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It seems like we've tried everything: We tried rational negotiations at Camp David; we tried negotiations under fire after Camp David; we tried unconditional surrender at Taba; we tried 88 percent, 92 percent and 97 percent; in fact, we tried 100 percent. We tried Sharm al-Sheikh, Paris and secret visits to Ramallah. We tried Mitchell and Tenet and Javier Solana. We tried Omri-Arafat, Omri-Dahlan and Peres-Abu Ala. We tried the Apache and the F-16; we tried the Merkava. We tried assassinations; we tried closures and curfews; we tried Arafat's compound and Jenin. Throughout these horrendous two years, we've tried far-ranging political concession, and military aggressiveness too.

There's only one thing we haven't tried - diplomatic assertiveness.

Imagine the following scenario: Immediately following the attack at the Megiddo junction, the security cabinet does not convene; the Israel Defense Forces' chief of staff does not make his usual recommendation to expel Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat; and the heads of other security branches do not voice their habitual proposal to reconquer Areas A.

Instead, the government of Israel announces that it will not adopt any violent response for a week and that it is relaying the challenge of dealing with terror to the international community. It invites all the ambassadors who serve in Israel to come immediately to the site of the attack and witness the charred bodies up close, summons all the humanitarian organizations that operate in the Middle East to visit the terror scene and document details of the atrocity, and it furnishes the foreign media with all existing information on the nexus of ties between the current Palestinian leadership and the perpetrator of the given attack. It also adamantly demands that the UN secretary-general establish forthwith an investigation committee to review the circumstances of the massacre, arguing that if there is international law and an international community, then they bear responsibility to prevent massacres of this sort and to put the guilty on trial.

Or imagine the following scene: Right after the 32A bus attack, the prime minister and public security minister do not turn up at the scene. Instead, Shimon Peres, Yossi Beilin and Yossi Sarid appear, perhaps also Amos Oz, A.B. Yehoshua and David Grossman. Standing next to a long line of black, numbered body bags, the six say, "Enough."

They say "enough" in the name of Israel's peace and morality elite. And they say: We who brought Arafat to the country now declare that Arafatism has to end - yes, a Palestinian state; yes, evacuation of the settlements; yes, revised 1967 borders; but first of all, a total annulment of this culture of death; first of all, global and pan-Arab censure of this new fascism that threatens to ignite the whole Middle East.

Or imagine the following: Immediately after the next attack that, heaven forbid, is liable to occur here, Israel does not conscript reservists; it doesn't invade Gaza; and it doesn't get itself immersed up to its neck in a reconquest. Instead, Israel demands that an international panel of statesmen, cultural figures and human rights activists convene and deal with the gravest challenge of the 21st century - terror - in the form of an international conference on the scale of the Durban meet on racism.

Such a conference would be tantamount to a rectification of the Durban gathering and would decide unequivocally that there can be no dealing with a state, diplomatic organization or political party that directly or indirectly supports terror and suicide attackers.

Founded on the basis of these two fundamental and universal standards, without which humanity has no chance of getting through the current century, there is need for the creation of a new, unflinching world moral order that displays no tolerance, forgiveness or winking indulgence toward terrorists, toward the death cult that now threatens not only Israel, but civilization itself.

The strategic value of each of these three possible scenarios far surpasses the strategic value of a military operation. Each of the three - or seven other comparable scenarios that can be easily imagined - would strengthen Israel more than an army undertaking, no matter how successful the military move might be.

As the IDF has aptly stated, the war thrust upon us since the start of 2000 is primarily a struggle for public opinion. This is a war pertaining to the consciousness of Palestinians, Israelis and the international community. But a war about consciousness cannot be won by tanks, nor by a separation fence. A war about consciousness can be won be reconsolidating Israel's image as a strong democracy on the defensive, as a mini, moral power.

Hence any move that represents either a surrender to violence or an exaggerated use of violence contradicts the war's goals and prolongs the conflict. Any move that expresses either diplomatic defeatism or brutal aggression moves us closer to defeat.

For too long, the Israeli right offered us a hopeless territorial defensive shield. For too long, the Israeli left offered us an adventurous diplomatic gambit that had no chance. Torn between both proposals, working under impossible conditions that irresponsible politicians imposed on them, the Shin Bet security service and the IDF did their utmost to provide us with a defensive shield. But today, after 21 months of a maelstrom of blood and despair, the time has come to try something different: Israel should establish a diplomatic defensive shield.

It will not be simple, and it will not come overnight. It will require a collaborative effort and liberation from familiar patterns of thought. But it has to be tried. It must be tried because there is no other way.