The government's response to the new peace initiative, attributed to Yossi Beilin and Yasser Abed Rabbo, and to the terrible bombing at Haifa's Maxim restaurant, prove the validity of the expression that whoever holds the hammer tends to see every problem as a nail.
The proposed plan, details of which have not yet been made public, resulted in an instinctive response by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon: he attacked it and accused the Israeli initiators of cooperating with the Palestinian enemy. In other words, Sharon rejects even the attempt to present the public with an alternative to his policy toward the Palestinians. The prime minister automatically rejects a diplomatic solution and thus manifests his view that the only way of ending the conflict is through military victory.
Sharon is realizing his approach from the beginning of his tenure. He has led a forceful, intense approach against the murderous Palestinian terrorism, by far more powerful and extensive than his predecessor, Ehud Barak. He has enjoyed broad public support for his policy: it is viewed as beyond reproach and as the proper response to Palestinian violence. Sharon's stance has led to the reoccupation of the West Bank cities, to curfews and sieges, to air attacks and assassinations, whose legality is questionable and whose implementation raises ethical objections. The Israel Defense Forces has made use of nearly every form of violence in order to block Palestinian terrorism, but the prime minister's policy has failed if we judge its results: Sharon has been in power for nearly three years and the situation in the country, in general, and in the confrontation with the Palestinians, in particular, is worse than when he was elected.
The failure stems from the tendency of the Sharon government to regard the Palestinian problem as a nail. Against the Palestinians - compared to the other Arab countries bordering it - Israel is, in its own eyes, a hammer. It has the military might that enables it, in its view, to pulverize any threat the Palestinians may pose. Therefore, the key words in the vocabulary of the Israeli decision makers are "warning," "price tag," and "victory." Therefore, when an indiscriminate suicide bombing is carried out in Haifa, the government's hot-headed response is to bomb deep inside Syrian territory. Therefore, when the defense minister is faced with Israel's continued exposure to terrorist attacks, he orders that four battalions of reservists be called up and talks with rage and frustration about his unwillingness to put up with any more attacks. Therefore, the heads of the defense establishment support plans to assassinate/expel/silence Yasser Arafat, arguing that this is how they will destroy the nerve center that manages terrorism.
This is the narrow-minded approach of someone who holds military might and believes that, through it, it is possible to end all problems. It is understandable, and perhaps welcome, at the mid-level and the lower levels of the high ranks (the expectation is that battalion, brigade and, at times, division commanders will usually carry out their missions in full, without second thoughts). However, it is inexcusable at the General Staff and at the higher political decision-making echelons. The prime minister, the ministers sitting in the security cabinet, the chief of staff and the generals are expected to have a complex analytical approach and broader outlooks when it comes to evaluating reality.
In this task, the country's and the army's leaders have failed since October 2000. They have only paid lip service to the need to balance the Israeli-Palestinian dialogue, but in practice they have contributed to interrupting the diplomatic steps taken (for example the continuation of assassinations of leaders of terrorist organizations during periods of relative calm).
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict cries out for a compromise solution. The effort currently being attempted by public figures on both sides, to propose a new formula, is the right way. The cure to the justified disappointment with the Oslo Accords is not only the use of military force, as has become abundantly clear during the past three years.
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