The danger within

Israelis cannot allow the Hamas victory to be used as a pretext for holding on to the West Bank.

By M.J. ROSENBERG
February 10, 2006 11:02
4 minute read.

One side effect of the Hamas victory in the Palestinian legislative election is that it is already causing Israelis, for the moment anyway, to focus less on what is happening next door, and more on what is going on inside Israel and the West Bank settlements. This is not surprising. For now, there is not much Israel can do about the Palestinians. The new government is not in place. No one knows what role Mahmoud Abbas is going to play or even who is going to control the Palestinian security forces. If Israelis are looking inward they can't like some of what they see. Just 10 years ago, at the time of Yitzhak Rabin's murder, both Israelis and Jews worldwide expressed shock that a Jew would kill an Israeli leader. Today there are numerous threats against Israel's leaders and they almost invariably come from Jews. Security personnel who let Yigal Amir move freely at the Rabin rally because he was wearing a kippa would not make that mistake today. They are very mindful that Amir's would-be successors most likely will come out of the ultra-nationalist ultra-religious camp. Ten years ago few could have imagined the violence that was directed at the IDF and police last week. Several thousand settlers and their sympathizers came to the illegal settlement of Amona to thwart the government's effort to dismantle it. Concrete blocks and rocks were hurled at security forces and police. Two days after the clashes in Amona, mask-wearing youths from Yitzhar reportedly attacked a soldier guarding the settlement. They knocked him to the ground and stole his communications radio. Other settlers punctured the tires of a jeep belonging to a local IDF commander. These thugs are even attacking soldiers guarding their settlements. Particularly telling is that some of the Jewish protesters are wearing stockings over their faces, making them look like the Hamas militants Israelis hold in such contempt. And, like them, these resisters have no use for the State of Israel. Some call themselves citizens of the new state of Judea, a "real Jewish state," rather than the secular democracy that is Israel. Last year, a Palestinian living in Jerusalem asked me what Israel was thinking when it allowed "the Jews who most hate us to set up their towns in our midst. I take the family to the beach in Tel Aviv and Achziv [near Haifa] all the time. No problem. I wouldn't mind if the people I see there moved next door. I don't mind the religious ones who just want to pray all day. But these settlers hate us and want us dead. They spit when they see us. These are the Israelis they send here." Then he added, with a chuckle, "they are all from New York and New Jersey anyway. They aren't even Israelis." They are not, of course, all from New York and New Jersey, although a sizable percentage are Americans. And it might comfort the Palestinian to know that the most radical among them now hate Israelis as much as they hate Palestinians. That is one of the ugly things about hatred. It overflows its container. There are always new people to hate. Those who start by ripping out Palestinian olive trees easily advance to attacking 19-year-old Israeli soldiers. So, with the Hamas victory, Israel faces not only an enemy without but an enemy within. IT IS hard imagining any of this happening if not for Israel's capture of the West Bank during the Six Day War. Nor if Israeli leaders had stood firm, as Yitzhak Rabin always wanted to, against Jewish settlement in the heart of Palestinian territory. This is one more reason why Israelis cannot allow the Hamas victory to be used as a pretext for holding on to the West Bank. It is easy for right-wing Americans to argue that Israel should now give up on negotiations and just hold on to the West Bank forever. These are usually the same people, many in the media and Congress, who never liked the idea of negotiating with any Palestinians ever. But the Israeli government is keeping its options open. After all, Israelis are the ones who have to live with the consequences of "cutting off" Palestine while reembracing the settlement enterprise. Among those consequences is the development in the West Bank of a new kind of Israeli who despises Palestinians and secular Israelis with almost equal fervor, who believe in violence and whose values, in general, are at utter variance with the ideals on which the Jewish state was built. These are people ready for civil war and they are people who have made it virtually impossible for a prime minister to travel around the country unless he is surrounded by a phalanx of security. Contrast that with the "security" that surrounded prime minister three decades ago. Back in 1971, as a student at Brandeis, I visited a friend in Jerusalem who was staying with her uncle who lived next door to prime minister Golda Meir. After dinner (it was Friday night), she led us to an upstairs window where we looked right into Golda's living room. At first we didn't see her. But then she emerged, opened the front door and greeted two members of her cabinet, defense minister Moshe Dayan and deputy prime minister Yigal Allon. The trio was only a few yards away. Then Golda disappeared into the kitchen. She returned with a tray laden with cake and coffee. They all sat down and passed out of sight. Today, when it is difficult for unauthorized Israelis to visit the prime minister's street, such a scene is unimaginable. But that was Israel before the twin scourges of Palestinian and Jewish violence made such a tableau seem like a fairy tale. Those days won't return. But those committed to the idea of a humane and secure Jewish state should at least work toward changing the conditions that produced the unacceptable new reality. Hamas or no Hamas, that task is urgent. The writer is director of policy analysis for the Israel Policy Forum in Washington.


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