August 23, 2001
A Dangerous Beast
The rituals are familiar by now. The sudden bulletins; the footage of chaos and shock and devastation; the anxious wait for the casualty list; the statements of condemnation; the statements of justification; the insane competition over who gets the "credit;" the haunting search for the tiniest bits of remains; the funerals; and the reprisal. And here, the community rallies, new missions are announced, once again we're told that "now more than ever" our solidarity is needed, we hunker down. And then the wait begins again, for though the other shoe has dropped, there is another, and another. This conflict is no two-legged monster, it is a damned centipede and we are nowhere near its end. Not for nothing is this called "terrorism."
It is terrible, of course, but is it simple? Most of us believe approximately as follows: Barak offered them the moon, they said no, and opted for violence. If they were to stop the violence, there would be no reprisals. End of story.
But no matter, not any more. Events overtake and overwhelm. King George and Jaffa, a corner just about everyone who has been to Israel knows. Animals. Where is the one among them who will have the decency to say that these horrid actions disgrace the cause they seek to promote, as well as the faith on which they allegedly rest?
Well then, what to do? Let us stipulate that they are, indeed, animals, that it is Israel's sorry fate to be locked in a deathly battle with wild beasts. Let us further acknowledge that Israel does not have the means to slay all the beasts. Does this mean the beasts have won? Hardly. One can swallow hard, go on with life as best one can, and hope and pray for some external force that will interrupt the deadly cycle.
Or, one can search for ways to tame the beast. One such way: Hit back hard enough and perhaps, out of sheer self-interest rather than decency, let alone generosity, the enemy will think twice before reverting to his traditional role. The trouble is, that way has been tried, over and over again, and has so far been found miserably wanting. The far right insists that Israel's power has not been adequately employed, that Israel's hitting back has been far from "hard enough."
But short of uprooting the population of the West Bank and Gaza, loading them onto trucks and dumping all 2 million of them in, say, the Sinai Desert, it is impossible to specify what the targets or the strategic aims of an "all-out" offensive might be.
Well, then, what of rewards? Bribe the wild beast into domesticity. The Palestinians have yet to experience the benefits of domesticity. This owes in part to the apparent corruption of its own leadership, as well as to Israel's failure to confront the settlement issue more boldly. A freeze on settlement construction, withdrawal from the Gaza settlements, a serious national reckoning with the Hebron area settlements -- these would not, had they been done in timely fashion, have necessarily been seen as concessions. Still, in the current political context, such steps, to say nothing of a focus on joint enterprises and such, are simply not thinkable. Perhaps they are thinkable; but they are not do-able.
Rational persuasion? By definition, a wild beast is not susceptible to rational persuasion.
So no, it isn't easy to come up with a useful approach, which doubtless accounts for the silence of the doves, who are for the most part these days reduced to warning against what ought not be done rather than recommendations for action. The trouble is that without a proactive peace strategy, we are left with "solidarity," which, however appealing an idea, is rather thin as a strategy. Hunker down long enough, and your limbs stiffen, it becomes exceedingly difficult to move deftly into a new position.
None of this is meant to relieve the other side of its responsibility for the crisis, for the murders and for the evil it so enthusiastically encourages. But the issue before us is, or at the least should be, less the assignment of responsibility, more the devising of a way out of the crisis. Israel's burden is not to figure out how to make concessions to the Palestinians; it is to figure out how, if at all, it may know peace. And the one pretty solid guarantee we have is that hunkering down and calling for solidarity will not get you there.
If now is not quite the time to renew the effort, then at least let us not trap ourselves into the sterile belief that such efforts are inevitably wasted. Believe that, and "abandon hope, all ye who enter here."