When a historian assumes a general's rank and plays around with strategy, nobody cares - let them have fun. Tomorrow someone else will come along and write a contrary thesis. But when generals don an historian's spectacles and start weaving historical narratives, even Clio the muse of history pays attention.
Unlike historians, generals don't just paint a picture of Clio's retreating back. They hold her hand and lead her through the alleyways of the chronicle. There's no point in offering an historian's counter-thesis to the general's - and he certainly doesn't want a passing or failing grade.
The general is just playing with historical imagery and his real purpose is to determine his place and his actions on the historical continuum. He even comes up with `perspectives,' to give his political positions and strategic concepts the characteristics of historical necessity.
Last weekend we were treated to nearly identical descriptions in the press of Chief of Staff Moshe Ya'alon's historical theories. Obviously, it wasn't Ya'alon's skills as a `student of history' that made the reporters hand out compliments for his `explosive conclusions.' They knew it was a key to understanding his past motives and deeds, and the hints about his future plans. (There is also an element of kowtowing to someone in power.)
Indeed, the `perspectives' of the chief of staff are spectacular. First, he thinks the `thousand-day war' (as the Al Aqsa Intifada is being called) was on the same level as the war of independence and even surpasses it in importance. The war of independence ended without the Palestinians accepting Israel as a fact. The latest war - now sometimes called "the last battle of the 1948 war" - resulted in "our actions against terror" becoming the decisive element that created "conditions for Palestinian acceptance of Israel's existence as a Jewish state."
The commander of the thousand day war is too modest to praise his own glorious achievements, so he allows his listeners to make their own comparisons between he who succeeded now and the commanders of the war of independence - Yitzhak Sadeh, Yigal Allon, and Moshe Dayan - who failed to finish the job.
Second, the mere reference to the series of violent events that are characteristic of chaotic wars between communities as "a war of existence" is problematic, never mind the direct connection he makes between it and the war of independence.
This is a deliberate attempt to deny the Palestinians their war of independence. You say this was a war against the Israeli occupation? Nonsense. This was really the continuation of the Israeli nation's war of independence, a war for its very existence, and anyone who says differently is legitimizing terrorism.
Now, after the chief of staff cum historian has determined, like a baker speaking of his dough, that "we won this one," he is dictating terms of surrender. But mere surrender doesn't suit the historian's pose, therefore he has to identify "the potential for a revolution in principle, from the consciousness of struggle to the consciousness of an agreement."
Indeed, that's an elegant formula for "an agreement" that means accepting all of Israel's conditions and the Palestinians giving up all their national aspirations. They must recognize Israel as a Jewish state and not a state of all its citizens and concede the right of return and not UN General Assembly resolution 194, which includes compensation and recognition of the damage done to the Palestinians.
They must declare "an end to the conflict" with "an end to the occupation of the territories" in the West Bank and Gaza as stipulated in a cantonal map, and not a return to the 1967 borders and a dismantling of the settlements. The chief of staff sees clear signs that Abu Mazen "could be" the person who would agree to all that.
Fact. Abu Mazen did not mention a single one of the issues regarding a permanent agreement in his speech at Aqaba. He went to his meeting with the Israeli prime minister, under an Israeli flag, wearing a business suit and not a military uniform like Arafat the terrorist.
Ya'alon suddenly discovered Abu Mazen, as if Mahmoud Abbas was not the same senior Palestinian who took part in the conciliatory process known as Oslo in which he showed both his flexibility and his limits. A historian knows how to be selective - Ya'alon doesn't like Oslo, so Abu Mazen is a new invention, it seems.
The chief of staff is ready to cooperate according to the "perspective" of a historian, and as a result he is ready to clash with some ministers in the government who are plotting to sabotage "the positive political momentum that has developed with the election of Abu Mazen."
He will also make humanitarian gestures to the occupied residents but - of course - "gradually." That is quite a positive approach and there it is not important that it is based on a rather flimsy historical dig at his opponents. Maybe that approach, so contrary to the tough approach Ya'alon actually took, will really allow for the opening of a new stage in Israel-Palestine relations. That's the power of a general - he shapes reality and doesn't merely analyze it.
But on second thought, perhaps it's not even correct to rule out the analysis by Ya'alon the historian. It is possible Abu Mazen, unlike his heroic colleagues, is really ready to admit the loss.
Perhaps he has read the author Amin Ma'aluf: "Maybe one day it will be necessary for someone to dare to teach them to examine their loss without reticence, and to explain to them that before people can stand on their own two feet, they must first admit they are lying on the ground."
Maybe that is Abu Mazen's message, including the hope for the future. And that's what Ya'alon himself says in his complicated message - "the conflict is not over; in their version of the story, they won."
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