By the time this article goes to print, there may have been another terror attack. By the time it reaches the homes of the readers, Hamas could have carried out a sensational act of revenge. And in spite of this, in April 2004, we can already say out loud what we have been observing since the beginning of the year: There is a reasonable chance that after 1,300 days of war, a new strategic reality is beginning to take shape around us - a reality of an Israeli victory.
We must be cautious; the outcome has yet to be determined; peace and quiet are still far off; Palestinian terror has not been eradicated; it will continue to stalk Israel for a long time. Moreover, Palestinian society has yet to undergo the revolution in awareness that is the only thing that will make it possible to put an end to the conflict. However, after three and a half years of a cruel existential struggle, we can now state that the attempt by Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat to destroy the Jewish homeland by force has failed. As the smoke of battle begins to dissipate, it appears that Israel has gained the upper hand.
What has brought about a relative Israeli victory at this stage of the war is a multidimensional national accomplishment. In terms of security, Israel has achieved clear military superiority vis-a-vis the Palestinian fighting force. The sharp decline in the number of casualties, the sharp increase in the number of attacks prevented, and the almost fictional manner in which Hamas leaders Ahmed Yassin and Abdel Aziz Rantisi were assassinated are testimony to the fact that the balance of power between Israel and terrorism has changed dramatically in the past two years.
The achievement is also impressive in economic terms: Before our very eyes, Israel is now leaping forward from a depressing wartime recession to the accelerated growth of a society that is beginning once again to believe in itself. Israel's free market and economic vitality are proving during this frenetic spring that they have withstood the threat of the years of terror and have prevailed.
On the diplomatic plane, the achievement is even more impressive. The American decision to shut out the option of the Palestinian right of return and to abolish the sanctity of the Green Line gave Israel, on April 14, its greatest diplomatic success since the peace treaty with Egypt. By defining the final status agreement that will end the present war as an agreement that will in effect be based on recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, Bush's declaration rejected the Palestinian attempt to undermine the Israeli nation-state. It turned Arafat's great attack of the early 21st century into a monumental failure that is increasingly reminiscent of the failed Arab revolt of the 1930s.
However, the main Israeli victory achieved in the years 2000-2004 is not the victory over the Palestinians. It's the victory of the Israelis over themselves, a victory of the Israelis over the insanity that befell them immediately after the Six-Day War in 1967, a victory of the Israelis over the messianism, the delusion and the arrogance that have ruled them for two generations. Because what is becoming increasingly clear these days, with the disengagement plan becoming a generally accepted national platform, is that Israel is in fact beginning to return to itself - to return to its border, to return to its sanity, to return to the rational and moral basis of its existence.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon deserves quite a lot of credit for the victory that is in the offing. He is the one who conducted the military campaign patiently, wisely and calmly. He is the one who conducted the diplomatic campaign with impressive talent. He is the one who enabled Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to bring about an economic turnaround here, at a time when he himself was bringing about a far-reaching ideological turnaround.
However, in the final analysis, the limited Israeli victory is not the victory of Sharon. It's the victory of the Israeli individuals who have withstood the supreme test in recent years. It's the victory of Israeli civil society, which knew how to maintain a sense of proportion and a sense of reality even in times of terror. It's the victory of the Israeli public that confronted Islamic fanaticism at the same time as it rid itself of Jewish fanaticism.
This public, which is dynamic and practical and loves life, is the real victor in the 21st century war. It is the Israeli public that demonstrated extraordinary strength, and it is the Israeli public that in the end repelled Arafat, redrew the borders of Israel, and pushed Sharon into a unilateral withdrawal.
As we have said, we have to be cautious. The victory in the offing is a victory in a battle, not in the entire campaign. A strategic terrorist attack is liable to endanger it. A strategic mistake is liable to make it all go down the drain. The cases of corruption are still liable to turn it into a nightmare. However, looking ahead to our 56th Independence Day, we can be a little bit optimistic; and we can finally say a good word about people whom we are accustomed to disparaging - the everyday Israelis, the ordinary Israelis, the Israelis of the buses and the malls and the barbecues.
These Israelis are the real heroes of the present war. In their abrasive way, they are more impressive, wiser and even more moral than all their critics. They deserve to win.
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