The War of the Awful Days

The great Israeli-Palestinian war has still not received a name. Three years after the Israelis and Palestinians began killing each other with a cruelty unequalled since 1948, they have still not defined for themselves and each other why they are doing so.

Neither side knows now why they are killing or being killed. .This is the reason why this filthy war is being conceived by both sides as a muddy, poisonous and pointless trench war. It is a trench war that is threatening both societies from the inside, and they are clinging to each other's throats and refusing to let go.

The war broke out on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, in the year 2000. That is why the obvious name in Hebrew would be the Rosh Hashanah war. However, because of its length and its attritive nature, a more fitting name would actually be the War of the Days of Awe, or the Awful Days. The war of 10 awful days, 100 awful days, 1,000 awful days - and no end is in sight. The days are more and more awful and the war is not drawing to a close.

The Israelis' need to define for themselves what this war is all about is greater than that of the Palestinians. As a conquered nation, the Palestinians can always pretend that their war is one of liberation. They can avoid giving a detailed report about Camp David, Taba or the accord with Hamas.

On the other hand, the Israelis, who are forced by the war to use the tactics of an occupying power, must define for themselves with lucidity what their objectives are. They must know exactly with what purpose in mind they are sending their boys to the roadblocks and to carry out assassinations. They must know exactly why they are being killed in coffee shops and shopping malls. They must know what their political, ideological and ethical horizon is in this wretched mire, for if their war does not have a defined and defining objective, they will not be able to withstand it for long.

The justified Israeli objective in the Awful Days War is one and one only: the achievement of Palestinian, Arab and international recognition of the right to a Jewish-democratic state within which the Jewish people exercise their right of self-determination within the 1967 borders. This is the horizon that Israel should be striving to reach during these awful days. This is the objective that should be defining its war. The war broke out because of the Palestinians' refusal to recognize the legitimacy of Jewish sovereignty and in the face of the Palestinian refusal to recognize this legitimacy, the war is continuing to be waged. That is why this war should end as soon as the Palestinians retract this refusal. Immediately after the achievement of recognition of the right of a sovereign Jewish state to exist, Israel should withdraw from the occupied territories, dismantle most of the settlements and return to within its national home that is recognized by the law of the nations.

The current Israeli government, however, is not able to define this goal. Because of the unbearable political pressure of the right-wing fringe and the settlers, the Israeli government is refraining from clarifying exactly what the war it is conducting is all about. It employs various strategems and conjures up tricks of moderation but does not say anything explicit or binding. In this way, it trips up the IDF, shakes the country's internal strength and undermines the war effort. Because of its lack of decisiveness and inspiration, and the inability of its leaders to project an aura of integrity, the Israeli government is slowly extinguishing the country's strength. It is bringing about a situation where the national robustness, and Israel's moral superiority, are being eroded.

The third summer of the War of Awful Days was the summer of missed opportunities. With supreme toil and efforts, the Shin Bet security service and the IDF succeeded in creating a golden opportunity for the political echelons. They succeeded in isolating Yasser Arafat, striking at Hamas and encouraging a process of reform in the Palestinian Authority. However, at that point in time, when the Israeli government should have made its own brave moves, it got cold feet. It did not manage to crystallize a serious diplomatic proposal that would be derived from the war's objective and hasten its close. Since this was the case, it now bears not insignificant responsibility for the renewal of hostilities and for the fact that we again find ourselves in the dreadful quagmire of a pointless war.

On this Yom Kippur, the prime minister of Israel will have to do profound soul-searching. Sharon is a very cunning politician. History, however, could be even more cunning than he is. The double game he played for so long with such talent has exhausted itself. The prolonged attempt to evade difficult decisions and clear definitions has likewise exhausted itself. With the start of the fourth year of the war, it is abundantly clear that, if his government does not clearly define this as the war for Israeli sovereignty, it will be impossible to win it or conclude it. For so long as the suspicion exists that this is a war of occupation and settlements, the awful days will not come to an end.