Israeli society has passed another test.No, we did not win the war of terror that the Palestinians declared against us. They did not surrender and we are not celebrating our victory over them. On the contrary – the fears of a renewed outbreak of terrorism are as great as the chances of ending the conflict are small. But there is a partial respite, and Israel has always known how to get stronger during respites.
No, we did not win. But Yasser Arafat lost. Before he launched the war, he was a recognized international leader. Today, he is leading the opposition to the agreements that he signed. Granted, he is worshiped on the Palestinian street, but the Arab world is full of dictators who impoverished their people.
No, we did not win, but Arafat failed in his double plan: to break our spirit so that he
could impose a South Lebanon-style withdrawal on us, and to bring about the internationalization of the conflict and the dispatch of foreign troops to our borders.
Arafat received no help in his war from the Arab states. Jordan and Egypt recalled their ambassadors from Israel, but did not bother to come to his assistance. Israel’s status was damaged in European public opinion, but the European Union did not propose sending troops here. In the United States, Arafat is irrelevant, and Russia is not helping him either.
No, we did not win, but Israeli society – to the surprise of many – proved wondrously resilient. Israel’s achievement in this war is unique. In a situation of indiscriminate terror against civilians and intolerably difficult military service in the territories, the state allowed its citizens to leave the country.
Even veteran democracies have forbidden their citizens to leave their borders during war or to take their currency out of the state. In Israel, both civilians and reservists can escape from the danger for the price of a plane ticket. Yet despite this, people did not flee the country and call-ups of the reserves were not impaired. No other state has ever experienced this phenomenon: hell at home and the door wide open, but nobody uses it.
Israeli society passed another test, no less important. Despite the terrorism, despite the
help that a few Israeli Arabs gave the terrorists, despite the venomous provocations
of Arab Knesset members, no ethnic riots erupted here, as they did in Northern Ireland and the former Yugoslavia. Nor did shocking acts occur like those in France – where, although there were no terror acts, Arab passersby were murdered a few years ago and their bodies were either thrown into the Seine or thrown from trains. Granted, there was also a grave incident here, in which police killed Israeli Arabs during the October 2000 riots, but this was different in essence from ethnic riots, and an inquiry commission was set up to investigate it.
Moreover, although violence and terror usually lead to a right-wing radicalization, in Israel the opposite took place. In Belgium, Austria, France and Holland, right-wing parties became stronger because of their objection to Muslim immigrants, although these states did not suffer from terrorism. In Israel, however, in the midst of acts of murder and anti-Semitic Arab incitement, the Herut Party of Michael Kleiner and Baruch Marzel did not manage to cross the low electoral threshold of 1.5 percent, while the National Union-Yisrael Beiteinu Party, which expected a big success, lost a seat. The public voted en masse for the Likud, but only after the prime minister announced his support for “painful concessions” and the establishment of a Palestinian state. The Likud adjusted itself to a public opinion that had become more moderate.
In what democratic state could such a process take place during war? This is why one could say that in the deepest sense of the word, Israel did win – because during three years of ongoing nightmare, it demonstrated both resilience and political moderation.
(Reprinted from Ha’aretz