So Sorry We Didn't Win

Even if the statistics seem to indicate an Israeli achievement, the last round has been branded in the Palestinians' consciousness as their victory. It has taught Israel the limitations of power.

The book "So Sorry We Won" (1967) by Ephraim Kishon and caricaturist Dosh expressed the huge relief Israel's citizens felt by the removal of the Arab world's threat to its existence in the weeks preceding the Six-Day War. In the spirit of that book's title, Israeli leaders are now persisting to claim an Israeli victory over the Palestinians. They warn that if the results of the confrontation are given the reverse interpretation, the state's future would be in danger.

Thus, for example, Benjamin Netanyahu explains his demand to destroy the homes of the settlers that would be evacuated in the disengagement. He claims that leaving the houses intact would be giving the terror organizations a prize and would feed the Palestinian aspirations to inherit Israel inside the Green Line as well.

In contrast to Kishon and Dosh's columns and caricatures, which reflected the authentic fear for the nation's existence that inundated Israel in May-June '67 as a result of the war hysteria pervading the Arab world, the claim made by Netanyahu and his ilk to an Israeli victory in 2004-2005 is a product of public relations. The book settles the score with the world's indifference to Israel's distress in those days. But Netanyahu and the security establishment's demand that he is expressing - to declare an Israeli victory - ignores the international community's involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the reversal of the David and Goliath images that has occurred since then.

Most importantly, Kishon and Dosh reflected a consensus - the individual and collective image of Israel's citizens 38 years ago was of a vulnerable, just community defending itself and going to war to fight for its life. The reality of May 2005 is controversial. Only a part of Israel's citizens, and apparently not the majority, believes the present war with the Palestinians is necessary, that winning it is vital to the state's continued existence and that the fate of the evacuated buildings would have a concrete effect on its future.

Without going into whether it would be preferable to demolish the evacuated houses or give them away, Netanyahu's argument is fallacious. Leaving the structures intact would have only a marginal effect on the Palestinians' sense of victory. The withdrawal itself is the main thing, and it comes, according to the prime minister's admission, not because Israel has been gripped by a gush of generosity but because the security circumstances require it.

In other words, the armed Palestinian uprising has a real effect on the decision to withdraw. The difference between Netanyahu and Ariel Sharon is that the former continues to deny the facts of life while the latter explains that today he sees things that he did not see yesterday. Even if the finance minister and Israel Defense Forces heads continue claiming that Israel has won, or warning not to present things in a way that the Palestinians would perceive as their success, the verbal make-up would not cover the scars of reality. The Palestinian guerrilla war is indeed about to drive Israel out of the entire Gaza Strip and a part of northern Samaria. The mighty IDF and the rest of the advanced security branches, with all their abundant resources, failed to subdue the Palestinian rebellion.

Israel has reached this gloomy outcome despite the devotion and courage of its warriors and the huge efforts (some of them controversial) that its defense forces invested in the war effort. This conclusion is not made joyfully but with sobriety. Like stronger and larger states, Israel has failed to defeat a guerrilla war and to establish a long-term rule over another nation that is struggling for its independence.

Even if the statistics (for example, the number of victims and wounded people on each side, or the number of terrorist attacks at the beginning of the confrontation and at its end) seem to indicate an Israeli achievement, the last round has been branded in the Palestinians' consciousness as their victory. It has taught Israel the limitations of power. This is not a bad result from the Israeli point of view. The chance for peace increases, the greater the Arab side's success in rehabilitating its pride and preserving its dignity. The precedent of the Yom Kippur War and the peace with Egypt proves it.