The Rabbi Writes

The Jewish Humanist, April 1996, Vol. XXXII, Number 9

Sixty-two people were killed by terrorist bombs.  It all happened in one week.  Israel will never be the same again. 

In one week the peace process was turned around.  Shimon Peres, who was riding high in the polls and who had called for elections with hopes of winning, is now the underdog again.  The advantage that hte assassination of Rabin had given the Labor party and the peaceniks has been canceled out by the memory of the more recent killings.  The conservative Likud, with its leader Benyamin Netanyahu, has been “reborn” and is confident of winning the election in May.  The Orthodox sector which had been deeply humiliated and embarrassed by its connection to the assassin Yigal Amir, has now become the voice of righteous indignation.  Its leaders have rediscovered their self-confidence and are again calling the Labor party, and the leaders of the peace movement, traitors and blasphemers.  Hamas has succeeded in doing what the terrorists passionately want-evoking profound fear in the Israeli public that the peace initiative will only lead to the destruction of Israel. 

The peace forces in Israel are now the defensive.  Standing against the peace forces is the renewed legitimacy of the opposition and the unrelenting fear of the Orthodox.  The Israeli public is fickle.  But it is also human.  It needs the satisfaction of vengeance.  It also needs to process the emotional trauma of the outrage. 

What is going to happen?  Certain realities guide our perspective. 

Reality.  There is no fool-proof anti-terrorist strategy.  Any determined assassin can put together his own bomb and-if he is willing to die-can blow himself up without easy detection.  Even if Israel seals its borders there are close to one million Israeli Arabs residing within the borders of the Jewish state.  There is no way to eliminate the bombings.  Religious fundamentalism can produce the kinds of assassins that rational philosophies cannot.  If the peace process is to continue it has to continue in the face of periodic killings. 

Reality.  Shimon Peres and Yasir Arafat are tied together.  If one falls the other falls too.  Both Likud and Hamas share a common agenda.  They both want to terminate the present peace process.  They both want to remove Peres and Arafat from power.  But neither Likud nor Hamas have a clear idea what to do after the “fall”.  Can Hamas mobilize a “holy war”?  Can Likud persuade the Istaeli public to resume carrying the burden of the intifada and the hostility of a bitter Arab world? 

Reality.  The fate of all moderate Arab governments rests on the maintenance of Peres and Arafat in power.  It is not clear that Mubarak of Egypt or Hussein of Jordan would survive a Hamas victory.  The great danger is that the Israeli public, in its anger, will trigger the downfall of the two forces in the Near East that make Israeli security possible. If the fundamentalists win among the Palestinians they will also win in vulnerable Egypt and shaky Jordan.  Hamas has much more to gain from its strategy than Likud.  A fundamentalist Egypt or Jordan would turn Israel into an indefensible fortress.   

Reality.  The peace process has turned the Israeli economy into one of the most successful and fastest growing in the world.  One of the reasons is the renewal of Israeli relations with the once hostile Third World.  The renewal of hostilities would seriously undermine this prosperity.  For consumer culture Israel, the blow would encourage emigration and discourage immigration. 

Reality.  The vested interest of the United States is to support moderate governments in the Middle East and to maintain the peace process.  The American government, whether Democratic or Republican, needs a Labor government maintained in power by the May elections.  The American strategy would be seriously harmed by a Likud victory.  The recent summit at Sharm-el-Sheikh in Egypt was a showy American attempt to counter the fundamentalist threat. 

Reality.  The “ball” is now in Arafat’s court.  His strategy of trying to please both the Israelis and Hamas will not work.  His “bread” is “buttered” on the Isaeli side.  He must turn vigorously against the fundamentalists if the Isaeli public is to support continuing the alliance with him.  He must declare war on Hamas and actively cooperate with the Israeli army in apprehending the terrorist leadership.  Since over one-third of the Palestinians support Hamas, he can only do this by authoritarian measures and by limiting democratic freedom.  The alternatives are not wonderful.  But, right now, peace is more important than democracy. 

Reality.  There is no real alternative to the present peace process.  Trying to reverse it means the renewal of war, the fall of moderate Arab governments and the loss of American support.  Trying to maintain the status quo by keeping the Palestinians locked up in little autonomous enclaves will only lead to the renewal of the intifada.  Closing the borders and excluding all Palestinian labor from the West Bank and Gaza will destroy whatever viable Palestinian economy already exists and insure Hamas control of the Palestinians.  Negotiating with Hussein to take over the Palestinian territories would undermine his credibility in the Arab world.  Stopping the peace process is like stopping necessary surgery in the middle of the operation. 

A Peres victory in May is not sure.  But it is necessary.  In the end, more Israeli lives will be lost if Likud assumes power and the war is renewed.