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Monday, February 09, 2009

Clenching Israel's fists

On the day that the Oslo Declaration of Principles was signed on the White House lawn, I was in New York City attending a day of meetings for a client who held a high position in the Labor party. The client was cheering on Yitzchak Rabin and assuring me that we would soon have 'peace,' that a 'new Middle East' was coming, that we would reach a 'territorial compromise' with the 'Palestinians' and all of the other Utopian catch phrases I'm sure all of you have heard before. Later, the client rejoiced that a majority of the Jewish members of the Knesset voted for a resolution expressing support for the Oslo Declaration of Principles.

I wanted to believe it. I really did. And while I thought that maybe if we had real assurances that a 'territorial compromise' could lead to the end of war, the end of terrorism and read peace, the compromises involved might be worth it, deep down, I was deeply suspicious of Arafat and his motives and didn't believe it was really going to happen. I remained suspicious and continued to be more so with each terror attack. I never really supported the 'peace process.' Arafat's famous speech to what he thought was a closed meeting in a Johannesburg mosque several months later confirmed my suspicions.
On 10 May 1994, Yasir Arafat gave what he thought was an off-the-record talk at a mosque while visiting Johannesburg, South Africa. But a South African journalist, Bruce Whitfield of 702 Talk Radio, found a way secretly to record his (English-language) remarks. The moment was an optimistic one for the Arab-Israeli peace process, Arafat having just six days earlier returned triumphantly to Gaza; it was widely thought that the conflict was winding down. In this context, Arafat's bellicose talk in Johannesburg about a "jihad to liberate Jerusalem," had a major impact on Israelis, beginning a process of disillusionment ....

No less damaging than his comments about Jerusalem was Arafat's cryptic allusion about his agreement with Israel. Criticized by Arabs and Muslims for having made concessions to Israel, he defended his actions by comparing them to those of the Prophet Muhammad in a similar circumstance:
I see this agreement as being no more than the agreement signed between our Prophet Muhammad and the Quraysh in Mecca.
Arafat further drew out the comparison, noting that although Muhammad had been criticized for this diplomacy by one of his leading companions (and a future caliph), `Umar ibn al-Khattab, the prophet had been right to insist on the agreement, for it helped him defeat the Quraysh and take over their city of Mecca. In a similar spirit,
we now accept the peace agreement, but [only in order] to continue on the road to Jerusalem.
Most Israelis became disillusioned with the 'peace process' as I did, although many of them took longer. The disillusionment accelerated when the 'Palestinians' started the Oslo Terror War (as we call it) in September 2000, particularly after it was conclusively proven that Arafat was behind the terror and had planned for it all along. Most of the last holdouts gave up when they saw the 'Palestinian' reaction to Israel's expelling all of the Jews from Gaza in 2005. Today, you can probably count the number of Jews who believe peace is possible with the 'Palestinians' in our lifetime on your fingers.

But how did this happen? What pushed Israeli Jews over the brink? And how did the world sit by and let it happen? How did the 'Palestinians' not see it coming? How did they not understand that they were pushing Mrs. Cohen from Hadera (the Israeli version of John Doe) too far? Why didn't they cut a deal? And why is this all coming to a head now?

For those of you trying to figure out why Israel is about to go in a radically different direction than the US went just three months ago, Herb Keinon hits the nail on the head in Monday's JPost.
On Tuesday, the chickens will most likely come home to roost. To rework a phrase from US President Barack Obama's inaugural address, after having its outstretched hand met continuously over the last 15 years by a clenched fist, the Israeli public - if the polls are to be believed - is now clenching its own fist in return.

Palestinian actions over the last 15 years have transformed Israeli society, and the country has gone from believing in the 1990s that it had reached safe shores and had been accepted in the region, to believing in 2009 that no matter what it does - be it negotiating a peace deal based on ceding some 95 percent of the territories, or unilaterally evacuating settlements - it will not be accepted in the region.

While the pundits were warning about the radicalization of Palestinian society and overlooking what the Palestinians were doing to Israeli society, they were also calling unceasingly for Israeli confidence-building measures - steps they calculated were needed to shore up Palestinians' confidence that Israel was indeed genuine about wanting a peace deal, as if the withdrawal from Gaza and evacuation of more than 9,000 Jews was not enough of an indication.

But how about the confidence of Israelis? What were the Palestinians doing to build that up? Suicide bombing attacks, homemade rockets, and tunnels meant to kidnap soldiers don't exactly do the trick.

So as a result, we are facing a situation where regardless of whether it is Likud or Kadima that wins Tuesday's elections by a seat or two, the right-wing bloc will most likely be strengthened considerably, as the Left is simply melting away.

The major polls published Friday, the last time they could be published before the elections, showed that while Likud and Kadima are in a very tight race, the Right bloc is leading the Left bloc by a significant margin of about 65 Knesset mandates to 55. But that is a bit misleading. If you subtract the 10 Arab party mandates, then the Right-Left gap among the Jewish population is even greater - 65-45. And that is definitely not an even split.

And even that figure is a misleading. If you look at Kadima's list, some of those now identified as part of the Left bloc seem anything but - folks like Shaul Mofaz, Tzahi Hanegbi, Ze'ev Boim, Gideon Ezra, Avi Dichter and others.

Nothing epitomizes this right-wing shift better than the rise of Avigdor Lieberman. Ten years ago, his ideas about redrawing Israel's map to exclude the Israeli Arabs and to draw inside the settlements were considered beyond the pale, nearly unthinkable. Now so many people are now thinking the unthinkable that Lieberman's Israel Beiteinu party is poised to possibly become the third-largest party in the country.

And it is not only the Palestinians who bear a great deal of responsibility for this fundamental shift in the country's mood; so do the politicians of the Israeli Arab parties.

For the last 15 years, the ticket for political success on the Israeli Arab street seemed to be strident rhetoric against the state. The more angry and bitter the rhetoric, the better the Arab parties - competing among themselves - seemed to do at the polls among the Arab voters.

The problem is that it was not only the voters in Umm el-Fahm, Kafr Kana and Rahat who were listing to the diatribes of Balad's Azmi Bishara and UAL-Ta'al's Taleb a-Sanaa and Ahmed Tibi; so were the residents of Tel Aviv, Modi'in and Jerusalem. So when Lieberman runs on a ticket demanding loyalty to the state, his words are falling on ears extremely weary of Bishara, Sanaa and Tibi's tirades.
Read the whole thing.

I'll be live-blogging the election results starting sometime after 9:00 Israel time (7:00 GMT, 2:00 EST) on Tuesday night. You're invited to join me.


At 9:05 AM, Blogger NormanF said...

Avigdor's Lieberman's view of Disengagement is the exact opposite of that promoted by the Israeli Left. Israeli Jews are asking with good reason why loyal Jews must be kicked out of their homes for peace while hostile Arabs are permitted to remain in theirs. People are fed up with the attitude that blames Israel for everything while at the same time it excuses and absolves the Arabs of their misdeeds.

There is a sea change in the Jewish attitude and its going to take some time for the region and the rest of the world to catch up to it. Its a political and social earthquake whose true dimensions have yet to be fully be appreciated. The Middle East will never be the same again.


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