"The problem is this," said Yitzhak Rabin. "The starting point is that we cannot be Nazi-like in terms of the drastic measures we take as an occupying power."
Chief of Staff Rabin spoke in a staff discussion, a few weeks after the Six-Day War and the inclusion of the Palestinians in Israel's dominion. "The determined policy, I'm not saying my opinion, is not to build a leadership but to try to neutralize it," he said skeptically. "Some people think mass arrests of their leaders will build it up. Some of the experts suggested arresting the small ones, but not to touch Anwar Khatib [Jordan's governor of Jerusalem], in order to cast suspicion on him. [They suggest] doing the opposite, visiting him at home frequently and having coffee."
"The desire is to crumble the leadership. To neutralize [it] by banishment and detention and influence what we can with a reward and punishment system, economic pressure. We don't know a lot about what is happening in the Arab street. We haven't penetrated its depth. All kinds of people started looking for an Arab leadership we can cooperate with. You can't even bring Arabs together. You invite them all at once, each one is afraid of the other."
One of the generals with sharp political instincts, Ariel Sharon, asked the chief of staff, "Does the army have a role in setting leadership?"
"On the whole I would say it does not," Rabin replied.
The decades went by, Rabin (twice ) and Sharon have been prime minister and there is still no real progress toward an agreed peace. Israel wasted the capital it had accumulated in its wanton gambling bouts, plunged into the gray market of international diplomacy and will find itself not only with its knees broken, but paying back the debt with exorbitant interest.
By alienating Jordan, Israel chose to deal with the Palestinians in two ways - as individuals with a status of subjects denied all rights, or as a group represented by a sub-state organization. This situation was tolerable only as long as the world order was based on countries that agreed among themselves not to intervene in each other's internal interests, including the violent oppression of rebellion.
As a community the Palestinians can demand independence, but are stuck in the issue of marking the borders, which means breaching the familiar borders (the cease-fire lines ) of an existing state, or alternatively, a declared renunciation of their vision of wiping it out. As individuals, they make do with raising an earlier demand, to achieve their democratic rights while under Israel's rule.
Barack Obama is ashamed of the American constitution's legacy, which set the price of a black slave as three-fifths of a free white man. (That was an achievement for the slave owners, who increased by this means the power of the southern states in Congress, while in the north they didn't want to count the slaves at all ).
Obama can understand bargaining over borders, security, refugees; but not over seeing a Palestinian as three-fifths of an Israeli and not over shooting demonstrators who demand civil rights. Those who rejected King Hussein will get Martin Luther King.
Benjamin Netanyahu's world of images is taken from Ronald Reagan's heritage. "I asked the prime minister of Australia to bounce over some planes," he boasted in a discussion on fire fighting.
"She said, 'are you sure? It could take a week.' I said, 'bounce them over,' like those Bouncing Betties in old Steven Spielberg movies."
In Netanyahu's Hollywood, he is the "commander and leader," as he calls it, the one who "must identify the problem, the pivotal point that turns the system and enables to solve it. This is not easy. We have recently experienced situations, for example war (in Lebanon ), in which the leadership did not identify the pivotal point and went round and round."
Not him. Netanyahu knows how "to pinpoint the solution, the decisive move that will win the battle," and then "to go and bring the power."
Armed with such hollow swashbuckling, so surreal as to be dangerous, Netanyahu is leaving for Washington. The presenter is an actor, who does not realize the show is over, the curtain is coming down and he must choose where to go from here.
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