IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz must rue the day when, at the start of an untried cease fire, he told Israelis who live within spitting distance of Gaza that it was safe for them to return to their homes. He wasn’t the first leader who made a hasty claim that a war was over before its time. Take, for instance, Commander in Chief George W. Bush, who declared an American victory in Iraq eight years before US forces withdrew from that country, leaving it in worse shape than when they came in. In both cases, someone representing the side of the wannabe victor should have noted that the war ain’t over until it’s over, or until there is a political settlement.
It seems wars don’t end like they used to, they just take time-outs. Gone are the days when both sides of a conflict would come to an understanding and sign an effective treaty, with an acknowledgement that one side won. Maybe that’s because in these politically correct times it’s more fashionable to say that wars have no winners. Just the same, the way World War Two ended was a no-doubter: the good guys came out on top. The Germans and Japanese were roundly defeated on the battlefield and, having no choice, complied with a new world order. Soon after, German rocket scientist Wernher von Braun was launching NASA’s space program and the Japanese were learning how to play baseball; today, the Germans are best known for their beer and the Japanese for their cars. Lasting peace was the upshot of that war. It rose from the ashes, grew on strong roots and prospered.
Is this possible in the Middle East? Some Israelis say that the only way to beat the Arabs is with a knockout, citing the US bombing of Dresden that hastened the collapse of Germany. This is not a workable option, for three reasons: One, most Israelis, this writer included, are against the indiscriminate bombing of civilians, even in a defensive war. Two, Israel is already catching hell for its selective bombing of terrorist targets in heavily populated areas, which have unintentionally resulted in the tragic deaths of innocents. And three, in a Dresden-like operation to do away with a bunch of radical Islamic homicidal maniacs, as long as one enemy survivor has two fingers left he would climb out of his hole and make the V sign.
Many or most Israelis know that there is an alternative, though they are loath to call him by name: Abu Mazen. He is surely no friend of Israel, but he is the man in charge of keeping things quiet in the West Bank. He has opposed armed resistance as a viable option for the Palestinians and continually cooperated with Israeli security forces. Only recently, the very same religious fanatic terrorist goons who brought nothing but ruin to the people of Gaza were calling for an intifada in the West Bank. But in spite of the explosive circumstances there violence has been curbed and is not likely to erupt while Abu Mazen is still in charge. If Israel doesn’t find a way to make a political settlement with this relatively pragmatic Palestinian leader then ultimately the same thing that happened in Gaza will happen in the West Bank: the Palestinian Authority will decline and radical Islam will take over.
Clearly, the Israeli Government has a decision to make, and it’s a no-brainer: It can create a political vacuum, Gaza-style, to pave the way for a still hell-mongering terrorist organization, or it can accommodate the more rational Palestinian Authority, notwithstanding its terrorist past, and build on its more recent and proven track record of security cooperation.
Those are the choices. Is Bibi Netanyahu ready to cross the Rubicon? Since the start of Operation Protective Edge I have refrained from criticizing him, though with all these cease fires lately I’m starting to wonder if his wartime grace period expired. Are the Israeli people, always united in war and divided over peace, capable of making this choice? Will there be a public opinion awakening, or will we have to wait until the next general election? The virtual quiet in the West Bank will not last forever, and our non-policy of going from one Gaza campaign to the next has to stop. Someone has to make a tough choice, the right choice, and take political action to end this constant state of war. Or the next time Benny Gantz faces Israeli refugees in their own country he will have no choice but to tell them that it isn’t safe to return to their homes.