Israelis say no to suicide

February 02, 2003|By Walter Reich

WASHINGTON - Israel's Labor Party lost Tuesday's election because not enough Israelis were willing to vote for a party that had stepped into its own coffin.

True, some did vote for Labor. But most of them did so out of loyalty, habit or the sense that voting for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's Likud or any of the other parties was either unpalatable or unthinkable. And they knew that they were voting for a political corpse that will rise only with the coming of the messiah - a messiah whose name isn't Shimon Peres, and certainly not Amram Mitzna.

It was, in fact, a campaign pledge by Labor's candidate for prime minister, Mr. Mitzna, that pounded the final nail into that corpse's coffin. Mr. Mitzna said he would negotiate with the Palestinian Authority even as Palestinian terrorism - much of which has been supported or condoned by the PA - continues.

Even the majority of Israelis who are ready to make a deal that would create a Palestinian state - even those who would accept compromises that the most dovish Israelis would have rejected not long ago - are convinced it's crazy to negotiate with those who are actively killing them. Not just crazy - suicidal. And as epidemic as the virus of suicide has become in that area, Israelis haven't yet caught it.

Why do Israelis see negotiations with Palestinians before they stop their terrorist attacks as suicidal? Not because most of them have relatives or friends, or know people who have relatives or friends, whose heads, arms or legs were blown off, whose eyes were burned blind, or whose brains, as they lie comatose in hospitals, are still pierced by nails. That makes them grieve, and it makes them angry, but it doesn't stop them from hoping that something they can do could stop those outrages.

They see negotiations during terrorism as suicidal because they're convinced that such negotiations would demonstrate to Palestinians who use or support terrorism that it works as a political tactic and that ever more demands can be made that will eventually be satisfied by Israeli negotiators desperate for a deal.

Since Palestinians began the current wave of violence in September 2000, Israelis have witnessed an astonishing outpouring of Palestinian conviction that the Jewish state is illegitimate and must be, and eventually will be, eliminated. And there's a growing Israeli consensus that, even if they get a state, Palestinians would continue terrorist atrocities until they achieve that goal unless they become convinced that by continuing terrorism they'll get no state or lose any state they do get.

So by advocating that Israel should reward Palestinian terrorism by negotiating even while Israeli voters are being blown up, Labor stepped into its own coffin. And Israelis aren't ready to make that party's coffin theirs - and their country's - as well.

It will take a political messiah willing to compromise on territory but not on security to revive Labor's self-interred corpse.

Walter Reich, the Yitzhak Rabin Memorial Professor of International Affairs, Ethics and Human Behavior at George Washington University, was director the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum from 1995 to 1998.

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