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Israel's Freedom Fight 

 National Review Online, April 15, 2002

Gerald M. Steinberg

On arriving in Israel on Thursday night, Secretary of State Powell met an Israeli society that had changed radically in the past few weeks. On the eve of Israel's 54th Independence Day (celebrated according to the lunar calendar), the citizens of the Jewish state are again united, mobilized, and determined in way that is reminiscent of the 1950s and '60s. The self-doubt and self-deprecation, expressed in the post-Zionist fad and the trendy eagerness to be accepted in the intellectual salons of Europe that surfaced in the affluent 1990s, is gone. Instead, patriotism is back in fashion, with cars and buildings decorated with Israeli flags with an intensity far beyond previous years.

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The Israeli Defense Forces' operation to eradicate terrorism, launched after the Passover massacre in Netanya, has generated broad support, similar to the American support for the war against al Qaeda after September 11. High-school students who might have gone to peace demonstrations or rock concerts a few years ago are now collecting gift baskets for soldiers fighting Palestinian terrorists in Jenin and Ramallah. In reserve units called to duty, the turnout is over 100 percent, with many volunteers showing up to fight with their buddies and for their families.

Despite some losses in the hand-to-hand fighting to locate and destroy the explosives factories scattered in the Palestinian cities, morale in the IDF is very high, and the successes are beyond expectations. Key terrorists have been captured and interrogated, leading to the location of many more, and the Fatah, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad networks in these cities are unraveling. While some Palestinians bombers have gotten through and "sleepers" have been scattered to keep up some attacks, Israelis believe that Arafat's ability to sustain these attacks in future months has been crippled. This is shaping up to be Israel's greatest military victory since 1967, and a recovery from the loss of confidence during the Lebanon War.

For the vast majority of Israelis (80 percent, according to the polls, meaning all but the radical Left fringe and the hostile Arab minority), the Oslo experiment is now viewed as a disaster. Many of the politicians and intellectuals who supported the fiasco that brought Yasser Arafat and his terror network into Israeli cities, have either recanted or been removed to the edge of political life. Shimon Peres, who directed the Oslo negotiations, has been reborn as Ariel Sharon's foreign minister, and often sounds as hawkish and angry as Sharon. Uri Savir, who was the main negotiator, and was nave enough to believe in the smiles and handshakes from his Palestinian "partners", has disappeared from public life. Yossi Beilin and Shlomo Ben Ami, who had central roles under Peres and later in Ehud Barak's government, are clinging, barely to positions in the Labor Party, but have lost any hope for playing leadership roles. (The fact that these has-beens are still the main Israeli interlocutors for the European Union only demonstrates how little EU leaders and academics understand the Middle East.) Labor Party leaders are trying to get the public to forget its role in Oslo, and the policies of the new leader, Defense Minister Eliezer, are hard to distinguish from those of Ariel Sharon.

The "post-Zionist" and "new historian" intellectual movements have also folded. One of the main members of this group, the historian Benny Morris, published a series of blunt admissions and apologies. In The Guardian (a hard core left-wing British newspaper), Morris admitted to a radical change in his thinking. "The Palestinian Authority (PA) has emerged as a virtual kingdom of mendacity, where every official, from President Arafat down, spends his days lying to a succession of western journalists. The Palestinian national movement, from its inception, has denied the Zionist movement any legitimacy and stuck fast to the vision of a 'Greater Palestine', meaning a Muslim-Arab-populated and Arab-controlled state in all of Palestine."

Although Hebrew University in Jerusalem still has a number of old-guard Bolshevik professors trying to play up the marginal movement of antiwar reserve officers, most academics keep their distance. (Many of the university's supporters abroad mistakenly believed that their money was going to strengthen the Zionist cause. As these Jewish leaders realized that they have been bilked into paying for one of the centers of post-Zionism, the Hebrew University's budget crisis has deepened.)

The old Israeli intellectual Left's major influence was in Europe, where Palestinian propaganda is gospel. Now, however, Israelis respond to the ritual condemnations and threats of boycotts from ignorant and arrogant Europeans by telling them to "go to hell." Europeans (particularly the French) routinely lecture Israelis about the suffering of the Palestinians and the "need to take risks for peace," but Paris disappears when it is time to take responsibility, as in the case of Lebanon following the Israeli unilateral withdrawal two years ago. Europeans have an Arafat fetish (a replacement for Che Guevarra), and there was a sense of achievement in watching the disappointment on the faces of hectoring EU leaders and phony "peace activists" who were barred from going to visit their hero in his Ramallah compound.

Israelis expect a higher standard of morality and intellectual integrity from the U.S., and are usually right. Although they share the Bush administration's goal of removing Saddam Hussein and his regime of terror, they cannot continue to play the role of sacrificial lamb. As Washington continues to agonize over the costs and benefits of attacking Iraq, Israelis are being slaughtered. Arafat is using anti-Israeli demonstrations in Arab capitals to buy his old friend Saddam some insurance, and Israel is concerned that Colin Powell and the state department are still allowing "the Arab street" to make policy.

As a result, Secretary Powell and his entourage (some of whom have been dispensing bad advice for a decade, and share responsibility for the Clinton debacle) quickly found that ordering Israel to end operation Defensive Shield prematurely was a nonstarter. As Powell prepares to make the pilgrimage to Arafat, just 24 hours after 6 people were killed by a Palestinian terrorist bomb in Jerusalem, Israelis are puzzled. (In Ramallah, documents signed by Arafat's paymaster were found authorizing payment of $350 for such an attack). With little prospect of a change for the better, the Powell visit seems to have set the stage for escalation of violence, and not the ceasefire that had been advertised. Israelis are ready to do whatever is necessary to defend their freedom and defeat terror, and wonder if the Bush administration's post 9/11 pledge is more than just another slogan.