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The other day I read excerpts from a speech given in Israel by Professor Robert Aumann - who emigrated from the United States, and who won last year's Nobel Prize in economics.
The thrust of Aumann's speech was that he doubted that Israel would survive another half century because it lacks the strength to withstand the worsening regional situation. He specifically criticized Prime Minister Ehud Olmert for having said - at last year's Israel Policy Forum dinner - that Israel is tired of wars and sacrifices. Aumann views Israelis as simply too weary to make it in the long term.
"Fatigue, in the State of Israel's situation, will lead to death, as occurs with mountain climbing," said Aumann. "If a mountain climber is caught on the side of a mountain and it starts to snow, if he falls asleep, he will die. He must remain alert."
Moving to the specific, Aumann chastised Israelis for being so upset by their losses in the recent Lebanon war. "We are too sensitive to our losses, and also to the losses of the other side," he said. "In the Yom Kippur War, 3,000 soldiers were killed. It sounds terrible, but that's small change." Aumann, a national-religious Jew who lost a son in the 1982 Lebanon war, believes Israelis need to toughen themselves so that they can sustain more losses, without losing faith in the Zionist mission.
Of course, the Zionist mission was to establish a state where Jewish young people would be safe, not one in which a certain percentage of 18-year old kids would die in battle in each generation.
AUMANN'S upside-down Zionist vision - a Jewish state perpetually at war - would neither have inspired Jews to build a state nor would it have sustained it.
Fortunately, few Israelis share Aumann's views. The widespread reaction to his cavalier remarks about losing soldiers was that he should stick to economics.
To Israel's credit, there has always been a deep resistance to sending young people off to war unless it is considered absolutely necessary. That is why a clear majority of Israelis are more than ready to get out of the West Bank.
They find it intolerable that their sons would die to defend the occupation and settlements unless their sacrifice is directly tied to the defense of Israel itself.
Aumann's views are deeply offensive but it is just as well that we know that people like him exist. Anytime one wonders how the world became such a bloody place, we can remember Aumann who, with all his brilliance, believes that the ticket to survival is, of all things, killing and being killed.
But there is a certain logic, brutal as it may be, to Aumann's position. He fiercely opposed last year's Gaza withdrawal and any land-for-peace deals. For him, every last inch belongs to Israel and any suggestion that it does not is anti-Jewish. But Aumann also understands that the only way his Greater Israel vision can be sustained is at a high cost in Israeli lives. Give him credit for honesty.
THE OTHER night I had dinner with an Israeli who bemoaned the world's lack of interest in helping to bring Israelis and Palestinians to an agreement. He said that it angered him that virtually every international conflict is resolved with international involvement but not the one that threatens his family. He cited the EU's role in Cyprus, US mediation in Northern Ireland, US and EU involvement in Yugoslavia and South Africa.
"In every other conflict, there seems to be an understanding that the parties can't do it alone. The US and the Europeans come in, not to dictate a settlement but to make sure one happens. But, for whatever reason, we Israelis are left to fend for ourselves."
He said that he wanted the Bush administration to bring Israelis and Palestinians together "and not quit until there is an agreement." He said that is what the United States did in the late 1970s to achieve the Egypt-Israel treaty. "I wonder how many of my friends are alive today who would be dead if the United States had just allowed Begin and Sadat to leave Camp David without an agreement."
I told him that unfortunately the politics that surround the Arab-Israeli issue in the United States make it unlikely that our government will take the lead in the way he suggests.
"I know the politics," he said. "But somebody needs to think about real people like me who want to have a life in Israel. Someone needs to tell your Congress that not encouraging Bush to take action to end this conflict is not pro-Israel. As far as I am concerned, it's anti-Israel. Because this conflict very likely will end up destroying everything we have built here. Those who claim to support Israel but oppose a strong US role will have contributed to our destruction."
Hopefully, we still have time to prevent that catastrophe. The Bush administration enters the last two years of its term in January but, in fact, it was during the last two years of their terms that former presidents Bush and Clinton made their most significant contributions to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Those two presidents essentially left behind a blueprint for an agreement that would end the conflict once and for all. George W. Bush will probably not be able to solve the national health crisis in two years. Or end nuclear proliferation. Or put social security on a permanently sound financial footing.
But he can produce a peace agreement. After all, as my Israeli friend asks: Why do Israelis and Palestinians deserve less than the Irish, the Cypriots, the Serbs, the Bosnians or the South Africans?
The writer is director of the policy analysis for the Israel Policy Forum.
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