A pivotal moment [Israel's Withdrawal from Lebanon]
by Daniel Pipes
Translations of this item:
A huge argument has raged since the signing of the Oslo accord in September 1993. Those concerned with the security of Israel have intensely disagreed among themselves whether our country's policies are leading to peace or to renewed war. Now, thanks to the dramatic recent developments in Lebanon, that debate is about to be settled. Before the end of 2000, one side will be proved correct and the other side wrong.
The Left argues that Israel should give its enemies all of what they can legitimately claim: Lebanon, the Golan Heights, a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza; then, backed by a strong warning against further force, it can expect them henceforth to live peaceably with the Jewish state. To be sure, unpleasantries (antisemitic statements, the celebration of killers of Jews, talk of eliminating Israel) will continue, but the Left counts on Israel's powerful military ensuring that these hostile intentions remain inoperative.
The Right worries that unilateral concessions do not reduce enmity to Israel but reward violence - breeding more violence. The Right sees anti-Israel sentiments not as ineffectual dreams but as operational statements of intent. As for Israeli's military, it is powerful on paper but its utility is reduced by a low state of national morale and a reluctance to incur casualties. Israel's enemies understand this and perceive Israel as weak and vulnerable, and are therefore more likely to resort to force in order to impose their will on Israel.
The Left's optimism and the Right's pessimism over the years mostly pertained to the Palestinian Authority and Syria. The debate over policy went in circles because Israel never gave either Yasser Arafat or Hafez Assad everything they requested. This meant that neither Left nor Right could credibly claim corroboration for its views. They merely belabored the same arguments, unable to produce definitive proof for their claims.
But, as of the early morning of May 24, closure exists. As of that date, Israel has endeavored scrupulously to carry out United Nations Resolution 425 by evacuating all its soldiers from Lebanese territory and reverting to the old international border. Then, completing the Left's program, Prime Minister Ehud Barak strongly warned would-be aggressors to desist ("Shooting at soldiers or civilians within our borders will be seen as an act of war which will necessitate response in kind").
What will Israel's enemies in Lebanon (Syria, Iran, Hizbullah, radical Palestinian groups) now do? The Left counts on them to reward Israel for its complete withdrawal by henceforth living quietly side-by-side with it. The Right expects them to build on their victory in southern Lebanon by moving the battle to northern Israel. Both of these scenarios have vast implications.
Should the Lebanese border remain tranquil, Israelis can conclude that the policy of magnanimity works. Skeptics (like myself) will have to acknowledge that what they presumed to be unilateral concessions made by a state with low morale was in fact a subtle and effective approach to problem resolution. Israel will have shown it really can end its conflict by setting reasonable goals and filling them.
But if the Lebanese border remains hot, with rockets, terrorists, or other forms of aggression directed towards Israel proper, then Israel's policy since 1993 will have proven hollow - a case of wishful thinking, perhaps even self-delusion. Those who encouraged this approach (foremost among them, the Clinton Administration) will be morally bound to admit they backed a failed policy, and will be forced to adopt a more conventional and much tougher approach to solving the problem of Arab aggression against Israel.
What happened in Lebanon will also affect Palestinian and Syrian relations with Israel. They have a choice: They can fulfill the Left's expectations - that is, note that Israel intends to treat them fairly, respect Israel's arsenal, and agree to live as good neighbors. This conclusion will lead to a diminishment in bloodshed along with a revival of the Palestinian and Syrian diplomatic tracks.
But if, as the Right predicts, Palestinians and Syrians conclude from the Lebanese conflict that violence works, negotiations will falter and they will emulate the Lebanese by resorting to terrorism and confrontation.
In short, this is a pivotal moment in Arab-Israeli relations, both in terms of resolving the Israeli debate and drawing the main lines of future Arab policy.
Comment on this item
You can help support Daniel Pipes' work by making a tax-deductible donation to the Middle East Forum. Daniel J. Pipes