Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, June 1995, Page 20

Speaking Out

Rabin: Author of His Own Undoing?

By Paul Findley

It may be only a spasm that will not be repeated, but the Likud Party's sledge-hammer campaign on Capitol Hill against Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin elicited a counterattack from several Jews.

One of them was Henry Siegman, long prominent in the American Jewish Committee and now a senior fellow at New York's Council on Foreign Relations.

Another is Amos Oz, famous Israeli author, who now castigates the Likud Party for being "against any kind of peace" and "the best collaborator that Hamas could hope for." He cites Likud as the Israeli counterpart of "Islamic terrorism." Oz is a legendary figure in his own time and occasionally supplies vision—and warning—to his fellow countrymen.

By speaking out about the cynicism of the Likud Party in its exploitation of grief that arises from recent deadly violence in the Gaza Strip, Oz tries to call the Israeli people to their senses. He is taking on a Herculean task. Recent polls show that 69 percent of Israelis, including Israeli President Ezer Weizman, want "negotiations" with the Palestine Liberation Organization suspended. Violence within pre-1967 Israel has tripled since the handshake agreement between Rabin and PLO chief Yasser Arafat. Oz and his compatriots will have to stay resolute in the emotional fray in order to have lasting effect on public opinion.

Sadly, Oz is having little support in America, where Likud is mounting a major disruptive campaign with almost no opposition from U.S. Jews or political figures. Likud has a lobbying office in Washington that is the base of operations for three legislative proposals, two of which would be harmful to U.S. interests in the Middle East and to Israeli-Muslim relations. One measure would move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and another would outlaw U.S. official contact with the PLO and prohibit aid to its operations in the occupied territories. The third measure, disruptive but not dangerous, would prohibit the stationing of U.S. troops on the Golan Heights as a consequence of negotiations between Israel and Syria.

Thomas L. Friedman, foreign affairs correspondent for the New York Times, writes: "Let's not kid ourselves, each one of these issues is being rammed through Congress today not by people who want to protect the peace process, but by people who want to destroy it. What is sad is that ever since Mr. Rabin and Mr. Arafat shook hands they have received only the most tepid support from mainstream American Jewish groups, like the Conference of Presidents [of Major American Jewish Organizations], and outright hostility from the orthodox and fringe Jewish groupings....They have no positive vision to offer American Jews on the central questions of American Jewish identity or the fate of Israel-Diaspora relations in this new era." Friedman's warning has elicited little support.

Oz is under fierce counterattack from Likud leadership. Eliahu Ben-Elissar, senior Likud member of the Knesset foreign affairs and defense committee, cites as "absurd" Oz's contention that Likud is against "any peace." He declares, "The Likud is for any peace that is real peace," but he defines real peace as one maintained by force of Israeli arms. He writes: "For years [Likud] has argued that the only way of achieving such a durable peace in the [occupied territories] is through an autonomy arrangement under which Israel's security would be in the hands of its own Defense Forces, not the PLO. And it is such a pro-peace policy that we intend to pursue when the Likud next comes to power." Polls show that Likud would regain power if elections were held today.

On most points, the debate—feeble though it is—presents Rabin as the statesman who can bring a durable and just peace to the region and the Likud Party as the agent of continued repression through armed might. As expressed by Ben-Elissar, the Likud objective is unambiguous: continued control of all of the occupied territories by Israeli military forces.

Rabin's Goals or Likud's?

But are Rabin's goals substantially different from Likud's? He too offers only "autonomy," not independent statehood, to the Palestinians. He has given no hint that he will permit Palestinians to control external affairs or even domestic water supply. Nor has he proposed dismantling the 160 deservedly hated Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem and other occupied territories. Under Rabin's vision, Israeli military forces would protect all borders of the land Israel presently controls, as well as the inhabitants of all Jewish settlements.

To his great credit, Siegman writes directly and powerfully to this point by noting that Rabin, who rose to power "by projecting strength and decisiveness," has frustrated "the peace process he initiated through weakness and indecision."

Siegman writes that Rabin "now presides over the dissipation of that hope because of his inability to act on the clear implications of his own decisions," which Siegman cites as follows: Palestinian autonomy must lead to Palestinian statehood in Gaza and in much of the West Bank and, given the inevitable outcome of Palestinian statehood, the continued location of largely isolated Israeli settlements in Gaza and the West Bank makes no sense at all.

Siegman writes: "If this is not the logic of the Oslo agreement, then the present Palestinian autonomy is a futile and wasted exercise, for sooner or later it will yield nothing other than frustration and renewed violence...[Rabin's] reluctance to say so plays into the hands of rejectionists on both sides."

The wave of terrorism against settlements, Siegman notes, is intended to embarrass and undermine Yasser Arafat with the Palestinians: "When he condemns it, it places him in the awkward position of seeming to defend those settlements."

"By failing to act to remove the Israeli settlements and to move more overtly toward Palestinian statehood, Prime Minister Rabin is the author of his own undoing and of the undoing of the peace process he launched with such promise."

Cynics are left with a large, unanswered question: Will Rabin attempt to correct his course while there is still time, or are his real but unstated goals the same as Likud's? 

Former Congressman Paul Findley (R-IL) is chairman of the Council for the National Interest.

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