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Israel and the Middle East

The Dangerous Myth of Separation

Daniel J. Elazar

Since the collapse of the Soviet empire in 1989, walls have been going down all over the world. For a while it looked as if Israel and its neighbors were going to join in that great movement. Instead, we are about to build a new wall for ourselves. Others are not going to fence us in but we are going to do it on our own. In other words, we have exchanged a ghetto in Poland or Iran forced upon us by our hostile neighbors for one which we are building ourselves in the name of peace.

It will not work. One of the problems of our region from which Israel is not exempt is that too much of our thought is stuck in the late nineteenth century when the Zionist enterprise and the Israel-Arab conflict both began. We see this in matters of religion, in political ideologies and politics, in economics, and now we see it paralyzing the peace process that offered so much promise only a year and a half ago.

Rabin and his supporters speak of separation as the necessary solution, this in a world in which the United States not only cannot keep Mexicans from crossing the American borders but cannot even keep out Peruvians or Ecuadorians who fly in; when Western Europe is unable to keep out the Muslims and Eastern Europeans around it who are seeking jobs even when jobs are scarce; when boat people sail around East Asia looking for refuge and only acts of direct cruelty prevent them from finding it. Not only that, but it comes after the major threat to the lives of Israelis is no longer from random stabbings by Arab workers who took it into their heads some morning to kill a Jew, but when the real problem is organized terrorism by suicide bombers who enter Israel with a specific pre-planned mission and not to benefit from the Israeli economy.

The contemporary world has become so interdependent that even the most powerful states have had to surrender state sovereignty in an increasing number of ways. We have seen good manifestation of this recently when the United States, after entering the NAFTA arrangement with Mexico as of January 1, 1994, had to, as of January 1995, bail out Mexico's collapsing peso because the new interconnections threatened to have severe repercussions on the American dollar and the American economy more generally. The third partner in NAFTA, Canada, was so badly hurt by Mexico's problems that the Canadian dollar fell to its lowest value relative to the U.S. dollar in the past nine years, this in a period of presumed internal economic recovery.

If we are going to build a fence and assume that this will solve our problems, all we will be doing is deciding unilaterally what the borders of the future Palestinian state will be without even negotiating on the matter, a fine turn of events.

What we should be doing is again to be developing a new pattern of active defense, not fences but the active use of the IDF to search out and destroy the leadership of the Arab terrorist organizations wherever they might be. We could start in Gaza the way we have in Lebanon. Gaza can stay under the Palestinian Authority, but to the extent that the Palestinian Authority does not act in a serious and effective way on its own to control Hamas and the Islamic Jihad. We must begin with surgical airstrikes against the Hamas leadership and if that does not work, send in ground forces on raids. Since we adopted that strategy in Lebanon, we have had fighting in Lebanon to be sure, but we have had very little terrorism from Lebanon inside Israel. We may not eliminate the terrorists, but we should sharply reduce effective terrorism. Not only that, but this is legitimate under the terms of the Oslo agreement, as part of our legitimate rights of self-protection.

This is not an abandonment of the peace process, quite to the contrary. We must revive a new version of the conception that prevailed in the Yishuv during World War II when we said we would fight Nazism as if there were no White Paper but would fight the White Paper as if there were no Nazism. Now we must fight terrorism as if there were no peace process while continuing the peace process -- soberly -- as if there were no terrorism.

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