Critical Currents: War and peace don't go together

The publication of the Winograd Committee interim report has accentuated Israel's militarism.

naomi chazan 88 (photo credit: )
naomi chazan 88
(photo credit: )
Israel today is talking loudly about peace and preparing vigorously for war. Its leaders are pursing diplomatic options while simultaneously stepping up military forays in Gaza and the West Bank. By acting as if war and peace are synonymous, they have succeeded in confusing even those most accustomed to the habitual disarray that has characterized recent Israeli policy. Unless they wake up and realize that confrontation and reconciliation are diametric opposites that require different mind-sets and strategies, they will leave Israel and its neighbors with the one, violent, alternative that everyone is trying so hard to avert. During the past few weeks, a growing number of Israeli decision-makers have openly evinced an interest in the Arab League Initiative, reaffirmed in Riyadh at the end of March. Ehud Olmert has acknowledged, after some initial hesitation, that this framework holds real promise for Israel. He is fast becoming its most vocal, if not most convincing, advocate. Other ministers have echoed this sentiment. Tzipi Livni, sincerely cognizant of its potential from the outset, is concentrating on operationalizing it in a series of discussions at home and abroad. Egypt and Jordan are actively involved in these efforts on behalf of other states in the region. The eagerness with which the beleaguered Olmert coalition is embracing the new diplomatic opening has, however, raised some eyebrows. It is clearly at odds with the prime minister's obvious reluctance to enter into serious negotiations with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas during the past year. It also stands in direct contradiction to his refusal to act favorably on the benchmarks presented to Israeli and Palestinian authorities in recent days. Indeed, this foot-dragging on concrete actions designed to facilitate the movement of people and goods in the occupied territories defies both the letter and the spirit of the Arab proposal. THE SAME can be said for Israel's rejectionist stance vis-a-vis Syria. For several months now, Damascus has repeatedly signaled its readiness to return to the table, while official Israel has rebuffed these overtures with equal regularity. In fact, formally, Israel has hermetically sealed this bilateral route for quite some time. What, then, can explain the present enthusiasm surrounding the Arab League Initiative, which places a negotiated Israeli-Palestinian agreement so firmly at its core? Cynics argue that Prime Minister Olmert is grasping onto the plan as a lifeline for political survival. If they are correct, then there is nothing in present activities beyond lip-service. Pragmatists, led by the foreign minister, see the support network offered by Arab states as a possible trigger for more productive direct Israeli-Palestinian talks. Opportunists have convinced themselves - but hardly anyone else - that this is the way to bypass such discussions. And skeptics claim, albeit despairingly, that the multiple expressions of interest are merely a cover-up for a military offensive. There is no question that the publication of the interim report of the Winograd Committee has accentuated Israel's penchant for militaristic discourse. The stress on IDF failures in the Second Lebanon War, rather than on the essential decision to engage in a military operation to return the kidnapped soldiers, has focused attention almost exclusively on how to improve the army's capacities in the future. For over two weeks now, the country has been totally preoccupied with matters related to improving the efficiency and capability of its security apparatus. Within this context, the brazen talk of a war with Syria this summer has evoked little, if any, negative reaction. Neither have the cabinet's consultations on a possible invasion of Gaza - in direct contravention both of the already fragile cease-fire and its own pledge to permanently withdraw from the area. The extensive war games conducted this week have passed virtually unnoticed, while the various meetings in Akaba have captured the public eye. Under these circumstances, it is hardly surprising that the renewal of Israeli attacks on Gaza (not to speak of the intensification of incursions in various parts of the West Bank) has provoked so little debate. The result is inescapable. There is a palpable escalation of violence which, unless stemmed not only by the promise but, more importantly, by the real prospect for political progress, can only lead to more widespread and harmful clashes. This destructive dynamic is developing precisely when the political momentum, for a variety of admittedly contradictory motives, is gathering considerable strength. The government's attempt to have its cake and eat it too cannot continue for much longer. Continuous military actions threaten to strip the diplomatic proclamations of Israeli leaders of a modicum of good faith. Worse still, they lack any semblance of reason or responsibility. Israel is at a veritable crossroads. It must decide whether to pursue the track of peace or fuel ongoing conflict. A genuine investment in Palestinian-Israeli negotiations on permanent-status issues within the framework of the Arab League Initiative and with the active backing of its members is critical at this juncture. Such a commitment - with all it entails in terms of energy and resources - is the only way to correct the frightening illusion that war and peace can go together.