Shalom from Tel Aviv!
Five years ago, Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat sealed the Oslo Declaration of Principles with a handshake in a beautiful ceremony on the White House lawn. It was to be the beginning of a New Middle East Order.
Yet the Jewish year 5758 that has just passed proved to be one of doom and gloom, according to Yossi Beilin, Israeli politician and primary trailblazer behind the Oslo Accord. With the peace process almost dead, Yasser Arafat is threatening to unilaterally declare a Palestinian state in May 1999 the date when a final peace agreement was supposed to be finalized.
What is more, as Beilin sees it, Israel’s army is still bogged down in the Lebanese quagmire, with constant loss of life from Islamic terrorist attacks. The cold peace with Egypt has turned positively frigid, and there is a clear retreat from even a partial “normalcy” that existed in previous years. The Arab nations that began to cooperate with Israel in economic and cultural affairs have all gone home.
The Arab and Israeli businessmen who were forging economic ties together at the annual Middle East Economic Convention have no further plans to meet. The Regional Bank for Development, intended to build the Palestinian people into a prosperous and cooperative partner with Israel, is without funds.
ISRAELI MILITARY INTELLIGENCE: WAR POSSIBLE
For the second year in a row, military intelligence estimates that there is a reasonable possibility of war in our region - after five years of estimates to the contrary. Foreign investments in Israel, tourism and the standard of living have all dropped this past year. Unemployment is now running at 10%. There is a serious increase in crime and an increasing sense of insecurity on the streets of our major cities as a result of the worsening economic conditions.
"A pretty glum prognosis for a man who was one of the principal negotiators of the Oslo Agreement." (Jerusalem Post, 20 Sept 98) Yet, Beilin's perspective is quite representative of the left-of-center, secular Israeli. This large segment of Israeli population gave Yitzhak Rabin his mandate to make peace with the Arabs and joined the throngs who demonstrated for peace in the Peace Now movement.
Today, these left-wing supporters are heartsick at the way the process that promised so much is being run into the ground. Peace Now advocates believe that Israel's only hope is to take a leap of faith and make peace - whatever it takes. They are convinced that if Israel would negotiate in good faith with the Palestinian Authority, peace would come. Give Arafat what he is asking: a sovereign state in Judea and Samaria, and all the Arab nations will eventually come to terms with Israel.
Making peace with the Arabs could convert this area into an alliance of states not unlike the European Common Market. Left-wing Israelis believe that Netanyahu is tragically "blowing" Israel's opportunity to make peace, which could result in the possible extinction of the Jewish state.
WHY IS OSLO STUCK?
It is true that when Rabin was assassinated, the headlong rush toward trading land for peace skidded to a snail's pace. The new Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, became the new navigator of Israel's ship of state for one principal reason: the majority of Israelis did not support the Oslo Accords. First and foremost, they have witnessed that the Palestinians have not kept a single commitment made in the Oslo agreements. Among non-supporters is almost all the Orthodox population. They, along with secular rightists, have taken an uncompromising stand against a Palestinian state and have exerted tremendous pressure on Netanyahu, threatening to bring down his government if there is another redeployment. The Orthodox are unyielding because they say that God gave their forefathers "the mountains of Israel" in an everlasting covenant (Ezekiel 38-39). The secular rightists are equally rigid - not necessarily because of the Bible, but for fear of an Arab holocaust against the Jewish state.
Uzi Landau, a secular politician, symbolizes the strong feelings of those who fear apocalypse if Israel gives up her land. "Oslo has hurt Israel's security more than any other single factor since the establishment of the state. It is," he says, "a chronicle of a death foretold." He explains, "The Palestinian police are the equivalent of three infantry divisions close to our towns and cities. There is the possibility of terror on a large scale."
ARAB ARMIES IN THE WEST BANK WOULD PARALYZE ISRAEL
Even worse, a Palestinian state could become a conduit for massive enemy forces to the east. Suppose an eastern front with Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Jordan emerges. (Jerusalem Report, 28 Sept 98) He believes that could be the beginning of the end of the Jewish state.
