As expected, Labor Party Chairman Amram Mitzna's promise to withdraw from most of the territories, with or without an agreement, drew fire from the right. Two and a half years after the unilateral withdrawal from the killing fields of Lebanon, the argument that rescuing the soldiers from their colonolialist mission in Gaza will be interpreted as a "prize to the terrorists." Some say the Lebanon withdrawal in May 2000 proved to the Palestinians that Israelis only understand force. So, they say, the "surrender in Lebanon" led to the outbreak of the intifada four months later. According to that logic, Israeli soldiers should have bled to death in Lebanon to this day. After all, if Syria were to get up and remove Hezbollah from the northern border, the Damascus papers would rightfully write that it's a prize for settlement expansion on the Golan Heights.
The use of the term "prize" turns the international arena into personal - and usually, childish - relations. Opposition to quitting Gaza is reminiscent of the behavior of some Israeli drivers: they'll risk their lives by overtaking a traffic offender, then deliberately delay the fellow at the stop sign, obstruct traffic in general, and arrive late to an important meeting. It's true the 6,000 Israelis have nothing to look for among more than a million Palestinians in Gaza. Most of the government agrees it's a shame for even a single soldier to lose his life to sanctify the Jewish presence for which we are making tens of thousands of refugees' lives miserable. But we're no suckers: we'll stay there as a bone in our throat and theirs, until the Palestinians cry uncle.
Mitzna's plan to restart negotiations with the Palestinians over the future of the West Bank also raised objections, and not only from the right. They received an accomplice in the form of former prime minister and Labor movement member Ehud Barak. The former premier convinced many in the center, and even on the left, that he laid down on the fence for peace, but Arafat missed the opportunity to cross over. The conclusion is that there's no choice but to leave the political initiative in the freezer until better times arrive. Until then, the right enjoys passive - and even active - support from the "peace camp" for innumerable military operations.
Nobody asks why the attempt to reach a permanent agreement with the Palestinians won only four-to-five months of grace (though according to Barak, the Taba talks were nothing more than an exercise), while the military option, even though it has been proved repeatedly to be weak and lead nowhere, gets an infinite amount of chances. The negotiations for an agreement in Northern Ireland and Cyprus have gone on for decades, but the opponents do not give into difficulties nor to terrorists. They are not demanding their partners be changed. But here, on our side, the mere readiness to sit down to negotiate with the rival is considered "a prize to terror," and a politician who proposes giving another chance to the political option is considered a novice.
The strange claim made against Mitzna, with regard to his readiness to negotiate under fire, is, in retrospect, aimed at assassinated prime minister Yitzhak Rabin. It was Rabin who set the rule that negotiations should be conducted as if there's no terror, and terror should be fought as if there's no negotiations. There were some leaders (like de Gaulle with the Algerian rebels) who spoke with the enemy while its people were murdering the leaders' people. Presumably Mitzna, like Rabin, does not intend to shake hands with those Palestinians who pulled the triggers. His only condition to the Palestinians is that they turn their back on terror and do whatever they can to stop it.
Freezing the peace process after every terrorist attack is the real prize for terrorism. So is the refusal to leave Gaza and the refusal to renew the negotiations over permanent borders for the State of Israel.
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