Yom Kippur 1973. Israel is attacked on the holiest day of the Jewish year and struggles for its survival. Yom Kippur 2000. Israeli civilians and soldiers are attacked, and Jewish holy sites are desecrated. A bloodbath has been thrust upon us.
Yom Kippur - a time of personal introspection - now a time of national reflection. How far have we really come in all these years? How close are we to resolving the conflict with the Palestinians? Do we have a partner ready for peace?
A short time ago, I thought I knew the answers to these questions. Now I simply am no longer certain. I cannot say whether or not there is a Palestinian partner prepared to coexist alongside the Jewish state in peaceful, normal relations.
The violence unleashed by the Palestinians during the course of the past two weeks must be examined from a number of perspectives. Perhaps most telling is the timing of the eruption, for it takes place precisely at the moment in which the government of Prime Minister Ehud Barak has gone farther than any other in Israel's history to accommodate the Palestinians' aspirations for an independent state.
The international community recognized our readiness to leave no stone unturned in our quest for an agreement. In this context, the image of the Palestinian "victim" was called into question. Yet now, as in the past, when the Palestinians are not satisfied with gains in the negotiations, they see violence as a legitimate means to exercise leverage over the peace process.
In a cynical game - a deadly game - Arafat has sought to re-energize international support through the bloodshed of his own people. Israel did not initiate the violence and only attempted to defend the lives of its civilians and soldiers. This is the inalienable right of any people. When Jews praying at the Western Wall came under attack, we had no choice but to respond. When Palestinians armed not only with rocks but with guns, grenades and Molotov cocktails assaulted our people, the threat was taken with the utmost seriousness.
Yasser Arafat has had a choice. He could have chosen to extinguish the fire of hatred and violence. Instead, he has fueled the flames.
As such, recent events have raised questions which no Israeli and, in fact, no Jew can ignore. How can we soon forget the controversy sparked by Ariel Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount? The extent to which the visit served as a provocation can be debated. However, under no circumstances can we allow defenseless Jews praying at the Western Wall to come under attack from Muslim worshippers hurling stones from the Temple Mount above. Under no circumstances can we allow Arafat to exercise veto power over which Jews, if any, can visit Judaism's holiest site.
Recent days also call into question the dangers facing Jewish property and lives following any Israeli withdrawal from territory to be transferred to Palestinian control. In this aspect, the incident at Joseph's Tomb was particularly alarming. The holy site had no strategic value to the Palestinians. We had assurances from the highest echelons of the Palestinian Authority that no harm would come to the tomb. Following its looting and desecration, and the burning of Jewish texts there, what confidence will Israelis have that the sanctity of Jewish sites will be respected in the future?
Israelis must also be deeply concerned about the role of the United Nations. Following the U.N.'s unwarranted condemnation of Israel for violence which we did not want and did not initiate, the organization's muted reaction to the kidnapping of three Israeli soldiers by Lebanese terrorists speaks volumes. The U.N. has long since verified that Israel's withdrawal from Lebanese territory was complete, but Lebanon has not met its responsibilities to reassert its effective authority over the south of the country. If the three IDF soldiers are not returned, the governments of Lebanon and Syria will be held accountable, and our reaction will be massive and decisive.
Finally, the recent violence calls into question the very fabric of the coexistence between Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs. The relationship has always been delicate, and we have no interest in forcing Israel's Arabs to make a choice between their state and their nationality. The Arabs of Israel have a democratic right to express their frustrations and to offer their sympathies to whomever they wish. However, a line obviously has been crossed. Incitement calling for "death to the Jews," the blocking of roads, and the attacks on soldiers and civilians will never be tolerated.
In all, more uncertainties than ever abound. On the one hand, the recent clashes should teach all of us - Palestinians and Israelis - that there is a very thin line separating war from peace in our neighborhood. The alternative to negotiation is bloodshed, and we cannot condemn another generation to the horrors that we have known far too long. On the other hand, Israelis from all political backgrounds are now asking themselves whether our yearning for peace is matched by that of our neighbors.
A stable and secure peace is in our vital interest, and a unique window of opportunity to achieve an agreement still exists. If the Palestinian Authority misses this opportunity, I am afraid that we may yet face decades of conflict. The generations that follow ours will simply wonder why.
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