A Historic Chance for Israel

Israel cannot make peace. And there will be no peace between Israel and the Arabs. Put the notion out of your mind right now. Only the Arabs have the power to end the conflict and they will never stop the violence so long as there are Muslims who cannot accept a Jewish state in the Islamic heartland. Hizballah has continued its war even though Israel withdrew from 100 percent (verified by the UN no less!) of the territory it held in Lebanon, and Hamas and Islamic Jihad have made clear the only acceptable border for the Jews to retreat to is the Mediterranean.

Given this harsh reality, Israel must choose the path that is the least dangerous. There really are only two options, since all others (massive retaliation that kills thousands of Palestinians, expulsion, reconquest of the territories) have already been discarded. Israel must either negotiate an agreement with the Palestinians or withdraw unilaterally.

Negotiations with Yasser Arafat are impossible. Ehud Barak offered him the moon and he held out for the universe. Arafat cannot make peace. And I understand why. Arafat is 72 years old. His whole life has been devoted to one goal — the liberation of Palestine. His self-esteem, his image, his political standing are all based on his single-minded devotion to destroying Israel. He can’t change.

Now I’m not one of those tut-tutting about Oslo and saying, “I told you so.” Israel must take risks for peace and Oslo was a reasonable one. Israelis thought that Arafat might genuinely have changed, just as Anwar Sadat did. Oslo followed a similar model to the Israeli-Egyptian negotiations, the problem was that Arafat isn’t Sadat and did not give up his goal. I repeat: negotiations with Arafat are pointless.

It may be possible to negotiate an agreement with other Palestinians. Remember, Israel has signed several peace agreements with the Palestinians, none of which were negotiated by Arafat. He says “yes” or “no,” but the worker bee Palestinians are smart, pragmatic people who could make a deal. But not as long as Arafat is in charge.

Unfortunately, Israel can’t get rid of Arafat and the Palestinians won’t. With our luck, Arafat will live to be 100, but Israel can’t afford to wait for new leadership.

That leaves unilateral withdrawal as the only option. When I first proposed it in Commentary in 1987, I was a lone voice in the wilderness. Now a majority of Israelis back it, including Peace Now on the left and a prestigious group of former generals on the right.

The most serious objection to the idea has been that Israel could not withdraw under fire because it would show the Arabs the nation is weak and can be forced by terror to retreat, as it did in Lebanon. Prime Minister Sharon’s decision to temporarily recapture virtually the entire West Bank has made this argument moot. If Israel withdraws right now, it will do so in “victory,” having demonstrated clearly it is doing so on its own terms (unless the U.S. forces it out). Ideally, Israel should now construct a fence along the border it requires for its security, the 67 border plus a corridor along the Green Line that incorporates more than 80% of the settlers (where most Israeli plans have always foreseen the final border). For those who find the idea of a fence outlandish, consider what separates Israel now from its neighbors (yes, a fence!) and the fact that a fence has already been built to separate the Gaza Strip from Israel and a perimeter is being prepared around Jerusalem.

The troops should stay in the West Bank until the fence is completed and then withdraw completely. Not a single Israeli should remain on the other side to “oppress,” “humiliate,” or have anything to do with the Palestinians. The troops will guard the fence with a shoot on sight policy for anyone who approaches it.

Hopefully, the Palestinians will build a state on their side of the wall that chooses to coexist with its neighbor, but I wouldn’t count on it. So any violation of the border will merit the same type of retaliation used against Israel’s other neighbors when they have attacked Israel.

What about the 20% of the settlers on the wrong side of the wall? Simply inform them that when the fence is complete they will have a choice of living in the Jewish state or in Palestine. If they come to the Israeli side, they’ll be compensated for their property loss, but if they stay where they are, they’re on their own and will be stripped of Israeli citizenship. Good luck.

This is the best solution for Israel and the chance to do it will never be better. President Bush’s decision to reward Arafat’s terrorism and demand an Israeli withdrawal has compressed the time frame for acting, but this is a historic opportunity for Israel to establish a defensible border and separate itself from the Palestinians. If the chance is missed, Israel will find itself again lording over the Palestinians, facing daily September 11s, and hearing Arafat laughing at them and the Western appeasers.