The Magazine

WHY BIBI WON

Jun 17, 1996, Vol. 1, No. 39 • By CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER
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Now, when Rabin won election in 1992 by the slimmest of margins and ruled with but a two-seat majority in the Knesset, one did not hear the claim that he lacked a mandate. Nor when Rabin rammed through the most radical peace policy in Israel's history. He did that not with new elections, not with a referendum, but with a one-vote Knesset margin.


Indeed, Rabin and then Peres did not just transform the country in the absence of a mandate. They betrayed what mandate they had. In their slim election victory of 1992, they made two very explicit promises: no giving up the Golan Heights to Syria, and no negotiation with the PLO. Perhaps they were wise to betray both commitments. But they had no mandate to do so. And when the policy was finally put to the electoral test, it failed.


By one percent only, you say. Well, such margins are not unheard of in democracies. Netanyahu's margin of victory is larger than Nixon's in 1968, five times larger than Kennedy's in 1960. More important, however, among the constituency most put at risk by the Rabin-Peres peace policy, the Israeli Jews, Netanyahu won by a very substantial 11 percentage points (55.5 to 44.4 percent). To put that again in an American context, that is a margin wider than that of any challenger to win the American presidency since 1932. Clinton and Bush, Reagan and Carter, Nixon and Kennedy, even Eisenhower -- all won their initial term with a smaller margin and less support than Netanyahu in his initial run enjoyed among Israeli Jews.


And after all, it is Israeli Jews who are the target of Palestinian terrorists. It is their homes, their future, their aspirations, their very existence that are most threatened by the Palestinian state that Peres had de facto endorsed. Among those directly jeopardized by Peres's policies, a solid majority voted "no." No squeaker here.


Moreover, looking at the Knesset vote, the popular verdict on Peres's peace is equally clear. In the old Knesset, those parties that supported the peace process (the Labor-Meretz coalition plus the Arab parties) had 61 seats. The elections reduced their number in the new Knesset to 52. By every measure Labor's path was soundly rejected.


Early on election night, when Peres was projected to win with 50.3 percent, Labor's Yael Dayan was asked whether such a thin majority would be mandate enough to complete the even more radical peace policy that Peres was planning for the next four years. Dayan defiantly answered that all they needed was 50 percent plus one vote. With that they could do whatever they wished. Now that the tables have turned, we have a sudden demand for landslides.


IV


A final theme of the delegitimizers is that it was Hamas with its suicide bombings that elected Netanyahu. This is a half truth that totally misses the larger point: The election turned not just on fear of exploding buses but on their political meaning.


The Israeli election would have turned out differently if the terrorists killing Jews were merely uncontrollable rogue elements clearly rejected by Palestinian leadership and Palestinian society. If the Palestinian people had treated their killers the way mainstream Israeli society treated Baruch Goldstein, author of the Hebron massacre, Peres would have won. Why? Because it would have vindicated the fundamental premise of Peres's peace policy: a Palestinian change of heart. A Palestinian society turning against Jew- murderers would have signified a Palestinian society sincerely turning towards peace and reconciliation.


Unfortunately, it did not happen that way. Instead, Israelis saw on their TV screens a Palestinian society that treated these bombers as martyrs and heroes. The largest rally in the history of the Palestinian people occurred at the funeral of the "Engineer," the man who masterminded the suicide bombings of more than 35 Israelis. Arafat himself declared him an official " martyr" and had his forces honor the "Engineer" with a 21-gun salute.


Israelis saw, too, a rally in the newly liberated West Bank town of Qalqilya, in which the crowd cheered as a mockup of a "Dizengoff Number 5" Israeli bus was set afire. They saw a Palestinian Authority that had made its peace with Hamas and not a single serious attempt to outlaw or close it down. They saw a Palestinian leadership that could not even bring itself to fulfill its obligation under the Oslo accords to revise its charter to eliminate the clauses calling for the destruction of Israel. (Cleverly, the PNC simply asserted that the charter was changed without changing a word of it, kicking the issue over to a committee charged with producing the actual changes six months hence. Don't hold your breath.)