June 4, 1999 Halifax Herald

Israelis opt to give peace a chance

After Israeli hardliner Benjamin Netanyahu won the Prime Minister's office in 1996, and other hardliners won control of parliament, I predicted that their greater Israel dreams would bring the Middle East peace process to a standstill: "... Israelis have, marching to the dictates of Arab and Israeli terrorists, elected individuals who are more interested in making a land grab on the West Bank than making peace..."

To the surprise of no one except his loyal supporters and the truly optimistic, Netanyahu's hard line style and policies quickly alienated key peace players. The Palestinian leadership and neighbouring Arab leaders came to loath him and the country's key ally, the United States, could barely stand him. He was distrusted by all. Few democratically elected leaders ever achieved such a high level of distrust in the minds of friends and foes alike as he. This status probably was not sought by Netanyahu, but was a product of his poor vision.

Soon after his government took office, it adopted a policy of building Jewish settlements on Arab West Bank and Gaza lands. Thus, it quickly became apparent to all concerned that realizing justice for the region's diverse peoples was not a Netanyahu government priority. True to predictions, the peace process fell victim to realizing the greater Israel vision.

Netanyahu's knack for making bad decisions was apparent from the outset. His reliance upon hardliners to get elected and making election promises that alienated almost half of the country's population were major mistakes. Foremost, it put him in a position where he had to, in order to cling to power, cater to the demands of the unreasonable members of his coalition government.

Trying to placate unreasonable people only makes them more unreasonable. This case was not an exception. For instance, some of the radicals went so far as to advocate the mass deportation of the entire Palestinian population. Such extreme proposals were not conducive to founding an enduring peace.

However, there is new hope. The 1999 elections brought to the forefront a strong and well-respected leader who appears to have the wherewithal to get the process back on track.

For starters, Prime Minister-elect Ehud Barak is not the same type of egotist that Netanyahu is. His desire to involve all Israelis in the process, and to strive for consensus and reconciliation among them, speaks volumes. And, most important, he believes that the peace dream of his late mentor, Yitzhak Rabin, which addresses the security needs of Israel and provides justice for the Palestinians, is achievable.

And the fact that Barak understands that the implementation of Rabin's vision of a peace with Arab neighbours is essential for Israel's long-term survival bodes well for the future. Even a lay person can appreciate that the fortress-Israel mode promoted by hardliners, where nuclear arsenals and other modern war-making capabilities reign supreme, is not the answer. It takes no great brain to appreciate that, because the land area where most of the key players reside is so small, that using nuclear or chemical weapons is unthinkable. For instance, Nuking Damascus, which is only a hop, skip and a jump away from the heart of Israel, would probably harm as many Israelis as Syrians. Thus, peace is the only viable option.

However, as a direct result of the hate and distrust generated by past wars - which, over the last five decades, claimed thousands of lives on both sides, most prominent among them Anwar Sadat and Yitzhak Rabin - making peace will be a difficult task. Add to the mix religious bigotry, the base from which Middle East hate originally sprang, and the task looks even more daunting. Especially so when many zealots on both sides believe that their beliefs are superior and, therefore, they have a divine right to enforce them by force on the other.

Itís a sad commentary on human development that so many in 1999 still use the ability that the Great Spirit gave us to create different methods to worship Him as a means to manufacture excuses to hate and kill one another. Such abhorrent conduct would not set well with the Great Spirit I believe in.

If peace for the World's Nations is ever to be achieved religious sects must start according each other the dignity and respect that brother/sister relationships demand. Wouldn't it be great if, at the start of the new millennium, religious wars became redundant? All that is needed to stop the death and destruction is that everyone accept the right of others to worship the Great Spirit as they see fit. If we really want it, hard work and goodwill can make such a dream come true!

As for the Middle East peace process, radical opposition at home will make striving to work out a just peace very dangerous for Israel's new leaders. It appears from the post-election statements made by Jewish extremists that they will use any means possible to stop them. Already, some of people have made open threats to assassinate Barak. They've concluded, because of his beliefs, that the prime minister-elect must die. This situation shows that the Israelis have an urgent need to crack down hard on their nutcase element.

Letís pray that the Great Spirit helps Arabs and Israelis find the fortitude and goodwill to make what so many believe to be impossible in the Middle East - a just peace!

Daniel N. Paul


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