Fail­ure to achieve peace clouds Is­rael’s 60th birth­day

The Washington Times Weekly - - International Perspective - By Joshua Mit­nick

TEL AVIV — When asked to as­sess Is­rael’s geopo­lit­i­cal stand­ing on its 60th birth­day, law­maker Yu­val Steinitz crowed. By nearly ev­ery mea­sure — mil­i­tary, eco­nomic, de­mo­graphic — Is­rael’s po­si­tion has im­proved ex­po­nen­tially.

But on one cru­cial count, Is­rael has fallen short, said the for­mer chair­man of the par­lia­men­tary for­eign af­fairs and de­fense com­mit­tee. With Ira­nian mis­siles aimed at the Jewish state and Is­lamic mil­i­tants gath­er­ing strength in Gaza and Le­banon, Is­rael has not ex­tracted it­self from the ex­is­ten­tial dan­gers that have faced the coun­try since its trou­bled birth in 1948.

“We thought that we would be able to get rid of this threat and achieve peace and se­cu­rity,” he said, “but we failed.”

Therein lies the catch in Is­raeli suc­cess as the na­tion moves into its sev­enth decade: Al­though Is­raelis have built a re­gional mil­i­tary and eco­nomic pow­er­house with a nu­clear de­ter­rent and a firm al­liance with the United States, many con­sider the coun­try trapped in the same life-or-death strug­gle it faced dur­ing the 1948 war for in­de­pen­dence.

Strug­gle and ten­sion with Arab neigh­bors have never ceased, so goes the ar­gu­ment, and Is­rael is still fight­ing for re­gional ac­cep­tance just as it did the day af­ter the procla­ma­tion of in­de­pen­dence in Tel Aviv.

Pres­i­dent Bush was among the in­ter­na­tional dig­ni­taries who flew to Is­rael last week to mark the 60th an­niver­sary. As he vis­ited, Mr. Bush was con­fronting ma­jor chal­lenges in Iran, Iraq and Le­banon, while his host, Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ehud Olmert, was strug­gling to keep his job amid a cor­rup­tion in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Many here trace the na­tional mixed mood of achieve­ment and anx­i­ety back to the sem­i­nal found­ing days, when mil­i­tary suc­cess and the birth of a Jewish state never trans­lated into full ac­cep­tance of Is­rael by the Arab Mid­dle East.

Pales­tinian Author­ity Prime Min­is­ter Salam Fayyad crit­i­cized Is­rael on May 13 for tri­umphantly cel­e­brat­ing its birth­day while still rul­ing over Pales­tini­ans.

“I di­rect my speech [. . . ] to the peo­ple of Is­rael, to say, ‘How can you?’ “ Mr. Fayyad said, ac­cord­ing the As­so­ci­ated Press. “How can you cel­e­brate and the Pales­tinian peo­ple are suf­fer­ing from your set­tle­ments and the crimes of your set­tlers and the siege of your state and the con­duct of your oc­cu­py­ing army?”

But for many Is­raelis, the shadow of his­tory makes it dif­fi­cult to un­der­stand Pales­tinian anger.

Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu, the leader of the right-wing Likud Party, to which Mr. Steinitz be­longs, of­ten com­pares the threat that Iran will ob­tain a nu­clear weapon to the dan­ger posed by Nazi Ger­many in the late 1930s.

Ger­shom Goren­berg, an Is­raeli his­to­rian and jour­nal­ist, said Mr. Ne­tanyahu “has not yet ab­sorbed the fact that the Jewish sit­u­a­tion is dif­fer­ent. If in 1938 the Jews had a nu­clear de­ter­rent, I pre­sume that the his­tory of the 1940s would have looked dif­fer­ent.”

The Zion­ists who pushed for the found­ing of Is­rael be­lieved that only the for­ma­tion of a Jewish state could in­su­late Jews from the threat of per­se­cu­tion and give them a chance to lead a nor­mal ex­is­tence in their own home­land.

