A military win, but a political loss
The fawning of the senior officer class over Abu Mazen is interesting. It is derived from the fact that, for them, Mahmoud Abbas is the personification of the only opportunity to turn a military achievement - at the cost of sweat, blood and stubbornness - into a political reality.
The weekend papers will tell their readers about the new military order: moderation, thoughtfulness, optimism. In living rooms this Saturday, a very senior officer depicted in the past as a warmongering colonialist will turn out to be a dovish commander of a peace-loving army, someone who assumes there's a real chance for the current round of Israeli-Palestinian violence to come to an end, someone who reckons the Palestinian consciousness of struggle is being replaced by a consciousness of conciliation, someone who believes with all his soul in Abu Mazen, his pragmatism, his determination to end the terrorism.
The truth is, even when that very senior officer was described by his critics as someone who devours Palestinians for breakfast, he wasn't one. Basically, he's a man of values, balanced and restrained. In fact, he reached his tough conclusions about the Palestinian intentions because he totally identified with the Rabin process. That's why he concluded in the mid-1990s that Arafat is, in effect, betraying his people. The very senior officer was never a hawk. He was mistakenly perceived as one only because he understood earlier than others that Yasser Arafat is not a genuine partner for the idea of dividing the country.
Nonetheless, there is something surprising in his latest statements, which indicate that there has been a real change in the Israel Defense Forces command in recent weeks. After three years in which the army's commanders talked war, they are suddenly talking peace. After three pessimistic years of brutal realism, it seems there's now a tendency in the IDF to paint reality in rosy colors, to believe that there has been a quiet revolt in the Palestinian Authority, to believe that there is a good chance the new PA will, indeed, deal with Hamas, to believe that many Palestinians no longer view Israel as a society as flimsy as a spider's web. In other words: The supreme Israeli military command believes that Chief of Staff Moshe Ya'alon's strategy proved itself. It is convinced that, at the end of the 1,000-day bloodbath, Israel managed to sear the Palestinian consciousness. Israel decided the conflict.
The fawning of the senior officer class over Abu Mazen is interesting. It is derived from the fact that, for them, Mahmoud Abbas is the personification of the only opportunity to turn a military achievement - at the cost of sweat, blood and stubbornness - into a political reality. It is derived from the fact the Palestinian prime minister is perceived by the officers as Palestinian internalization of two key Israeli messages: no to Arafat and no surrender to terror. Therefore, that same officer class that in the not-so-distant past emphasized over and over again the fact the Arafatian leadership did not recognize Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state, now doesn't rule out the possibility that the new Palestinian leadership will eventually reach such an essential understanding.
Unfortunately, that's a mistake. While the new optimists from the Kirya are correct when it comes to their victory on the war on terror, they are wrong when it comes to the overall results of the campaign. While they are correct when it comes to their achievement over the chairman, they are wrong when it comes to the political bottom line of the Great Israeli-Palestinian War. Because the bottom line says something simple: Israel did not win Palestinian recognition of its existence as a Jewish democratic state in corrected 1967 borders. Israel has not achieved what was supposed to be the strategic goal of the war.
It's not the IDF that is responsible for the fact that those who were supposed to turn determined stubborn fighting into a worthy political result failed in their task. It's not the IDF that is responsible for Israel being politically assaulted in the final stages of the 1,000-day war. Indeed, those who conducted this war on the Israeli side are not allowed to ignore the fact that, at its end, the Palestinians are going to get what they didn't get before it broke out: a sovereign Palestinian state demanding the right of return, which in the future could renew the conflict's momentum.
Those in uniform who rebuffed the grand Palestinian assault of 2000-2003 deserve a commendation. They did what they did coolly, with skill and a purity of conscience, standing firm even when they stood alone, not breaking even when they were cursed and slandered. But with the lull in violence, the suspicion rises that the Israeli leadership's tendency to read the reality only in terms of force was ultimately wrong. It made Israel devote itself to a goal of weaning the Palestinians from terror and neglected the most important goal of achieving true Palestinian recognition of Israel's right to exist. It made Israel focus on an attempt to change the Palestinian consciousness with regard to the means of their struggle rather than achieving an ideological Palestinian revolution regarding the purpose of their struggle.
Therefore, if things really calm down, if Abu Mazen survives despite everything, the supreme Israeli command could soon discover what it should have known from the start: A war conducted only through the sights of rifles cannot lead to victory. A war without a clear political goal can, indeed, end in failure.
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