The Jimmy Carter of Haifa

A self-indulgent state of mind is once again taking hold of the Israeli political environment. After 18 months of reserve, maturity and fortitude, a substantial share of opinion makers in Israel have decided they're fed up.

A self-indulgent state of mind is once again taking hold of the Israeli political environment. After 18 months of reserve, maturity and fortitude, a substantial share of opinion makers in Israel have decided they're fed up. Fed up with the war, fed up with the national unity government, and in general - fed up with reality. They want peace, and right now. And if not peace, then at least a fence, and right now. And they don't want to have to see Sharon, Peres and Fuad around here anymore. Sharon is a schemer, Peres a dishrag, Fuad - well, Fuad is an Iraqi, after all. It's time to replace them with some fair-minded, still-trim officer, one of our own. A homegrown Jimmy Carter. Someone who will make peace for us right now, give us a fence right now, and who would immediately remedy all that ails us. Someone who would do for Israel of the 2000s what Jimmy Carter did for America of the late 1970s.

Sharon, Peres and Fuad are no feast for the eyes. Their national unity government is a convoluted and, at times, odious government. The roster of failures of the three men runs long: They did not revitalize the economy; they did not repair society; they have lost any semblance of vision. But on one piddling matter, Sharon-Peres-Fuad have succeeded beyond anyone's dreams: Within an 18-month span, they have moved the State of Israel from the threshold of defeat to the threshold of victory.

For those who have managed to forget: In December 2000 and January 2001, the eve of the current government's election, during negotiations then being held in Gaza and Taba, the Palestinian leadership was telling the government of Israel to jump. And Israel jumped. In Gaza and Taba, the Palestinian leadership told the government of Israel to crawl. And Israel crawled. In the nosedive of holding negotiations under fire, diplomatic Israel collapsed in the face of the Palestinian onslaught. In the wild orgy of escalating terrorist bombings and bloodshed and concessions, sovereign Israel was routed by the Arafat strategy of extortion and threat. Until finally, a battered Israeli prime minister said to a despised Israeli foreign minister one of the most difficult sentences to ever be uttered by a prime minister in Israel: Any offer, Ehud Barak said to Shlomo Ben-Ami, any offer that won't look humiliating.

So on the eve of the installation of Sharon-Peres-Fuad, the State of Israel was at a nadir unlike any it had known since mid-October 1973. It stood on the brink of absolute downfall. Be the deficiencies of the current prime minister, foreign minister and defense minister what they may, it is impossible to deny them this particular accomplishment: They raised us up from the bottom. They brought us up from the depths, so much so that the war situation has now reversed, and the attacker Arafat has become the beleaguered Arafat. So much so that the nationalist Palestinian leadership of the summer of 2002 is starting to slightly resemble the nationalist Husseini leadership of the summer of 1938, of the beginning of the end of the Great Arab Revolt.

Sharon-Peres-Fuad did not do what they did through any ingenious, secret, or sophisticated strategic plan. They did it through resolute obstinacy over a very simple principle: We don't negotiate under fire; we don't withdraw under threat. This is the ironclad rule that is the foundation of every withstanding of every onslaught and the basis for every genuine process of reconciliation. This is the ironclad rule that defined the peace with Egypt in the past and which must define the peace with the Palestinians in the future.

Amram Mitzna thinks otherwise. The first new tactic proposed by this flavor-of-the-month candidate for prime minister is unconditional negotiations. Which means negotiations under fire. The second new tactic he proposes is an unconditional fence. Which means withdrawal under fire. So really, the two new flags now unfurled by the mayor of Haifa are the old flags of withdrawal under fire and of concessions under fire. Both flags are white flags. Within a very short while, they will be stained with blood. Anyone who buys into such thinking at this critical time is committing an act of irresponsibility that is liable to let a crucial and possible victory slip from Israel's hands, and could again lead it to the depths - to that same historic nadir from which Sharon, Peres and Fuad rescued us by the skin of our teeth.

America of the late `70s was strong enough to endure the foolish and naive policies of Jimmy Carter. The trim naval officer may have let the Soviet tanks into Afghanistan and the ayatollahs into Tehran, but America survived. Israel of the current decade has much narrower margins of security. She cannot afford any Jimmy Carter adventure of her own. Not even the sort that is now considered by many to be Israel's last great white hope.