahu, will need quite some time to understand what many Israelis already understand now: Not only does the unlimited expansion of armed and independent Palestinian territories not lead to the lasting peace for which all Israelis wish, but such a development is only a springboard to further escalation of the conflict and the continuation of the march of militant Islam in the Middle East and elsewhere.
Is that so? And what is the alternative that Netanyahu proposes? Annexation? More Jewish settlements in the territories? And who else outside the world of the Likud Central Committee and the synagogues of Manhattan and Brooklyn can believe that "all Israelis" aspire to a lasting peace? All Israelis? Every one of them? Including Shaul Mofaz? And Minister of National Infrastructure Avigdor Lieberman? And also Netanyahu?! Very doubtful.
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