The Magazine

WHY BIBI WON

Jun 17, 1996, Vol. 1, No. 39 • By CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER
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Palestinian terrorists did destroy Peres's electoral chances. But only because they were clearly seen as acting with the acquiescence and blessing of Palestinian society, thus betraying the truth that for the Palestinians, Oslo was just a tactic to achieve their national ends, not a real recognition and acceptance of Israel's. This was most vividly conveyed in Arafat's appeal to the PNC on the vote for the (apparent) change in the Palestinian charter. He never invoked the kind of ringing language of reconciliation and acceptance that Rabin had expressed on the White House lawn and Peres expressed daily to describe his vision of a new Middle East of coexistence and cooperation. Arafat told his delegates instead not to allow just a few words to stand in the way of regaining their land. The implication was clear: These are mere words, subject to change, fleeting, ephemeral. Say them -- sincere or not, it does not matter -- because the saying will get you land. And land is real.


Hamas did not defeat Peres. Arafat, who was Peres's running mate, did -- he and the Palestinian mainstream and their casual symbiosis with Hamas.


V


The revisionists cannot understand why Netanyahu won because they simply refuse to see Israel as it is. At the heart of the Western misunderstanding of Likud is the distinction between peace and security. Netanyahu campaigned on the quite unassailable proposition that there is no such distinction, that peace without security is meaningless, that if peace means anything it means at the very minimum a cessation of political violence. (After all, "armistice" and "truce" -- lesser forms of peace -- mean cease-fire. Peace must mean at least that.)


Peres adopted the view that security was not part of peace but something parallel, separate, subsequent to peace. The demand for "security now" was portrayed-by Peres, and his Western echoes -- as some additional, heavy- handed, indeed extralegal demand on the "peace process," a gratuitous addition to the Palestinians' obligations under "peace."


In fact, Netanyahu was adding nothing. Under the Oslo accords, in return for all that Israel has delivered-military withdrawal, political recognition, Gaza, West Bank autonomy, foreign aid, free elections-the Palestinians had but two obligations. One was a cessation of terrorism. (The other was changing the Palestine National Charter.) Security was explicitly to be part of this peace. The dichotomy between security and peace so resolutely maintained in the West (where the commentators are at a safe distance from exploding Israeli buses) was seen by most Israelis as not just logically absurd but historically perverse.


The election hinged not on whether land would be given up -- land had already been given up and some more would undoubtedly have to be given up in the future-but whether it would be given up for a paper peace without security. In other words, for nothing. The premise of Netanyahu's platform was that the peace process could not continue without reciprocity. And reciprocity meant that the Palestinians had to deliver real peace now, not, as Peres had it, at the end of the process as some final payoff when everything was tied up in a ribbon.


Indeed, the whole point of the interim, progressive nature of the PLO- Israel agreements was to make sure that at each stage in the process both sides delivered on their commitments. Peres's contention that this was too much to ask of the Palestinians, that true peace would only come at the very end when everything had been given up, undermined and contradicted the very premise of the staged process he himself had initiated.


The Israeli electorate concluded that the peace process as conducted by Labor -- unilateral withdrawal with no reciprocal obligations on the Palestinians oth- er than to wait and demand more -- was a losing propo- sition for Israel, not only dangerous but absurd given the power relations between the two parties. Never in the history of negotiation had the overwhelmingly powerful party given away so much for so little. Peres promised more of the same. A "land-for-peace" election he might have won. A " land-for-this?" election he could not possibly.


VI


Reciprocity, not land, was the key to Peres's defeat. It will have to be the key to Netanyahu's peace policy.


The days of Israeli unilateralism are over. What will be different now is that Likud will not hide, rationalize, or look the other way at Palestinian violations of the peace accords. When Arafat makes a speech calling for jihad, calling the suicide-bombers martyrs, invoking Mohammed's example of making a treaty with infidels that he later broke when he had more power, the government of Israel will neither ignore it nor explain it away. It will highlight it. And it will make further Israeli concessions contingent on changed Palestinian behavior. The Palestinians will be faced with the choice of either living up to their reciprocal obligations or seeing their hopes for autonomy, let alone sovereignty, dashed.


What might reciprocity mean in practice? Let me suggest:


Israel is obliged under Oslo to withdraw from Hebron. Peres had agreed to do so by mid-June. Hebron withdrawal is being touted as a test of Netanyahu's sincerity about continuing the peace process. Yet it offers an opportunity to make reciprocity the hallmark of his peace policy.


Palestinians were committed by the original Oslo agreement of September 1993 to change their charter to eliminate references to the destruction of Israel and to armed struggle to effect that destruction. Israel implemented the Oslo I (Gaza and Jericho) agreement without Arafat's lifting a finger to fulfill that provision.


Then in the Oslo II agreement, Arafat sold that rug a second time. In return for Israel's evacuating the major West Bank towns, he promised again to amend the charter. The deadline was May 7 of this year. It has not happened yet. As noted above, on April 24, Arafat delivered a statement from the PNC that the charter was amended -- but no changes were made. That must come from the committee that reports back in six months.


Why not simply state that Israel will fulfill its part of Oslo II as soon as the Palestinians have fulfilled theirs? That withdrawal from Hebron will take place, say, 72 hours after the Palestinian charter is changed. But not before. Quid pro quo. Such a principled stand of continuing the peace process but only with reciprocity would set the tone for Netanyahu's "new path" to peace, distinguishing it from Peres's frantic and unilateral version while honoring its objectives.


VII


The world is not happy with Netanyahu's victory. It is much happier with the tame, cosmopolitan Israel of Shimon Peres. It prefers a Jewish state obedient to the wishes, compliant with the aspirations, desperate for the approval of the "international community." Most of all, it likes Jews in retreat -- giving up land, surrendering claims, calling on the sympathy of the world when the bombs go off. What offends the West about Netanyahu is not that he might breach this or that paragraph of Oslo, but that he represents the kind of Zionist assertiveness that is an affront to the cherished vision of the pliant Jew, the Jew as victim.


Menachem Begin tried to play the proud-Zion role, but his air of schoolmaster pedantry made his attempt at swagger faintly ridiculous. In Netanyahu, ruthlessness combines with charm, muscularity with brains. He can fight and he can argue. No one yet knows if he can govern, but one can safely say that he will be the best exponent of Zionist assertiveness since Moshe Dayan.


Netanyahu does not live for the Nobel Prize, nor, as he said, to tour the capitals of Europe with Yasir Arafat. Peres led the Jews in retreat to the applause of the world. Netanyahu will demand something more durable than applause. That is why he won.



By Charles Krauthammer