Just having armed Palestinians and her allies on Israel's doorstep would cause Israel to have to mobilize her reserves - the entire nation's working men under the age of 45 - except the Orthodox. Landau is convinced that the Arabs wouldn't have to do anything but just leave the nation mobilized and watch the economy dry up. "There is nothing good about Oslo," he continues. "Only the politicians who initiated it are trying, by every possible means, to resuscitate it. They are like gamblers: throwing in good money after bad betting again and again to recoup their losses and getting into deeper trouble all the time. The time has come to put a stop to Oslo. We must look the public in the eye and say, 'Oslo is a tragic process for Zionism and for the people of Israel.'" (Ibid.)
Indeed, because of the continuous barrage of frenzied rhetoric and violence coming from the Palestinians, the majority of Israelis feels their government must stand against the pressure of giving a hostile people even more land. "According to a recent poll, the Tel Aviv University Research Institute found that less than 42% of the Israeli people now support the Oslo Agreement. (JP, 3 Sept 98)
ISRAELI RELIGIOUS SETTLERS FEEL UNDER SIEGE
For the Israeli settlers who live in Judea and Samaria, it is literally a matter of life and death. Their homes and lives are established in the Promised Land, and their children born and raised on the mountains of Israel - just as the prophets promised. The settlers are convinced that Arafat is not teaching his people peaceful co-existence with Israel, because his long-range plan (or short-range, if possible) is to overtake Israel in its entirety and rid it of all Jews. The settlers feel isolated and unprotected, even by their own army and police forces. A daily fact of life is that, they are being stoned, shot at, knifed and murdered. The Israeli army, hawked by the media and pressured by world opinion, seems often to be more interested in protecting the Arabs than the Jews, at least in the eyes of the settlers.
A few weeks ago, there was a well-reported incident of an Israeli driver's car that was stoned by a gang of Arabs who had road-blocked the highway with stones, as happens constantly. The Israeli shot a warning into the air and called for help on his two-way radio. When the stoning continued, he shot at one of the Arabs who was attacking him, enabling him to make his escape. When he heard on the radio that the Arab he shot was killed, he turned himself in to the police, who held him for several days - amid public outcry and controversy. The question being debated was: is it legal to defend oneself or not? He was finally released, and no charges were made. Incidentally, it was quite amazing for us to hear CNN's brief account of the incident. It reported that violence had erupted in the West Bank because of an Israeli drive-by shooting.
RADICAL RABBIS ENCOURAGE EXTREMISM
As the situation becomes more volatile, the army and security forces are becoming more concerned with the settlers themselves turning to violence. Although the established settlement leadership does not countenance extremism among its numbers, there are hard-line religious settlers, many of whom are influenced by radical rabbis. Perhaps the most extreme is Rabbi Yitzhak Ginsburgh, who heads a yeshiva at Joseph's Tomb in Nablus. Ginsburg has co-authored a book extolling Baruch Goldstein, who in 1994 murdered 29 Arabs and wounded 125 Moslem worshippers in the tomb where Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were buried. (JR, 28 Sept 98)
Moshe Feiglin, whose right-wing movement led stormy acts of civil disobedience during Rabin's term, recently said that he wouldn't be shocked if someone "got fed up with seeing his neighbors being killed and the army doing nothing, and got up and did something. I wouldn't be surprised…" (Ibid.)
SETTLERS PLAN 50,000 MORE ISRAELI HOMES
The settlers feel that the one greatest means to protect their homeland is to build more homes and encourage more settlers to live in this dangerous area. Master plans have been drawn up for Jewish communities in the territories to construct some 50,000 more apartments and homes. The units must be approved by the government which is, at the moment, reviewing those plans. (JP, 18 Sept 98)
Meanwhile, the Israel Defense Forces - which cannot deal with politics but rather with the facts on the ground - prepares for a surge of violence from the Arabs. If the Palestinians declare an independent state in May 1999, there will likely be armed conflict with the Palestinians. Tactically, the military is preparing to deal with aggressive raids by Palestinian light infantry units, some of which may be equipped with anti-tank weapons and heavy machine guns. In laymen's language, that means war.(Ibid., 8 Sept 98)
At this moment, there is some hope that Madeline Albright can pull off the next redeployment whereby Israel will pull back from another 13% of Judea and Samaria. What will Arafat offer in return? We haven't heard. Meanwhile, Bibi Netanyahu's right-wing religious coalition partners have said they will bring the government down if the redeployment is executed.
