The Magazine


Nov 20, 1995, Vol. 1, No. 10 • By RUTH R. WISSE
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To appreciate the current drift of Israeli politics, consider the American response to the Oklahoma City bombing once it became known that the perpetrator was not a foreigner but a homegrown boy. The Democratic left initially tried to turn the disaster to political advantage by blaming it on the "lunatic" and "dangerous" right. President Clinton even ventured a swipe at conservative-tending talk radio as a contributing cause to the act of terrorism. But exploitation of the disaster quickly stopped and a sobered government and nation took better counsel.

Far from being used to scapegoat the right, the anger of the Oklahoma City murderers triggered anxious questions about the actions of government agents at Waco and Ruby Ridge that may have unwittingly played into the hands of a recalcitrant minority, convinced of a punitive "system" at work against American citizens.

That is what is so sadly missing from the aftermath of the assassination: a genuine effort at national soul-searching that involves both parties, both political factions. Instead, the right is under assault without response or let-up. And it is sheerest cant for members of the Labor government (and the bereaved Leah Rabin) to cast the blame for a rhetoric of violence on the Likud opposition alone, since Labor is responsible for its introduction into the political debate over the Oslo agreement.

How so? The democratic process depends on the presence of at least two competing views on all major political questions, but if one side claims to be ushering in "peace" while simultaneously referring to its opponents as the "enemies of peace," it has effectively rendered them morally illegitimate, extreme, and evil by definition. Labor's tireless use of the "enemies of peace" epithet pushed opposing voices into the wings where they would have to be louder and shriller in order to be heard. The government of Israel is not responsible for the crime of Yigal Amir -- of course not -- but it certainly bears its share of blame for having turned brother against brother, Jew against Jew.

The effort to stifle debate on the peace process is a dangerous act, because what will happen in the next two years may well determine the nation's fate in perpetuity. The Labor party favors the strategic surrender of some of the land Israel won or regained in the war of June 1967, and for some o its most influential members, that includes East Jerusalem. (Since the government has never revealed which land or how much land it considers negotiable, Palestinians have been circulating maps of what is (now Israel that eliminate any Jewish presence whatsoever.) Likud and the settler movement in the occupied territories are not the only political forces arrayed against the Oslo process. The breakaway Labor group known as The Third Way was formed by desperate former colleagues and supporters of Rabin who realized that the government was working with no overall strategic plan, but simply improvising a policy of negotiated concessions to Arafat behind closed doors.

While some concessionists seek at least verbal guarantees from the Arabs that they will halt their war against Israel, others on the left consider withdrawal from Arab population centers an independent goal, whether or not the residents pursue the destruction of the Jewish state. Thus, for example, the Israeli government knows perfectly well that in open violation of the Oslo agreement, Yasser Arafat has not eliminated the goal of destroying Israel from the PLO covenant. (Arafat confirmed this in his speech at Harvard, comparing tile inviolability of the PLO covenant to the American Constitution.) It knows that Arafat continues to "reassure his followers that he will pursue their holy war. The crowds chant: "In spirit, in blood, we will liberate Palestine!"

Either Rabin was not concerned about these speeches, or he had decided along with has closest advisers that strategic withdrawal was still preferable to policing Arafat's followers on a "daily basis. He must have calculated that trying to contain Arab violence in a territory between Jordan and a smaller Israel was easier, at least as long as King HuSsem remained alive, than a wearying intifada within the borders of Israel. While the merits of this approach are certainly debatable, they do not warrant any promise of peace. And if the government of Israel truly believes that strategic surrender is necessary or inevitable, it should say so, and be able to convince its politically sophisticated citizens to take the risk with open eyes.