In the wake of the recent grave terror incidents, Haaretz journalist Uri Misgav rightfully criticizes the cynical politicians who hastened to dance on blood in order to gain political capital. But Misgav’s truthful words in no way support his unrealistic conclusion: “In Israel, we now have a unity government that includes right and left, conservatives and liberals, Jews and Arabs, veteran Israelis and new immigrants. If it doesn’t overcome terror, nobody will,” he wrote (Haaretz Hebrew edition, March 31).
Unfortunately, the truth is somewhat different: In Israel, we now have a government that has decided to refrain from the only step that can defeat terror over the long term: a diplomatic agreement with the Palestinians.
Before I explain, I believe that some basic questions have to be cleared up: What is the terror against which we have declared war, what is victory and what is the strategy needed to achieve it, will victory be achieved in a decisive war in which terror is vanquished and a white flag is waved, or perhaps in a war of attrition in which terror becomes exhausted and national aspirations are abandoned?
Although the Naftali Bennett-Yair Lapid government is a patchwork coalition with many weaknesses and clashing opinions, I was happy when it was formed. I believed that it was right to pay the price in order to put an end to the damage caused by the government of former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and to ensure that a person who is under indictment for grave crimes doesn’t serve as prime minister.
I had no illusions about the price: a reinforcement of Islamic studies in the spirit of the Muslim Brotherhood in many of the schools in Israel’s Arab communities, and the appointment of conservative justices to the Supreme Court, who distinguish among terrorists based on their national identity (which is why a crime that would define its Palestinian perpetrator as a terrorist does not do the same to a Jew who commits an identical crime), thereby exacerbating the rift between citizens of the country.
There’s also a refusal to amend the Nation-State Law, and a refraining from condemning the anti-Palestinian violence of a lawless group of settlers, who even attack Israel Defense Forces soldiers — the extremist right-wing Lehava, for example, should be defined as a terror organization. In other words, my support, and that of many others, in the present government is not thanks to enthusiasm for its strange composition, but a result of factoring in the cost-benefit analysis in light of our dismal experience with the Netanyahu government.
Do the recent attacks affect that consideration? The answer is: yes! My warning is not designed, heaven forbid, to pave Netanyahu’s way from the courtroom back to the Prime Minister’s Office, but so that the Bennett-Lapid government comes to its senses and changes its diplomatic policy.
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Since 1967 we have not seen such a bizarre situation, in which an Israeli prime minister publicly declares his absolute refusal to conduct diplomatic negotiations regardless of the viewpoints of the Palestinians, with the backing of the alternate prime minister. The Bennett-Lapid government also says it finds the two-state solution unacceptable, although it was accepted by previous governments, both right-wing and left-wing. As a result, the traditional argument about our hand always being extended in peace is no longer true.
A government that refuses to recognize the existence of a Palestinian people and does not stake out a diplomatic blueprint that would constitute an alternative to the path of violence, is relinquishing the most effective weapon against terror.
The absence of a policy that strives to reach an agreement also attests to insensitivity to the pain of Israeli-Palestinian citizens, who see their fellow university students, or members of the team with whom they save lives in Israeli hospitals, doing reserve duty in order to guarantee the continued occupation of their people.
With our own hands, we are intensifying the mutual relationship between the violence of Palestinians in the territories and that of small groups among Palestinians who are Israeli citizens. With our own hands, we are helping to turn the path of radical Islam into the option chosen by desperate young Palestinians. And it should be emphasized: I am not trying to justify atrocious Palestinian terror. But demagogic slogans won’t defeat terror.
Concern for Israel’s future requires looking at the existing reality and proposing genuine solutions. We must also avoid the mistake of fostering illusions regarding the regional front purportedly confronting the Iranian threat. Without an agreement with the Palestinians, the hostility toward Israel among the Arab public in Amman, Cairo and Riyadh will continue. And in spite of the widely covered ceremonies and the handshakes at the summit in Israel’s south, it will lead to the melting away of the regional preparations at a time of testing.
A government that defeats terror and provides security is a government that is capable of genuine soul-searching and historic decisions. Like the government of Menachem Begin, which brought the peace agreement with Egypt; like the government of Yitzhak Rabin, that decided to conduct negotiations with the Palestine Liberation Organization; like the government of Ehud Barak, who withdrew the IDF from Lebanon; and like the government of Ariel Sharon, that removed the settlers from Gaza. All those prime ministers reacted courageously to a changing reality, and were willing to change opinions they had declared in the past.
Israel is in need of a government that understands guaranteeing the country’s security and its Jewish and democratic character require full civil equality for its Arab citizens, as well as an attempt to reach a diplomatic agreement with the Palestinian people. Israel needs a government that understands that perpetuating the conflict means perpetuating terror.
The writer is a major general in the reserves and a former head of the Shin Bet security service.