Time is working against everyone


It is tempting–in view of the coincidence of the third anniversary of the al Aqsa intifada, the tenth anniversary of the Oslo accords, the 30th anniversary of the outbreak of the Yom Kippur War and the 25th anniversary of the Camp David accords that led to Israeli-Egyptian peace–to compare two Israel-Arab conflicts and their outcomes. Will the effect of hundreds of dead, thousands of disabled and billions of dollars that the Israeli public has been paying out since October 2000, ultimately resemble that of the October 1973 trauma? (I’ll leave the questions regarding the Palestinian balance to my Palestinian colleagues.) What has to happen in order for Israelis to reach the conclusion that on the eastern front, like on the southern front, political accommodation with a neighbor offers a better guarantee of security than disputed territories, and that a peace that resembles non-belligerency is better than any kind of war?

It is argued that there is no room to compare the open spaces of Sinai and the Egyptian border, far from the nearest Israeli settlement, with the West Bank and Gaza Strip border, located within primitive mortar range of central Israel. Some say that a peace agreement with a stable and orderly Arab state like Egypt in no way even resembles an agreement with a Palestinian organization that hasn’t decided whether or not it really wants to become a stable and orderly country. They argue that while Egypt concluded that it could not defeat Israel, there are still Palestinian leaders who believe that terrorism can win the struggle against Israel.

The conclusion drawn from an analysis of these distinctions is that Israel cannot permit itself in the foreseeable future to give up strategic territories in the West Bank and Gaza–a conclusion only confirmed by the abortive attempt, in the course of the 1991 Madrid process and the 1993 Oslo agreement, to abandon military solutions in favor of a political option. After Ehud Barak persuaded them that the Palestinians rejected his "generous offer", Israelis have blocked their minds to the argument that terrorist attacks in Tel Aviv are a response to the occupation of Hebron.

But in order for this comparison to be complete, we must address the time factor. Imagine that Egyptian President Anwar Sadat had waited another quarter of a century before coming to Jerusalem to offer full peace in return for all the territories conquered by Israel from Egypt. Imagine that instead of 6,000 settlers who had moved to Sinai during the ten years between 1967 and Sadat’s historic visit, there were 230,000 Jews in Sinai, who had settled the region in the course of 36 years since the Six Day War. Would the Sharon-Lieberman-Eitam government evacuate Yamit, which in due course would have grown into a city like Maaleh Adummim with tens of thousands of residents? It is certainly possible that under these circumstances Sadat would never have come to Jerusalem, and that Israel, burdened with conflict on its eastern flank and tension on its northern border, would now have to deploy sizeable contingents in its southern theater as well, to confront a large and powerful Arab army. And under these circumstances, Jordan would be hard put to maintain its peace agreement with Israel.

Three years of intifada have opened the eyes of the world, including the United States, to recognize that, as in the case of the Israeli-Egyptian (and Israeli-Syrian) conflict, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict also has two sides: terrorism, and territory. The roadmap, born of the intifada, asserts that the lack of symmetry between the murder of children and the theft of land need not absolve Israel of the obligation to at least dismantle outposts that it itself has determined are illegal and to freeze construction in existing settlements. For the time being the roadmap has reached a dead end due to the Palestinians’ difficulty in dismantling terrorist organizations as if there were no occupation, and the Israelis’ problem with dismantling settlements as if there were no terrorism.

To extricate themselves from this "catch", the Palestinians must overcome domestic constraints and start acting unilaterally against terrorism. Only this will allow domestic and external pressures to force Israel to respond by acting in the territorial dimension and beginning to remove settlements. After three years of useless suffering, there are indications that the Palestinians are beginning to recognize that the horror and the anger generated among Israelis by terrorism override any logical consideration with regard to issues like the demographic danger, economic decline and even damage to quality of life. If these indications are converted into deeds, then the past three years will not have been lost, and thousands of victims will not have died in vain.