Tuesday, November 19, 2002

In Ha'aretz, Danny Rubinstein argues that Palestinians would actually prefer a right-wing victory in the upcoming elections, because Sharon "did not succeed in reducing the violence or stopping the terrorist attacks", and his continued rule "is the only way Israelis will learn how powerless the right really is - and may in turn germinate the seeds of a just settlement." He may well be correct; the problem arises when one considers just how the Palestinians define a "just settlement". After all, if the definition looked anything like the permanent settlement Ehud Barak offered--or even the unilateral withdrawal being proposed by Labor leadership candidate Amram Mitzna--then surely the Palestinians would be rooting for a Mitzna victory. If Rubinstein is right, then, the Palestinian notion of a "just settlement" must be a much more far-reaching capitulation than even Labor doves are willing to contemplate--that is, something that most Israelis (understandably) consider tantamount to acquiescing in Israel's complete destruction.

I asserted a few months ago that according to "the solid majority view" among Israelis, they are already "the undeclared winning side in the conflict" of the last two years with the Palestinians. But there is a subtle assumption buried in that view: that Israel can continue to impose and even tighten its crackdown on the occupied territories indefinitely, until its residents eventually stop seeing their suffering as a worthwhile price to pay for maintaining their low-level campaign of terrorism against Israel. This assumption may be correct; but it's also possible that the current willingness of (according to polls) a majority of Palestinians to endure hardship of the worst sort, just for the sake of persevering in their efforts to kill as many Jews as possible, will continue for years to come. In that case, Israel faces a long period of walking on an extremely slippery tightrope between, on the one hand, indulging the temptation to resort to extreme cruelty in an attempt to hasten the moment of Palestinian abandonment of terrorism, and on the other, indulging the temptation to forget--as so many Israelis did from 1993 to 2000--that conciliatory concessions to a polity that enthusiastically embraces mass murder are ultimately suicidal.

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