Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is right: During the next two years Israel will not reach a permanent status agreement with the Palestinians. Lieberman is also right in the importance he attributes to national honor. Like the foreign minister, I, too, get annoyed when my country is attacked in the foreign media, and I am proud of Israelis who win the Nobel Prize or Olympic medals.
It is possible to interpret Lieberman's seasonal headline attack as needling of his political rival and partner Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Lieberman depicts Netanyahu as a fool mesmerized by the deceptive charms of "renewing the diplomatic negotiations," and as a dishrag whose trips to Egypt manifest "national fawning and self-abasement" before President Hosni Mubarak, who refuses to visit Israel. And maybe it is just the frustration of a grounded foreign minister.
But Lieberman's remarks are no mere curiosity. They express a deep truth: The Israeli-Arab conflict has continued since the dawn of Zionism and is not going to end quickly, not even with the signing of a permanent status agreement. This is not a unique phenomenon: The establishment of new states arouses multi-generational conflicts. The unification of Germany took 120 years and entailed a major regional war, two world wars, occupation and a cold war. The partition of India in 1947 was accompanied by great violence, which continues to this day in Kashmir. In the Balkans, Ireland and Cyprus, too, there are no permanent solutions.
If this is the case, what conclusion can be drawn from Lieberman and his colleagues on the right, who are preaching determined steadfastness. Israel must refrain from any territorial concession, convince the world that the settlements in the territories are legal and the Arabs are bad, and parry every bit of criticism with a counter-imprecation and the preaching of morality.
It is a fact, they say, that we have tried "the left's solutions" from Oslo through Camp David, the disengagement and Annapolis, and we have not achieved peace. Let's change our approach and disabuse ourselves of illusions until the world is convinced and our control over the West Bank and East Jerusalem is perpetuated.
The right's approach ignores Israel's size and position in the family of nations. Israel is not a superpower like Russia or China, nor is it an isolated fortress state like North Korea - and even they are dependent on other countries. Israel is highly dependent: Its economy relies on exports and investments from abroad, its citizens love foreign travel and its security is based on military and diplomatic support from the United States (and in the past from the Soviet Union and France).
In return, "the world" expects Israel to draw back into recognized borders and minimize the friction with its neighbors. The world does not care that more Muslims are killed by other Muslims than by Jews.
The Israeli-Arab peace process, which started after the Yom Kippur War, did not end the conflict, nor has a new Middle East been established. The violence has not abated and thousands of new victims have been added to cemeteries in Israel, the territories, Lebanon, Syria and even Sudan.
But the test of results is not binary - either "the end of the conflict and the demands" or giving up and eternal war. Life is gray.
The peace process, more than any other factor, gave Israelis access to markets and tourism sites abroad, connected the Israeli economy to the global economy and led to Israel's gradual acceptance as a legitimate neighbor in the Middle East. This is not a linear process, rather a complex dance of forward-and-back steps.
Netanyahu's frequent trips to Cairo serve the Israeli interest even without return visits by Mubarak. Netanyahu does not believe in a faster permanent status agreement than the foreign minister. However, like his predecessors as prime minister, he realizes that Israel's fate depends on its "strength and justness," as David Ben-Gurion said, and he knows these are relative and not absolute terms.
A country's strength is measured in comparison to its foes, and its justness is determined in the international mind. Israel has weakened because of Iran's strengthening, and its justness has been undermined because of Operation Cast Lead and the settlements.
Lieberman is right in his assessment of the situation and wrong in his conclusion: Precisely because the conflict continues, Israel needs recognition and support - and therefore it must mollify the world and gradually move forward in the peace process instead of unnecessarily irritating the gentiles.
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