The poet Haim Guri remarked in recent years that the right is correct in its pessimistic view of the Palestinians' attitude toward the State of Israel, while the left is correct in understanding that the occupation is the decisive factor in stirring their enmity. The results of the second Lebanon war offer the state an opportunity to choose a new path to overcome the paralyzing contradiction between these two opposing diagnoses. But as far as one can tell from the political goings-on, Israel will miss this opportunity.
Guri is essentially saying Israel is stuck in a trap: The enmity of the Palestinians justifies the existential fear that underlies the state's approach to them. At the same time, Israel's hold on the territories, explained to a significant extent by security needs, is the glowing ember that sustains the fire of hatred.
This is the 40th year Israel is attempting to bridge the contradiction through a practical policy that enables it, ostensibly, to avoid making a decision. This approach has entangled the state in a moral, political and security labyrinth that has thrown into question its very ability to exist.
One of the clearest expressions of this was the formation of Kadima: This party arose after its leaders reached the conclusion that a dramatic change should be made in the relations between Israel and the Palestinians, and in the national priorities that have guided Israel since the Six-Day War. Ariel Sharon explained his departure from Likud by the need to offer the state new hope, by the Likud's inability to meet the challenges facing it, and by his desire to reach a political arrangement and subsequently, peace. Ehud Olmert was more explicit and precise: He defined the demographic balance between Israel and the Palestinians as an existential threat, and from this derived his convergence plan - which essentially called for separating from the lion's share of the West Bank. He aspired to demarcate the state's permanent border and placed at the center of Kadima's platform the tackling of social disparities, promising to channel development budgets to the Negev, Galilee and Jerusalem instead of the West Bank.
The second Lebanon war rewound the cassette: During the past month, the leaders of Kadima have been talking like Likud leaders of 10 and 15 years ago. Their reactions to developments in the Arab world - the intention to bring the Saudi plan to the table again, the success of Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas in forming a national unity government and his plan to engage in talks with Israel on its behalf - are reminiscent of those of Yitzhak Shamir and Benjamin Netanyahu: automatic dismissal, maneuvers of rejection and a frantic effort to mobilize the support of the U.S. to blunt the Arab moves. Olmert, who put the road map into storage prior to the elections six months ago, has pulled it out again in order to neutralize the new Arab initiatives. And Tzipi Livni rushed to reiterate the prior conditions Israel has set, thus emphasizing the unacceptability of these initiatives.
Even if the Olmert government has some formal handholds to cling to in its efforts to thwart the fascinating moves in the Palestinian Authority and Arab League, it should realize it is, first and foremost, broadcasting panic over the possibility of a change in the status quo. Olmert and Livni look like they are seeking to enter a shelter against political initiatives aimed at extracting the region from the swamp in which it is mired. This is an unforgivable response on the part of those who rushed off to war after discussions that lasted less than half a day.
The war in Lebanon raised questions about the security conceptions based on land and the separation fence. It underlined the critical need for Israel to reach an accord with its neighbors, first of all the Palestinians. The war illustrated how much the occupation has corrupted Israeli society and atrophied its army. The most important and urgent lesson of the war is to decide correctly between the dilemmas diagnosed by Haim Guri, and not to add to them and cover them with a policy of patches.
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