The Hawk May Yet Choose Peace A Different Path to Peace
Bermant, Chaim, The Independent (London, England)
So all those Arabs died in vain. Operation Grapes of Wrath, Israel's latest assault on south Lebanon, was a desperate attempt by Shimon Peres to show Israeli voters that, though he was a man of peace, he could be ruthless. Paradoxically, his ultimate aim was to save the peace process of which he had been a principal architect. The operation drove hundreds of thousands from their homes and claimed an estimated 150 lives, but it didn't do the one thing that Mr Peres really wanted. By the narrowest of margins, Benjamin Netanyahu was elected Prime Minister in his place last week and there is now a general fear that this means the peace process will falter or even collapse altogether.
That fear might - just might - be unfounded. During the election, Mr Netanyahu was depicted by Labour as "Bibi zig, Bibi zag, Bibi zigzag". It was a fair description, for no one is quite certain what the Likud leader stands for, possibly not even himself. This could just prove to be a strength: it could allow him to make peace, in his own way.
The one thing that can be said of him for certain is that he is no Shamir. Yitzhak Shamir, Israel's last Likud prime minister, was an implacable opponent of negotiation. "Not an inch" was his attitude. He opposed the Camp David agreement with Egypt in 1978 and the withdrawal from Sinai that followed it, and he personally tried to wreck the Madrid peace conference of 1991.
Mr Netanyahu, for all his electoral tough-talking, is different. He has no wish to send Israeli troops back to reoccupy Gaza and it seems that he has no plans to roll back the other work of the past two years and re-enter Jericho, Nablus, Jenin or any of the other major Arab towns. He has said that he accepts the first, completed stage of the Oslo accords as a fact of life. About the second phase, the uncompleted West Bank withdrawals, he is vague and he is totally unclear about the other stages, which have still to be agreed in detail or embarked upon - but then so was Mr Peres.
He has said that he would never meet Yasser Arafat, but has had second thoughts.
The sticking-point may be Hebron, the Palestinian town which, according to Jewish tradition, is the burial place of the patriarchs. This is where the Israeli settler movement started and there is now a sizeable Jewish presence determined not to be dislodged. Here, even Mr Peres was dragging his feet about withdrawal and we can expect Mr Netanyahu to delay it further, but again there is no certainty that he will keep troops there for good.
When Menachem Begin was elected Prime Minister in 1977, no one - possibly not even Mr Begin himself - thought that he would withdraw Israeli forces completely from Sinai a few years later. He was a hardliner and a hawk and his arrival in power was greeted with something like the same worldwide dismay that we have seen in the past few days. Yet Mr Begin, who was not Orthodox, was something of a mystic, and he came to believe that a peace settlement with Egypt would enable Israel to continue unmolested in Judea and Samaria, or the "ancestral homeland", as he called it.
Mr Netanyahu is no mystic. His kingdom is of this world - too much so, some of his critics would say - and he does not travel with the same emotional baggage as Begin. He was brought up in the US, has no memories of persecution and is not obsessed with the Holocaust. Instead, like most Israelis today, he has an American taste for the good life, and this may prove a powerful influence on his politics. …