A Time for Generosity

So how do we break the terrible vicious circle, which, for many Israelis, now seems never-ending? Since the beginning of the Intifada some 10 months ago, Israel has tried only one course of action - the way of force.

So how do we break the terrible vicious circle, which, for many Israelis, now seems never-ending? Since the beginning of the Intifada some 10 months ago, Israel has tried only one course of action - the way of force. As though this was the be-all and end-all, Israel employs violence to respond to the horrific acts of terrorism perpetrated against it. In some cases, there can be no complaints about this: Palestinian terrorism is indeed brutal and extremely painful. Yet, however justified and even natural such responses are - revenge is a primal human trait - their unfortunate results are obvious.

True, Israel has, till now, described its policy as being one of "restraint," yet it hasn't restrained itself - it has only underplayed the level of violence it unleashes. It is impossible to speak of restraint in the face of numerous acts of liquidation, stifling sieges, closures and light trigger-fingers that have claimed the lives of many innocent victims, among them women and children. Israel's intransigent insistence on not talking under fire might also sound right, but whether it is smart is doubtful.

In practice, we have not brought about a "lowering of the flames." On the contrary: Tens of thousands of Palestinians walk around with feelings of revenge, rage and hatred that are not unjustified; and quite a few of them are willing to translate their feelings into actions.

What should the residents of the village of Aanin feel about the killing of Mustafa Yassin, a village resident, right in front of his wife and infant daughter? And what should the family of Majad Jalad, a five-year-old boy who is hovering between life and death, think after soldiers shot him in the stomach? And what are the feelings harbored by the relatives of Leila and Rami Abu Moyas, dialysis patients who, three times a week, have to spend hours walking to a nearby hospital? And what about the tens of thousands of Palestinians whose lives have become hell because of the closure and the siege? What feelings are being implanted in them and what buds of calamity will they produce?

These individuals have nothing more to lose. The two leaderships, the Israeli and the Palestinian, leave them no room for hope that the end of their agony is anywhere in sight. Their despair gives rise to more terrorism. It's the despair, not the cruelty, that fuels Palestinian terrorism.

Now, 10 months after the experiment began, the time has come to acknowledge its failure. Force is not the way. Although it is terribly late, though perhaps not fatally so, the time has come to try another approach. There isn't much to lose now either: The path Israel has followed thus far has turned out to be blatantly terrible; and if the alternative course of action were to fail too, the state could always revert back to the old method. Then, and only then, would it be possible to treat the bloody cycle of violence fatalistically, as many Israelis, in fact, already do.

Now is the time for action aimed at imbuing the Palestinians with some hope, without which there is no chance of them fighting terrorism. Strange as it may sound, now is the time for generous concessions. Instead of attacks by war planes and rather than raising the Israeli flag over Orient House in East Jerusalem - appropriate responses to satisfy public opinion, but otherwise pointless - Israel should come out with a major political initiative that would enable the Palestinian leadership to give its people a reason to fight terrorism and would also instill some hope in the citizens of Israelis.

Most of the cabinet ministers in the present government are incapable of taking such a step. Responsibility rests with the prime minister, Ariel Sharon, who is riding the crest of a wave of popularity, and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, who is known as a warrior for peace.

Peres' periodic mutterings about the need to evacuate the settlements in the Gaza Strip are not enough; he has to throw his full weight behind this idea. Nor is it enough for him to make a well-publicized tour, geared toward the Labor Party's primaries, with Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer to ensure an improvement in the Palestinians' living conditions. Peres has to do a lot more, otherwise he too will bear responsibility for what will happen. From Peres, at least, this is what we have a right to expect. And on the other side, those who think that only the right wing and Sharon can get things done, are invited to demand courageous steps from the prime minister.

The elimination of the devastating siege, a reduction in the level of the closure, a cessation of the targeted assassinations, a return to the negotiating table without prior conditions and the evacuation of remote settlements as a sign of Israel's serious intentions about peace could generate a genuine shift in the frame of mind of the Palestinians. These are measures that entail no risk for Israel, only the prospect of better times.

The reasoning that says such actions are not to be taken under fire is ludicrous. What, after all, do we have to lose - our respect, our shattering might that will never eradicate terrorism, the heavy security burden caused by isolated settlements like Kadim, Ganim and Kfar Yam?

This is also the time to tell the truth: The victims of this Intifada are victims of the settlement enterprise. If the settlements were not there, the way to peace would be a lot easier, even if not guaranteed.