Before the Consensus Breaks

We do not need to wait for the consensus to crumble over a high death toll. The changes now being felt in the air are enough to take another look at the way forward in Gaza.

While the war in Gaza is conducted in the shadow of mending the failures of the Second Lebanon War, an additional lesson can be drawn from that experience - to end the war now, before the consensus in support of it breaks. Just as there is value in rehabilitating the army's image and the home front's feeling that this time it is not being left to its fate, ending the war while there is still broad support for it would be a step toward correcting the mistakes of the past.

Consensus is a powerful component of national strength, and maintaining it is valuable in itself. Making efforts to keep a consensus is not an expression of weakness, but of wisdom, no less than considerations of the home front's capacity to endure, or of forecasts of conscientious objection among soldiers. Both of these have evolved into basic points when leaders make major decisions.

Maintaining broad agreement will not allow the fighting to go on for much longer, and cracks in the consensus are widening. If street demonstrations are an important measure of consensus, if conscientious objection (even in the eyes of its opponents) is a measure of a war's legitimacy, the Gaza war has been viewed so far as a very different conflict from its predecessors. It is above all a personal war, one harder to refuse to fight in. Still, emphasis must be placed on the words "so far."

Public condemnation of the war has revealed that the initial street protests, perhaps as a lesson from Lebanon, came much faster and were larger. As always, it was first the radical left that hit the streets, led largely by Arab citizens. The brutal war being waged against the Palestinian public in Gaza is for them a war against close relatives. That already makes this war a more personal affair than Lebanon.

This feeling of being "personal," however, also limits criticism from spreading. Even leftist Zionists view this as a highly personal war. Eight years of Qassam rockets have brought the wider Israeli public closer to residents of the south. Their stories are familiar, and the offense of ignoring them for so long weighs on their consciences.

This feeling was evident in the demonstration opposite the Defense Ministry organized by Peace Now last Saturday evening. Many of the participants were troubled by the low turnout of the Zionist left, and some people expressed discomfort with their very attendance at a protest with which they did not totally identify. Then there are the disengaged, the apathetic, who stand aside in the face of horrors that would once have sent masses into the streets.

"Vengeance is not a mode of operation," wrote activists of the Courage to Refuse movement on the war's 12th day. Even if they are right, there is no doubt that the feeling of vengeance is a uniting force among the protesters.

In this context it is appropriate to note that despite the entry of reserve forces, there had not been a single conscientious objector until yesterday. In the Second Lebanon War, the first such refusenik came on the operation's second day. Even veteran conscientious objectors admit that this war is different, and in the same breath grumble about the establishment presenting it as a war of necessity.

Still, this sentiment seems to be dissipating. Even if the consensus begins to slowly erode, concerns are growing that electoral considerations are influencing our leaders, amid thoughts that maybe there is an alternative worth examining. We do not need to wait for the consensus to crumble over a high death toll. The changes now being felt in the air are enough to take another look at the way forward in Gaza.