'Make Peace'

The state has come a long way toward reconciling with its enemies - who foisted on it the Six-Day War - when it has shown a readiness to pay the necessary price to do so.

In June 1967, shortly after the Six-Day War, Amos Ayalon and I, two journalists working for Haaretz, drove to a meeting with the head of the Israel Defense Forces' central command, Uzi Narkiss. Ayalon, a veteran journalist wise in the ways of the world, asked the general for his opinion on how much time would pass before an Arab rebellion against the Israeli occupation. Narkiss, who was wrapped in the euphoria and elation that came with the IDF's crushing victory, glanced at his two guests in a somewhat patronizing way and replied: "Listen, these Arabs [who at the time were yet to be defined as Palestinians] are not the FLN [the armed underground group that ousted the French from Algeria]. After all, I've met them [Narkiss was, among other things, the military attache in Paris] and I know who we are dealing with here."

Less than three months passed, and on September 17, 1967, an explosive device was planted near an electric company substation in the Kiryat Moshe neighborhood of West Jerusalem. The security authorities concealed the attempted attack from the public. Three days later, central Jerusalem was rocked by four explosions: Bombs were set off near the printing press in the Hotel Fast building. One month later, the authorities arrested Fatma Barnawi and her accomplices after they had placed a bomb underneath a seat in the 25th row of the Zion Cinema. The Palestinian uprising since became a permanent fixture in the Israeli experience, a phenomenon that each day highlights the calamity the state brought on itself as it got swept up by its just victory in the Six-Day War, coupled with the state's refusal to free itself from the burden of its decision to settle the West Bank.

Even today, as I conclude 43 years of writing for Haaretz, the unresolved conflict with the Palestinians, the occupation, and all the ramifications stemming from them dictate the public agenda and, in one way or another, the topic of interest for the news media. The latest examples of this reality are the attempted attack on Prof. Zeev Sternhell and yesterday's Security Council discussions on the settlements.

Forty years was not enough time for the Israeli public to summon the required strength to alleviate itself of the dizziness of occupation that has sent it off the right path. Leaders have come and gone, generations have passed, lifestyles have changed, and Israel fails to makes the necessary decision as mandated by circumstances. The state has come a long way toward reconciling with its enemies - who foisted on it the Six-Day War - when it has shown a readiness to pay the necessary price to do so.

Thanks to leaders who were head and shoulders above the rest, Israel returned the territories it conquered from Egypt, agreed on a border with Jordan, and extricated itself from its punishing hold on the Gaza Strip. The process of restoring the territorial status quo ante in exchange for forging peace has not been completed, and as a result is exacting an increasingly heavy price on Israel, cracking open internal divisions and undermining its international standing.

Indeed, there is another side to the coin - the Syrian and Palestinian positions - but Israeli society is not exempt from its responsibility in perpetuating the conflict. The lust for the territories of Judea, Samaria, and the Golan Heights is torpedoing efforts to reach peace agreements to the same degree as Palestinian rejectionism and Syrian obstinance. The frustration is particularly acute given that the solution is known from the start. Even its parameters are detailed and lucid.

In addition, the public in this country is realizing that peace is preferable to territories. Even the heads of Likud know that the starting position staked by the party's founding fathers more than 40 years ago are no longer relevant. Nonetheless, public opinion has not translated this trend into an outright demand from the state's leaders to end the conflict. The unwillingness to come to this necessary conclusion stems, of course, from the fears evoked by the mood among the Palestinian public and the Syrian leadership, yet it is also greatly influenced by the increasing isolation of the settler population and the threat of civil war this isolation places before the state.

Journalists write to make an impact. Forty years after the meeting with Uzi Narkiss, this writer feels he can claim to be right in his observations but failed in enunciating them. One cannot expect a man whose age forces him into retirement to change his opinion. Even today, he wishes to tell the readers of Haaretz: "Make peace."