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Israel's 'Government of Change' Is Paralyzed by Fear

Ami Ayalon
Ami Ayalon
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Prime Minister Yair Lapid, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and military chief Aviv Kochavi.
Prime Minister Yair Lapid, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and military chief Aviv Kochavi.Credit: Haim Zach / GPO
Ami Ayalon
Ami Ayalon

The deterioration of the security situation in the West Bank has caused Israel’s leaders to fall back on tired cliches: “The security forces are ready for all eventualities,” “Our soldiers will destroy any hand that’s raised against us,” and the like. However, this time we have also heard comments that sound like they’re coming from a betrayed spouse: How can the Palestinians violate the enlightened rules that we wrote, which are supposed to guide our relations? We have given you so many economic benefits and in return, you’ve given us terror.

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It was in this spirit that army Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi was unable to hide his disappointment at the “helplessness of the [Palestinian] security forces and Palestinian Authority’s loss of control.” Other Israeli officials wondered if Israel had failed to invest enough in the relationship, and Defense Minister Benny Gantz announced plans to strengthen the PA.

But none of these officials have shared with us the simple truth they have known from years of intelligence agency briefings: Without a true political process that will lead to the end of the occupation, the PA is destined to grow weaker while the forces of militant terror that reject any compromise with Israel grow stronger.

“Economic peace” is no less a fiction than “managing the conflict” or “shrinking the conflict” are. Infrastructure projects in the Gaza Strip, an increase in the number of permits to work in Israel and encouraging foreign aid will not satisfy the hunger of a people who want to be freed of the occupation. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ declining standing in Palestinian public opinion in large part derives from his strategic choice to cooperate with Israel. Without a political horizon, Abbas and his loyalists are seen as nothing more than collaborators.

When Yamina lawmaker Matan Kahana says that in Israel’s struggle with Hamas “we need to strengthen those who are cooperating with us,” he is adding another nail to the PA’s coffin by confirming to the Palestinian street that its leaders are Israel’s junior partners. In this context, we should be reminded that the second intifada didn’t arise out of economic distress but from the Palestinian public’s loss of trust that their leaders would be able to achieve the goal of statehood. Yitzhak Rabin understood very well the equation that Israel faces – that the goal of eliminating terrorism in the long-term will only be achieved by an end to the occupation and Palestinian independence.

As head of the Shin Bet security services for more than four years, I often met with the heads of the Palestinian security forces. All of them, each in their own way, revealed the same heartbreaking dilemma they contended with: “We are fighting those of our Palestinian brothers who have chosen the instrument of terror because we accept that this is the price we have to pay to ensure an independent state for ourselves! The day that the Palestinian street loses faith in the political process, you can forget about us! We’re not the army of Gen. [Antoine] Lahad who worked for you in Lebanon. Don’t confuse us with him.”

It is depressing that even Israel’s current government, which crowned itself the “government of change,” has hewed to Benjamin Netanyahu’s path. The latter backed the Trump plan, despite it being completely biased against the Palestinians in the division of the land, the establishment of a Palestinian state, an exchange of territories and even a safe passage between the West Bank and Gaza.

The so-called government of change has in practice adopted policies even further to the right than Netanyahu’s, adhering to Jerusalem’s three “nos” – no to negotiations, no to recognition and no to peace with the Palestinian people. But policies like these guarantee a bloody deterioration of relations between the two peoples, the deepening of the apartheid-like characteristics that exist in the territories and the slide into the violent and irreversible reality of a binational state.

Our leaders know that the majority of the Israeli public fully recognizes the nightmare of one state in which there is no Jewish majority, but they lack the courage to say out in the open what they speak about behind closed doors. Israel is still waiting for a leader courageous enough to declare a change in policy from “managing/shrinking the conflict” to one of “managing an arrangement,” a process of bringing about the creation of two states. Most know that this is the only way to prevent the work of the fathers of Zionism, who established a Jewish and democratic state when they formulated the Declaration of Independence, from being destroyed. If this brave leader fails to emerge and we fail to come to our senses, we will leave our children and grandchildren an inheritance violence and loss of identity.

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