by Jonathan Rosenblum
Baltimore Jewish Times
February 23, 2001
In Marcel Ophul's masterly documentary on the French resistance, "The Sorrow and the Pity," there is an unforgettable interview with two thick-necked peasant brothers. Asked why they joined the resistance, the brothers laughingly reply, "We were fed up with the Germans getting all the beef."
Israeli Jews also are fed up, as the recent election results made clear. Fed up not just with the daily drive-by shootings and remote-control bombs designed to kill as many Jews as possible, but with the small indignities constantly reminding them of their impotence. The Jerusalem-Modi'in highway, for instance, is today empty of Jewish motorists while Arabs drive freely. Built at a cost of tens of millions of dollars, the highway was meant to provide an alternative to the main Tel Aviv-Jerusalem highway, which has been turned into an elongated parking lot by the renewed intifada.
Above all, Israelis were fed up with Ehud Barak, elected less than two years ago with so many high expectations. Mr. Barak insisted to the end that he had been ahead of his time in calling Yasser Arafat's bluff and revealing that the latter is either unwilling or unable to commit to co-existence with Israel on any terms that do not ensure Israel's imminent destruction.
Yet for all his reputed genius, Mr. Barak did not make the connection: If Mr. Arafat and the Palestinian street are not committed to peace, further concessions that only weaken Israel and embolden her enemies are pointless. Last week the Israeli voters made the connection for him.
Despite the unprecedented magnitude of Ariel Sharon's victory, it remains to be seen whether the election will turn out to be what political scientist Walter Dean Burnham terms a "critical election," one that results in a major realignment of the political system.
Such a realignment was in the cards. Polls taken two months ago showed that were elections for a new Knesset held with those for prime minister, the balance between right and left in the Knesset would have shifted to approximately 75-45 in favor of the former. For the last decade or so, the nation has been virtually split down the middle.
Messrs. Barak and Sharon did everything in their power to prevent such Knesset elections for the same reason: Neither wanted to confront Binyamim Netanyahu. Now Mr. Sharon will pay the price in terms of a narrow government beset by constant demands from coalition partners, or a national unity government simultaneously pulling in opposite directions.
The task confronting Israel's new prime minister has been made substantially more difficult by the irresponsible campaign run by One Israel and Meretz. It consisted solely of doomsday predictions of certain regional conflict after the election of the war-mongering Sharon.
While both American and Israeli defense analysts view the chances of such conflict as not insubstantial, if it does break out the trigger will be pulled by the Hezbollah-Syrian-Iraqi axis, not Mr. Sharon.
And in the event of such a conflict, Israel's enemies will point to statements by the Israeli left about Sharon the war-monger to prove that Israel was the aggressor. Even worse, the left campaign propaganda provides the Palestinians a positive incentive to heat up the fray. They can quote Yossi Beilin and company that a vote for Mr. Sharon was a vote for war, and wage a war of their own without negative public relations fallout.
The most important challenge facing Mr. Sharon is the internal malaise and loss of will of Israeli society. As Dr. Daniel Pipes summed up in the February issue of Commentary, "Israel today has weapons and money, the Arabs have will. ...Israel has high capabilities and low morale; the Arabs have low capabilities and high morale. Again and again, the record of history shows victory goes not to the side with greater firepower, but to the side with greater determination."
The assumption that Israelis can no longer absorb any level of casualties led both Yitzhak Rabin and Mr. Barak to act contrary to their every instinct in pursuing the Oslo process. The Arab perception that Israelis are no longer willing to pay the price for survival in a very rough neighborhood, and that time is on their side, was reinforced by Israel's hasty withdrawal from Lebanon.
Much more than tired Zionist platitudes will be required. Nothing less is required than a renewed understanding of ourselves as a Jewish people bound to one another, with a unique mission that can only be fully realized in the Land of Israel. Needed is a Churchillian vision summoning from the Jews of Israel the best that is within them.
Whether Mr. Sharon is capable of articulating such a vision is far from clear. Nothing in the insipid campaign ads showing the avuncular farmer tossing his grandchildren in the air gives much cause for hope on this score.
In his post-election statements, Mr. Sharon has shown himself alert to the vital significance of national morale and will in the affairs of men. Whether he will prove to be an Israeli Churchill remains to be seen.
Related Topics: Israeli Society, Peace Process
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