“AN ARGUMENT BORN IN SIN”
“It is an indication of the inexperience and foolhardiness of unofficial Israeli negotiators at Oslo that they did not realize what was surely obvious to Arafat: our bargaining chips were given away before the crucial negotiations were to begin.
“Oslo was an agreement born in sin,” says Likud member (rightist) Moshe Arens. “Although bearing on Israel’s future its very existence it was negotiated in secret, by unofficial representatives of Israel, without the knowledge of the Israeli government (cabinet members) and possibly even without the full knowledge of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.”
Arens sees in the Oslo Accords the collapse of the Israeli people’s universal stand on an undivided Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. “At Oslo this position of cardinal importance to Israel and the Jewish people was swept into the dustbin of history. Israel explicitly consented to Jerusalem being placed on the agenda of the final status negotiations,” he says.
Secondly, for years Israeli governments held to the position that they would negotiate only with elected representatives of the Palestinian population in Judea, Samaria and Gaza. That meant they would not negotiate with the PLO, whose members were terrorists residing throughout the Arab world. The reason for non-negotiation with the PLO was not so much that they were terrorists, but that living outside of the West Bank and Gaza they represented millions of Palestinians referred to as the “Palestinian diaspora,” for whom they claim the “right to return” to homes throughout Israel abandoned in 1948. The secret negotiations with the PLO that led to the Oslo Accords implied that Israel was also ready to negotiate the return of Palestinian refugees. Bringing several million Arabs, who claim the West Bank (not to speak of the rest of Israel) as their homeland, would have “potentially destructive consequences to the State of Israel,” says Arens. (JP, 28 Aug 98)
REBUILDING THE TEMPLE?
The greatest potential powderkeg is the Temple Mount. It is viewed as a focal point for religious Jews who see the final redemption as nearly within reach and as a symbol of Muslim religious and national ties to Jerusalem.
“A ‘news update’ sent via the Internet by the Temple Mount and Land of Israel Faithful Movement usually dismissed as harmless gives a sense that the redemption barometer is rising: “The Third Temple is soon to be built on the Hill of G-d, and Mashiach (Messiah) ben David is soon to come to the House of G-d.” (JR, 28 Sept 98)
Indeed, on October 7, about 50 of the Temple Mount Faithful group attempted to march up to the Temple Mount to lay a cornerstone for the Third Temple. They had brought a 4.5 ton stone on a flatbed truck. Police prevented the group from entering the Temple Mount area, as they do every year when the group makes their annual attempt. (JP, 8 Oct 98)
A number of Christian women accompanied the group. One lady said, “I don’t know if God has told them to rebuild the Temple, or if they are ahead of their time. Maybe they are a forerunner of things to come.” (Ibid.)
“A majority of the Orthodox people don’t support this group,” says a yeshiva student. “You can’t walk on the holy place of the Temple Mount. Only after the Messiah comes can the Temple be built,” he said. But the Temple Mount Faithful respond, “Mount Moriah is for the Jewish people, and we must begin to build the Temple today.” (Ibid.)
The Jerusalem Report asks, “Does that mean someone might try to blow up the Al-Aqsa Mosque or the Dome of the Rock, the Islamic shrines on the Mount? The authorities seem to be treating the prospect with complete seriousness.”
“A strike at the Temple Mount,” say security experts, “would be the ultimate Jewish terrorist act.” Former Security chief Carmi Gillon sees starker possibilities: “An attack on the Temple Mount could be a casus belli for all-out war between Israel and the Arab states.” (Ibid.)