Israel's excuses are running out

By Akiva Eldar

Haaretz

Shvat 1, 5765

In the mid-1980s, when the government considered allowing elections in the territories, Henry Kissinger warned an Israeli friend that the territory in which the Palestinian people will elect its leaders will not remain in Israel's hands. Sooner or later, said the professor-statesman, the combination of a people, elections and territory will push Israel back to the 1967 borders. Twenty years and thousands of Israeli and Palestinian victims later, Kissinger's prophecy seems more realistic than ever: The people that dwells in Palestine (and not in the diaspora) elected its leader yesterday. And not only that: Israel is completing the preparations for a departure from all of the Gaza Strip and a small part of the West Bank.

These lines were written a few hours before the results of the elections in the territories became known. However, one can hazard a guess that the Palestinians (including those in East Jerusalem) elected Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) as chairman of the Palestinian Authority. Television networks from dozens of countries have broadcast to the world pictures of the lines at the polling stations in Nablus and Hebron, and have reported on the attempts by Hamas to disrupt the democratic process. In between, the correspondents reported on the letters of refusal to serve by reserve officers and on the threats by the Jewish settlers in the territories to revolt when the government of Israel orders - legally - their evacuation from the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank.

The elections in the territories and the disengagement plan have created a certain symmetry between the mainstream on the Israeli side and the mainstream on the Palestinian side. Both here and there, pragmatism is challenging fanaticism and democracy is defending itself from theocracy. Abu Mazen, like Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, will be judged by his ability to realize the will of the majority - the life breath of democracy - giving maximum consideration to a majority that will express its opposition in peaceful ways. The Palestinians' challenge is many times greater: to institute law and order under occupation, in conditions of poverty and despair.

If Abu Mazen succeeds where his predecessor Yasser Arafat failed and lowers the heat, Israel will have to divest itself of the respectable title "the only democracy in the Middle East." Then the occupation will be exposed in its full nakedness. The word "occupation" is not common only in the mouths of "leftists." It was the most right-wing government that Israel has ever had that formally adopted the vision of United States President George W. Bush and the road map - two documents that call for putting an end to the occupation that began in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank in 1967. In this Israel relinquished the main legal argument with which for years it defended the policy of Jewish settlements in the territories.

The moral-historical argument is becoming completely eroded as opponents of the disengagement plan are edging toward the lunatic fringe. Anyone who argues today that the land of Israel from the Jordan River to the sea belongs only to the Jewish people is considered a Jewish fundamentalist. Terror remains the last weapon in Israel's foreign policy. Just barely, if we ignore the impotence of the authorities in face of the expansion of the outposts in the territories and the acts of harassment of their Palestinian neighbors by people of the extreme right, it is possible to add to terror the problem of the incitement against Israel. The control by Abu Mazen's government of the street in Gaza and a switch to nonviolent struggle against the occupation in the West Bank will leave Israel stripped of excuses to hold onto the Jewish settlements in the territories, never mind their expansion. The separation fence, another unilateral initiative on Israel's part - like the disengagement plan - could bring it even closer to the June 4, 1967 borders.

If there is a need for proof that Palestinian democracy bodes well for Israeli democracy (the end of the occupation), it can be found in a major article that Henry Kissinger published recently in one of the most important newspapers in the United States. That same Kissinger, who was once partner to the belief that the 1967 borders are "Auschwitz borders," is suggesting to Israel that it build the fence more or less along those same lines and content itself with border revisions and exchanges of territories. The settlers, according to Kissinger, will be able to choose between Palestinian citizenship and returning home, to the State of Israel.