Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer was asked in a recent interview what is the answer to our present predicament and replied: "The solution is to wait".
It was just one of several pearls of wisdom he delivered on this occasion (an interview with The Jerusalem Post.) Another unfortunate utterance was "you can't protect every single settler". This may have been a slip of the tongue - or a possible corollary to other gem.
It was this first answer that seemed to put in a nutshell his strategy for dealing with Palestinian violence. But he should be aware that "time and tide wait for no man". The French tried the waiting tactic on the Germans in 1940 during the "phony war" and reaped a bitter harvest. If David Ben-Gurion had adopted this strategy in 1948 the State of Israel would not have been established.
The current situation is too explosive and there are too many concerned bystanders to make waiting an intelligent strategy. We will either have an explosion on our hands, which under present circumstances seems almost inevitable, or else be faced by the active intervention of some of the bystanders attempting to avert the explosion. Neither of these developments is likely to play in Israel's favor.
We have passed through ten months of murder on the roads, suicide bombers, and car bombs, all leaving a trail of death and sorrow behind them. There is no end in sight. The policy of unilateral cease-fire and restraint adopted by the Sharon government has proved a failure. It has not put an end to the killings nor has it marshaled international support for effective Israeli action against Palestinian terrorism.
The position staked out by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on taking office four months ago - that there would be no negotiations with the Palestinians until Palestinian violence ended - was good and valid, a substantial improvement over the Barak government's policy of negotiating with Arafat while the violence continued.
It was understood and supported by the Israeli public and by governments around the world, but it has begun to fail as a sustainable policy, as it becomes evident that Arafat has no intention of ending the violence and Israel is not taking effective measures to bring the violence to an end. In recent weeks it has simply degenerated into Ben-Eliezer's waiting game.
With near mathematical precision one can predict that a continuation of this waiting strategy will culminate in criminal acts against Palestinians by Israelis frustrated by the mounting toll of Israeli casualties. Or there will be an Israeli military response to local Palestinian violence that accidently exacts heavy Palestinian casualties, or a repeat of the Dolphinarium attack. The result of any of these events will be international pressure on Israel to begin negotiating with Arafat - in other words Arafat will attain the objective he set himself in recent months of getting the Sharon government to start negotiations with him without an end to Palestinian violence. The government's strategy will have been turned on its head and will achieve the opposite of its intended goals.
The statement of the G8 economic conference in Genoa advocating that international observers should be stationed in the region is a clear indication of where "wait and see" is leading us. It is true the G8 is an economic forum of the major industrialized nations that has no statutory authority.
But the fact remains that the United States was party to the decision, indicating that Washington will not wait anymore for Israel to end the violence. Let there be no mistake about it - the U.S. is concerned that an open-ended continuation of the violence - or worse still, an uncontrolled escalation - could threaten American interests. Urged on by the Europeans the Americans are likely to make their position known in no uncertain terms if the present state of affairs continues. For Israel, this is no time to sit back and wait.
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