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Lessons from the war in Lebanon

By Dr. Ephraim Sneh; bitterlemons (21/08/2006)

A Palestinian looking thoughtfully at the war should draw the following conclusions:

The really substantive and existential regional conflict is between Iran and Israel.
Israel is the strongest military actor in the Middle East. Even if it wasn't well prepared for this war, and even when it acted hesitantly, Israel inflicted huge damage and destruction on Hizballah that attacked it and on the Lebanese state that shelters that organization. In other words, whoever hosts the proxies of Iran is liable to suffer irreversible damage.
With 4,000 rockets hitting Israeli territory, Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah did not succeed in undermining the steadfastness of Israeli society. Nor did more than 1,000 dead Israelis in the second intifada break Israel. Evidently, Israelis are not crusaders who come and go, but people attached to their land like us.
If these conclusions are correct, there is no way I can realize the vision of an independent Palestinian state through confrontation with Israel and partnership with Iran and Syria. From an economic standpoint, too, the only way I can escape from an $800 per capita GDP is by linking up with the Israeli economy with its $20,000 per capita GDP. Economic links with my Arab neighbors will not upgrade the Palestinian economy. And without a growing economy, the Palestinian state will never stand on its own two feet.
An Israeli looking perceptively at the war should also draw some conclusions:

My real enemy is the regime in Iran and of course all those who serve it. With most of the Palestinians my quarrel is over territory; with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinezhad (and with Palestinian PM Ismail Haniyeh) I'm debating my very right to live here. My right to live here in a Jewish state is not up for discussion. Territory can be an issue of compromise--but not my right to live here.
The conflict with the Palestinians is draining resources and energies that I need for the other, existential conflict.
The occupation hurts my international standing and weakens my position in the international arena where I confront Ahmedinezhad and Nasrallah.
The very absence of a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict alienates the moderate actors in the Arab world who are my natural allies and provides an excuse for my enemies to incite against me and fight me.
The Palestinian and the Israeli are my virtual creations. Yet both exist. They take different points of departure: each wants a larger portion of the same piece of land, and they are uncompromising in their conflicting perceptions of history. But their interests coincide. Both would profit from an Israeli-Palestinian permanent status agreement and would lose from its ongoing postponement. The broad outlines of such an agreement have been fairly clear for several years, and are favored by about two thirds of the public on both sides.

The lesson of the war in Lebanon is the need to begin negotiating a permanent status agreement. It will take several years to implement it. But both sides need to start talking now, to build their economies and societies and confront the wave of fanaticism that threatens us all.-Published 21/8/2006 © bitterlemons.org





Dr. Ephraim Sneh is chairman of the Labor parliamentary faction in the Knesset and a former government minister. A retired Israel Defense Forces general, he is a former head of the Israeli administration in the West Bank and was a long-time negotiator with the Palestinian Liberation Organization on behalf of Prime Ministers Rabin and Peres.