An open letter to Bibi: Security or settlements?

This is a time for consolidation, for salvaging what we can.

By CLINTON BAILEY
February 4, 2009 22:03
4 minute read.
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elections2009_248. (photo credit: )

 
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Binyamin Netanyahu, by all indications you will be the country's next prime minister. That makes me wonder how secure Israel can be under your leadership. The biggest plank in your platform has been security, and security is our main problem. International Islamic fundamentalism, al-Qaida, the Iranian bomb, Syria, Hizbullah and Hamas are all out to get us - not because we occupy the West Bank, but because we exist. If you want to make the country safe in the face of this formidable alliance, I'm with you. But I have one big reservation. Is this really your goal, or is it a red herring for something else: namely, to hold on to the West Bank and perhaps regain Gaza? When you talk about crushing Hamas, it is the only conclusion I can draw. You surely know that if we crush Hamas, we have to stay in Gaza and run it. How long will we stay while they are sniping at us at every turn? And to get out will look like we're running away. That's the prescription for a long, insecure stay, one that only the settlement movement will applaud and exploit. And after you crush Hamas, will you get down to business with Mahmoud Abbas for setting up a Palestinian state? All we have heard from you is that you won't divide Jerusalem, won't give the Palestinians more territory from which to shell us and won't go back to the 1967 borders. Naturally, there is something to be said for all these positions, but not enough to give us security. To be secure, we need the support of the American and European governments. They have to deal with fundamentalism, Iran and al-Qaida, and support us when we deal with Syria, Hizbullah and Hamas. That support is increasingly vital, because, the Lebanese and Gaza campaigns demonstrated, fighting terrorists who operate from among civilian populations requires actions that are on the fringe of international law and sensibilities; and the pictures of destruction and dead bodies that TV cameras carry to populations the world over show Israel in a bad light. While such military actions may be necessary for our survival, that will not prevent us from soon becoming a pariah state, like the old South Africa. Governments of people who see pictures of the results of our attacks need a justification for supporting us. Memories of the Holocaust no longer play among generations that did not witness it and have seen many other horrible things. The justification that friendly governments need is that we are a people seeking peace and willing to compromise to achieve it. MOREOVER, AT a time of economic crisis, the threat of Islamic terrorism and growing Muslim populations in their own countries, the Western world will not long have the patience to wait while we drag our feet rather than compromise with the Palestinians and let them have a state. Rightly or wrongly, the West sees the absence of such a state as the core of its many Middle East problems, and will be increasingly reluctant to accept our maximalist and extremist views of what we deserve. They get enough extremism from the other side. And before we know it, our various enemies will promise Western government to relieve their problems if only they lessen their support for us. Such seeds have been planted in the past, but the soil is more fertile today. This might even be in the offing with the Iranian bomb. No one here is under the illusion that a two-state solution will be without dangers. We don't know what the Palestinians ultimately want. Is it only a state as some say? Or do they want to destroy us, as Hamas openly declares? Will the refugees in the territories and elsewhere - 60 percent of the Palestinian people - adhere to the peace or keep seeking ways to turn the clock back to 1948? Will whoever comes to power be on the lookout for a moment of weakness to do us in? Naturally we must negotiate meticulously to keep these dangers down and be vigilant after new borders are drawn. If the Palestinian state violates the agreement, we must, unlike over the past three years in Gaza, act to discourage them from doing it again. But if we are, as many believe, destined to live by our swords in any case, it is best we do so having the support of powerful friends. It will be tragic to lose the friends we now have through intransigence. This is a time for consolidation, for salvaging what we can. Ariel Sharon spared us the settlement blocs. Ehud Olmert opened the door for exchanging territory in order to keep them. The vast majority of the settlers live in them. That makes compromise easier, if you are willing. Bibi, as you embark on putting together a ruling coalition, keep the national interest in mind. Don't include those who want the territories more than security and will slow things down to the detriment of the goodwill we have from important friends. In the end, we can have security or we can have settlements. But we can't have them both. The writer is a former adviser in the Ministry of Defense.

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