Friday, November 10, 2006

A profound pessimism has taken hold of Israel

The war in Lebanon and rockets from Gaza have reinforced a great mood swing. People no longer seem to want a peace deal

Jonathan Steele
Friday November 10, 2006
The Guardian

On the aftermath of Lebanon II, the occupied territories and the dwindling prospects for peace between Israel and the Palestinians...

[big snip]

The war's biggest winners were the West Bank settlers. Olmert's plans for a partial pull-out have been shelved, and the political consensus for withdrawal has gone. Israel left Lebanon in 2000 and Hizbullah built up an arsenal of rockets, Israelis say; it pulled out of Gaza in 2005 and Hamas and Islamic Jihad are importing explosives and rockets through tunnels from Egypt in an effort to copy Hizbullah.

"There's a big 'I told you so' which the settlers are exploiting and it's very hard to argue against," says Tom Segev, a historian who opposed the Lebanese war from the first day. He deplores the fact that so few people criticised the war's rationale rather than just complaining about its outcome. Peace Now, the mainstream anti-occupation movement, broadly supported the war. Even Meretz, the small leftwing party in the Knesset, was split, with some members in support of the war, others silent, and only a few willing to denounce the war as soon as it began.

If the settlers were the main winners, Gazans were the main losers. While the Lebanese war was under way, the world ignored Gaza. Israeli troops killed 300 people with scarcely a line in the media. This week's world outcry has at least put Gaza back in the headlines.

But for Palestinians to launch homemade rockets into southern Israel is pointless and counterproductive, serving only to strengthen Israelis' hardline views. Meanwhile, the US is arming Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah organisation for a confrontation with Hamas that risks plunging Gaza into all-out civil war. It wants thousands of rifles to be sent to Fatah from Egypt and Jordan, and is seeking to persuade Israel to permit the Badr brigade, a pro-Fatah militia stationed in Jordan, to cross into Gaza.

Five years ago most Israelis seemed to want a deal with the Palestinians. The war with Lebanon and the rockets from Gaza have reinforced the mood swing that Sharon launched with his mantra: "Israel has no partner for peace." Segev is deeply pessimistic: "It's no longer politically correct to say one believes in peace. Young people don't. It's legitimate to hate Arabs and want them to disappear somehow." Looking back on the decades since Israel occupied the West Bank and Jerusalem, Segev adds: "In 1967 there was a choice: give the territories back and make peace, or settle them and make Israel strong. It hasn't worked. What a terrible waste of time the last 40 years have been."

Gideon Levy is one of the few Israeli journalists who still goes to Gaza - a venture that increasingly requires physical as well as moral courage. "A generation on both sides is growing up which never meets each other. In the past there was a relationship. Palestinians were working here. The relationship was unequal, but it wasn't just a matter of hate. Everyone believes we are facing monsters, not human beings." Desperate words, but they have the ring of truth.


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