On the eve of its 54th anniversary as a state, Israel needs the protection of the world - both against itself and against those who would do it harm. That may be bad news, but the accompanying good news is that the world can, in fact, help. Instead of acknowledging this, though, Israel is doing battle with nearly the whole world and rejecting out of hand, without any reason, the idea that the world will come to its aid and defense and to the defense of the region.
In a rare display of unity, all world leaders are calling on Israel to leave the territories, but Israel is stubbornly resisting. It's us against the world. In a situation of this kind, with the world divided - in Israel's perception - into anti-Semites and those who are ignorant of the situation, and given that only we know what's best for us, the unwillingness to listen is perhaps understandable. But that is not a fair description of the world; there are quite a few people out there who are well-disposed toward Israel, and in any case we can no longer help ourselves without the international community. The images of the killing and devastation in Nablus and Jenin are quite brutal and you don't have to be an anti-Semite to criticize those who are responsible for what is happening there.
The insane cycle of bloody violence in which we find ourselves, and not a little by our own fault, can no longer be broken without help from the outside, at least in the immediate future. With the Palestinian Authority having been all but destroyed and with the hatred between the two peoples reaching new levels of intensity, the only political horizon is that of international guarantees. This is very depressing for anyone who hoped to achieve peace by bilateral agreement, but for the moment it's the only game in this battered region. So it's difficult to understand why Israel is so dead set against the involvement of the international community.
It was Ariel Sharon, who, being against the internationalization of the conflict, brought about this situation. His demolition of the mechanisms of the Palestinian Authority have created a huge vacuum. The demand by Israel and the United States that the Palestinians wage war on terrorism is now no more than a tasteless joke, in the absence of any apparatus capable of taking such action. This is a vacuum that Israel will not be able to fill, unless it makes the temporary conquest of the Palestinian territories permanent. Meanwhile, all Israeli spokesmen claim this is not the intention. If not Israel and not the PA, who is left to do the work? There is no reason why the format that was tried successfully in recent years in various international zones of conflict will not be equally useful in the Middle East. What was good for Macedonia is good for us, too. The distance between the bloodbath that's going on here and what happened in the Balkans is no longer very great. The time has come for us to recognize that Kosovo is here (as Meretz leader MK Yossi Sarid wrote in the International Herald Tribune), as buses blow up and people are buried under the rubble of their homes.
There are now three million badly hurting Palestinians in the territories, brimming with hatred and lusting for revenge, while in Israel, which is littered with sites of terrorist attacks, a uniform voice is also heard: 75 percent support the war now being fought, according to a survey published by the daily Ma'ariv at the weekend. The terrorist infrastructure, whose underlying motivation was given a big boost by means of Operation Defensive Shield, despite the arrests of thousands of Palestinians, will of course add nothing to the attempt to impose quiet. In this state of affairs, no cease-fire agreement will prove durable anyway, unless it is backed up by significant international enforcement. It's not a matter for a symbolic observer force; what's needed is a force of thousands of armed troops at least.
To Israelis, the idea of foreign forces wandering around the area is off-putting. However, the alternative is far worse. We have to exploit the readiness of the international community to send a force of this kind and be quick to invite them to come. NATO could be the right address for this mission. We needn't worry that they will remain here forever, and Israel may yet thank the world for its response. European and American troops acting act as a buffer between Israelis and Palestinians will definitely help calm the situation. They will not be able to prevent terrorist attacks completely, but their massive presence will reduce the scale of the attacks. At the same time, this force will also be able to supervise Israel's behavior. European troops at checkpoints will be no less effective than Israel at preventing terrorism, and perhaps act more decently toward the civilian population. It's not likely that a Danish soldier will stop a pregnant Palestinian woman from getting to a hospital - and if he does, at least Israel won't be blamed.
With the establishment of the international criminal court last week, and with foreign forces patrolling the region, every house that is demolished will be the subject of a report and every town that is sealed off for no reason will be freed. Cutting down the friction between Israelis and Palestinians will cool the burning passions that now rage, and it is to be hoped that the fear generated by the extremists on both sides, the violent settlers or Hamas activists, will also be diminished.
At the same time, an international force can begin to rehabilitate the Palestinian Authority and its institutions in order to fill the gaping vacuum. A few months of relative quiet, which will help extricate the Palestinians from the ruins, will perhaps make a genuine return to the negotiating table possible and prevent another cycle of violence, which is liable to be even more appalling than its predecessor. There is no guarantee of this, but does anyone know a better way?
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