The Tin Badge II

Published January 03, 2003, issue of January 03, 2003.
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The downward spiral of the West Bank and Gaza into ungovernable chaos, as reported by our Ori Nir on Page 1, serves as a reminder that America doesn’t have a monopoly on populist bluster and unintended consequences. By insisting on remaining in control of the territories it captured in 1967, whether because it hasn’t found a partner to receive them or because it feels entitled to keep them, Israel has locked itself into an ever-worsening crisis in the security, economic, diplomatic and moral spheres. The harder it pressures the Palestinians to change their hostile attitude toward Israel, the deeper their hostility grows. Palestinian misery mounts, Israel grows ever more isolated — and still the terrorism continues.

To say that Israel’s current policies are hindering more than advancing a solution to the crisis is not to suggest that Israel is somehow to blame for the crisis. It is not. The Jewish state faces a horrendous threat from terrorists bent on its destruction. It is entitled to defend itself. The question is how.

It was just about two years ago that Ariel Sharon was elected prime minister of the Jewish state on a platform that promised peace and security. His intended method of getting there was the firm hand he has favored throughout his career: press the Palestinians hard, then harder still, until they cried Uncle. It hasn’t worked, but Sharon shows little sign of considering other paths.

Returning to the negotiating table to seek a compromise agreement? Not until terrorism ends. Israel won’t “negotiate under fire,” Sharon said again last month, during a meeting with visiting Senator Joseph Lieberman. What that means, of course, is that any extremist with a gun or a sack of fertilizer can dictate the fate of the region. But principles are principles.

Unilateral separation from the Palestinians? That would give the Palestinians just what they want, Israeli withdrawal, which would amount to “rewarding terrorism,” as Israel’s hawkish military chief of staff, Moshe Ya’alon, has stated repeatedly.

One of the oddities of the Israeli right is the effort it expends attempting to prove that Arab and Muslim hostility to Israel is not a response to particular policies but a deep-seated cultural phenomenon that is unlikely to change — all the while insisting that Israel should resist any change in the status quo until Arab attitudes toward Israel change.

That’s a recipe for continued misery on both sides.

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