It took barely 24 hours from the time the spokesmen for the terror groups in Gaza announced their readiness to sustain the cease-fire as long as Israel ceases its attacks on them for the authoritative voice of Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to issue forth from the broadcast media with the following declaration: Israel owes the Palestinians nothing; it did not start the violence and does not have to promise not to use its strength. In other words, the burden of proof is entirely and only on the other side, he said, and then washed his hands of the matter.
That raises the desire to tell Netanyahu and his ilk to shelve their tough guy posturing for a while to enable the period of calm emerging in the relationship between Israel and the Palestinian Authority to develop and consolidate. Any unnecessary bragging and arrogant chest-thumping right now could unravel the delicate fabric on which the entire move is being made.
The Israeli public, perhaps as opposed to its leaders, does not need victory medals or macho beefing up to be persuaded that silence is not muddy (as the Betar anthem claims), but rather a great blessing, and the Israeli public is not interested in the humiliation of the other side.
Four years and four months of violent conflict made the vast majority of the public understand the boundaries of what is wanted as opposed to what is possible and made clear on the one hand the true nature of the enemy, and on the other hand the price of ignoring the enemy's distress. Israel does not need either laurels nor self-righteous statements from its leadership; it needs a period of healing so the scars can heal. And that, even more so, is what the Palestinians need. So, at this point in time it is permissible, indeed desirable for Israel to be generous toward them, and certainly not provoke them or deliberately harm their honor.
The cease-fire hangs by a thread. Any unbalanced statement, any operational error or deliberate attack could topple it. Both sides are still captive to their prejudices and mutual suspicions, and each side has a contradictory goal for which it strives. The Israelis don't want to come out of the current lull as suckers: They know that under the cover of the quiet, the Palestinians are capable of rearming, improving their ability to strike at Israel and even extend the reach of their terror to the heart of Israel.
The Palestinians understand that under the umbrella of quiet, Israel can continue creating facts on the ground that the Palestinians are not prepared to accept, in the form of the building of the fence, expansion of settlements and erection of new outposts. The new security circumstances created by the cease-fire - the integration of the terror groups into the PA's security apparatus, the operational opportunities available to Israel to strike at the terrorist infrastructure and its leadership - are also explosive and could easily reignite the conflagration. The critical mission now for both sides is to prevent the next outbreak of fire and stabilize the period of calm.
The proper way to do so is not to treat the cease-fire as an opportunity to exploit every minute of it because it is going to pass, but as an opportunity for dealing with the root problems. Both sides are aware of the horrors of the violence of the past few years. Hopefully, both sides will feel the welcome relief that is apparently coming in the form of a period of calm. These are the two elements that can compete with the mutual fears and opposing interests, which form the attitudes of the two nations to the conflict.
Israel will make a mistake if it makes do with the minimum. It must seek a permanent solution and not take comfort in a period of calm for a few months or, at most, an interim agreement for a few years. Arafat's departure, the disengagement initiative, the deeper involvement of the Americans in the region (in Iraq, Iran and Syria), and the intensified awareness of the international community of the Palestinian demand for independence all reflect the opportunities and constraints now facing Israel. Now is the time to break free of the delusions about the Greater Land of Israel and to accept the fulfillment of the Zionist vision inside the borders delineated by the Green Line. It would be terrible if Israeli society only reaches this sober conclusion after another round of bloodshed.
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