Don't knock the power of words
This is not the time to pooh-pooh the warnings of the world's leaders, who say that terror has assumed World War III proportions and will not stop unless Israel takes steps to leave the Gaza Strip and a Palestinian state is on the map.
Israelis have a tendency to knock the power of the spoken word. It's no accident that one of Israel's most popular talk-shows is called "It's All Talk." These words, taken from a recorded interview with Yitzhak Rabin, were part of the promo of the show until his assassination.
Waving the banner of scorn for the spoken word, a whole parade of politicians and prime ministers have discussed the country's most grave problems, from peace and war, to the economy and social issues. I've often wondered how we're supposed to take them seriously if they treat what comes out of their own mouths as `mere words.'
Our politicians have a genetic defect of the ear, or maybe some problem with verbal comprehension. When Sadat announced in the Egyptian parliament that he was prepared to sacrifice a million Egyptian soldiers to get back Sinai, we said it was all talk. Our leaders took it to mean that he couldn't do it even if he wanted to.
When Sadat signaled his desire for peace, we said it wasn't serious. On the eve of his arrival in Israel, the chief of staff warned the political leadership that it was a plot designed to wipe out the entire Israeli leadership with a booby-trapped plane. When Sadat announced from the Knesset podium that there would be no peace until Israel returned all the territories, we said it was a load of hot air.
Quite a few people are skeptical about Sharon's disengagement plan. On another TV talk show, "Hot Mishal," Netanyahu remarked that the government had not actually decided on evacuating settlements - "In nine months, we'll have to sit down and see what's what." This is Bibi's way of saying that for the time being, it's all talk. The left and the media commentators don't really believe that Sharon will do what he says either. They think that when the time comes, he'll find an excuse to get out of the whole thing.
Sharon is repeating Menachem Begin's mistake. Begin didn't believe Sadat when he said there would be no peace accord without Israeli withdrawal to the `67 borders, and Sharon doesn't believe Arafat when he says it. Begin learned the hard way that in Sadat's case, it wasn't all talk. Israel gave up every last inch of Sinai and the Jewish settlements there, including the 300 measly meters known as Taba, to achieve peace. But in a cost-benefit analysis, wasn't it worth it for the number of human lives saved since the treaty was signed 26 years ago?
Most historic moves start with rhetoric. In May 1942, at the height of World War II, delegates of the Zionist movement met at the Biltmore Hotel in New York and voted to establish a Jewish state as part of the new democratic world that would emerge after the defeat of the Nazis. From then on, the founding of Israel was an irreversible fact in the eyes of the superpowers.
When Sharon spoke at the Herzliya Conference about disengagement and the unacceptability of occupation, that was the first step in an irreversible process leading to the establishment of a Palestinian state. The trouble, as we said, is that the public heard him, but the majority assume it's the usual - just talk.
In practice, the plan to withdraw unilaterally from Gaza is an attempt to retain our hold on most of the West Bank. Sharon rejects Arafat as a partner for dialogue not because army intelligence whispered in his ear that the guy is a bastard. It's because he knows the conditions for an agreement with Arafat (or any other Palestinian leader) are the same as those insisted on by Sadat - withdrawal to the `67 borders and saying goodbye to the settlements. And that is not on Sharon's agenda, even in his worst nightmares.
Hence from Arafat's perspective, Sharon is not a peace partner either. Sharon is focused on Gaza, and he is not preparing the Israelis for the great exodus that will enable the two peoples to live side by side in peace. Unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, which has rattled the windowsills in these parts, is peanuts compared to the quake that is on its way. The epicenter - and the solution - are inside Gaza.
The threats of the organizational chiefs in the territories should be taken seriously. This is not the time to pooh-pooh the warnings of the world's leaders, who say that terror has assumed World War III proportions and will not stop unless Israel takes steps to leave the Gaza Strip and a Palestinian state is on the map.