"We must place a border on terrorism, separate ourselves from Palestinian terrorism and place a border. If possible, we'll do it with their agreement and if not, we'll go over to a unilateral move of separation from the Palestinians, a severance from the intolerable friction, and the creation of a border. An agreed-on political border, or a unilateral security border."
This is not a leak from the much anticipated "Herzliya speech" expected from Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Nor is it part of a recent interview with Likud ministers Ehud Olmert and Limor Livnat, or Shinui minister Tommy Lapid. These are the words of Labor MK Amram Mitzna, at the previous Herzliya Conference, exactly a year ago.
And these are the words of the man who was at the time the chair of the Labor Party and its candidate for prime minister: "There is tremendous importance to a political initiative. Israel has always been a country that initiated and acted, without considering its enemies, or sometimes even its friends. We must decide, leave aside concepts such as left and right, and conduct a thorough discussion of the fundamental problems."
One has to reread the words in order to understand the distance traveled by the Israeli political establishment since December 2002. Mitzna was defeated in the elections, moved to the back benches, and this year wasn't even invited to speak in Herzliya, a clear sign of his dropping out from the establishment. But his ideas were not forgotten, and now they are at the center of public discourse.
Sharon, who won big at the polls, is nearing the adoption of the positions of his rival, who lost. Olmert this week sounds convincing and penetrating, like Mitzna in his day, when he presents opinions that are completely identical (and attacks the Geneva initiative, which Mitzna now supports. There has been movement on the left, too).
Olmert and Sharon are not the only ones who have undergone such a revolution. The speeches from last year's Herzliya Conference today read like a collection of situation assessments that have proved to be mistaken and false hopes that have shattered.
The basic assumption of most of the speakers in 2002 was that America would win in Iraq and would bring about a regional revolution, which would grant Israel legitimacy to get rid of Palestinian Authority (PA) Chairman Yasser Arafat.
Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz spoke of "removing the present Palestinian leadership from the stage of history."
Benjamin Netanyahu, who was foreign minister at the time, called to implement in the Palestinian Authority the American model in Iraq, and promised that after "beating and getting rid of this regime," Palestinian democracy would awaken "as in Germany and Japan."
Chief of Staff Moshe Ya'alon was trying to achieve "a victory in the conflict in terms of awareness, which will end the activities of those groups that are responsible for terrorism and involved in it," and promised "far-reaching strategic changes in the region" in light of American determination. In those days, nobody mentioned withdrawal from the territories, even under cover of "a new deployment" or "moving settlements."
This year the miracle solutions have disappeared from the speakers' platform in Herzliya. Iraq was not mentioned, and even the capture of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein failed to arouse interest. Defense Minister Mofaz concentrated on the social gap.
Ya'alon was concerned about the internal disagreements in Israel, which make it difficult for him to use force against the Palestinians and "to bring the conflict to an end." Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that the new Palestinian leadership will develop only during a lengthy process of cultural change.
It would be a mistake to think the Iraqi war didn't affect Israel. It removed from the stage a hostile regime and a strategic threat, and replaced them with a friendly American army. Israel's enemies find themselves on the defensive, with Syria threatened by sanctions and Iran facing a demand to scrap its nuclear plans.
Egypt and Saudi Arabia are being called on to do some political soul-searching. Even the conservative Israel Defense Forces has implemented budget cuts and changes in the structure of the force. But the Palestinian arena has been affected less. The expectation that America would bring order to the region and Arafat would be removed like Saddam, turned out to be mistaken.
Israel has understood there is no point in relying on others to save it, and that it must rely on itself when it comes to changing the security and political reality. It is what Mitzna proposed last year, and as Sharon will propose this evening. And that apparently is the real lesson for the Iraqi war.
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