In­deed, the Jewish state has made up for its pop­u­la­tion dis­ad­van­tage com­pared with its Arab neigh­bors with a tech­no­log­i­cally su­pe­rior mil­i­tary, an econ­omy that in­creas­ingly ri­vals ad­vanced Euro­pean states, a soft­ware in­dus­try that at­tracts ven­ture cap­i­tal and a body of lit­er­a­ture read around the world.

Mr. Steinitz, who calls him­self an op­ti­mist, said th­ese achieve­ments are ev­i­dence of the “mir­a­cle” of Is­rael’s suc­cess. But the fo­cus on the steady spread of Iran’s in­flu­ence to the outer reaches of Is­rael has left Mr. Steinitz and many other Is­raelis un­nerved.

“Pub­lic opin­ion polls are as­sail­ing the pub­lic, mainly the youth, with such in­spir­ing ques­tions as: ‘Do you ex­pect the de­struc­tion of the state?’ and [. . . ] “When, in your opin­ion, will the Holo­caust re­oc­cur?” wrote Doron Rosen­blum, a colum­nist from the Ha’aretz news­pa­per. “No doubt, this is a unique, and very Jewish, way to cel­e­brate” the coun­try’s in­de­pen­dence.

Dur­ing the 1980s, Mr. Steinitz was a phi­los­o­phy pro­fes­sor and an ac­tive mem­ber of Peace Now, which ad­vo­cated ne­go­ti­at­ing with the Pales­tine Lib­er­a­tion Or­ga­ni­za­tion even when it was de­fined as a ter­ror­ist group. Just as Is­rael and Egypt suc­cess­fully swapped ter­ri­tory con­quered dur­ing the Six­Day War in a peace deal, Mr. Steinitz thought that “even though those ter­ri­to­ries, are our his­tor­i­cal home­land, we can give it a try.”

It was the fail­ure of a string of peace ef­forts in the 1990s to put an end to ter­ror­ist at­tacks that prompted Mr. Steinitz’s con­ver­sion.

“It im­me­di­ately be­came ev­i­dent for me that in­stead of land for peace, we are giv­ing land for in­cite­ment, and land for war. [. . . ] Then I re­al­ized that this was a ter­ri­ble mis­take, and we were putting our chil­dren at risk.”

To­day, Mr. Steinitz and other right-wing col­leagues warn about the dan­gers of with­drawal of Is­raeli forces from the Pales­tinian ter­ri­to­ries. Such a move is likely to cre­ate a power vac­uum that will be filled by mil­i­tant Is­lamist groups such as Ha­mas, he said.

Ac­cord­ing to the Is­raeli For­eign Min­istry, since Is­rael was founded about 3,055 res­i­dents have been killed in ter­ror­ist at­tacks, av­er­ag­ing about 51 a year. Those num­bers pale com­pared with the 6 mil­lion Jews killed by the Nazis dur­ing World War II.

“I think fear has been in the Jewish nar­ra­tive from the day the Jew was cre­ated. Not in the na­tional sense, but in the re­li­gious sense, the Jew is some­one who is per­se­cuted,” said Rabbi Benny Perl, the prin­ci­pal of a Tel Aviv yeshiva.

“Jews still live in fear, and that is what pre­vents us from mak­ing peace. One who lives in fear can’t make peace,” he said.

Mr. Steinitz also sees a cul­ture dis­con­nect, but said Is­rael likely will re­main mired in con­flict for at least an­other gen­er­a­tion. What of Mr. Steinitz’s op­ti­mism? “By op­ti­mism, I don’t mean we will nec­es­sar­ily be able to achieve peace in the near fu­ture, but we’ll be able to sur­vive in good con­di­tions,” he said. “From the his­tor­i­cal Jewish point of view, to sur­vive in good shape is very op­ti­mistic.”

As­so­ci­ated Press

Jewish peo­ple dis­play an Is­raeli flag dur­ing cel­e­bra­tions for Is­rael's 60th an­niver­sary next to the West­ern Wall, Ju­daism's holi­est site in Jerusalem's Old City.

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