Peace and Nonbelligerence
By A. D. Freudenheim

16 April 2001

From the start of the Al-Aqsa Intifada last fall, Israel has repeatedly stated that it holds the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), the proto-government run by Yasir Arafat, "responsible" for the violence of the Intifada. This includes not just the violence in the occupied territories but the various bombings and other attacks that have taken place in Israel proper. From a diplomatic perspective this is perhaps quite legitimate - were the United States to be attacked by a rebel group on the Canadian border, America would surely view Canada as "responsible," if only for its inability to effectively control activities at their common border.

But the PNA - as Israel well knows - is not a real government, nor does it control anything approaching a sovereign territory (let alone a contiguous one). While accusations that PNA soldiers and police have participated in perpetrating the violence against Israel are very likely true, the PNA is hardly in a position to control absolutely the actions of terrorist groups such as Hamas, which may be operating within its territory. Arafat and the PNA could speak out against the violent tactics of these groups - and it should, though it has not. However, it is unreasonable to expect a non-sovereign proto-government, with limited means (military or otherwise) to be in command of all the residents of lands that are not, in fact, truly within its control. That Israel then takes action, to attempt to get rid of these terrorist groups itself, may seem logical - but it further removes the PNA from any responsibility, and only strengthens their claims about Israel's mistreatment of Palestinians in the occupied territories.

Also since the Intifada began, the Arab countries that surround Israel have become arguably more united in their views on how to show support for their Palestinian brethren. Previously, the perceived lack of unity among the Arab nations was notorious, and it has played a nearly mythological role in the fifty-three year history of the State of Israel. This discombobulation has putatively helped Israel to win all of the wars that it has fought against its neighbors. But at the recent pan-Arab summit, representatives of these Arab nations agreed to provide the PNA with heavy financial assistance, covering the gap that has been created by Israel's withholding of the PNA's tax revenue. For now, though, no military assistance was forthcoming.

Nonetheless, this does not demonstrates a lack of Arab resolve. Rather, it is evidence of the commitment and determination that does exist on the part of the two countries with whom Israel has signed peace treaties: Egypt and Jordan. These countries, which share borders with Israel, have been nothing if not even-handed in their criticism of Israel since the Intifada began. They have refrained from focusing their criticism exclusively on Israel, and have instead called for both sides to work towards peace - and this despite the increasingly-strong military measures taken by Israel to try to suppress Palestinian violence and protests. How long Egypt and Jordan will continue to be so committed to peace is unclear, but Israel should be mindful of any change in their official positions - and mindful of their territorial integrity as well.

And so the news from late Sunday night, 15 April, is all the more unsettling: an attack by Israel that violated Lebanon's sovereignty, targeting Syrian military installations stationed there. (And not just "in" Lebanon, but some thirty to forty miles north of the border between Lebanon and Israel.) The rationale behind this raid was apparently retributive; Israel made the strikes after warning Lebanon and Syria that it holds both countries "responsible" for the activities of Hezbollah guerillas, who had recently blown up an Israeli tank in the border area of Shabaa Farms, killing one soldier. Several Syrian soldiers were killed in this subsequent Israeli raid.

With this attack, the not-so-new government of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon continues to show that its strange sense of justice is matched only by its failure to appreciate the most fundamental notions of diplomacy, which involves verbal communication and tactful negotiations, by definition; this new attack deep inside a sovereign country certainly does nothing to dispel that understanding of Sharon's simplistic attitude or aggressive approach.

In an article in The New York Times on Saturday, 14 April, titled "News Analysis: For Israelis, Endless War and Sharon Put Peace Off Agenda," reporter Deborah Sontag writes that Prime Minister Sharon, in reaction to the violent acts committed against Israel, has tried to make - and create as diplomatic policy - a distinction between peace and "nonbelligerence." She says that he wants Israelis to "prepare psychologically for a long struggle," and that in Sharon's view, "the war of independence, in which he fought, is not yet over."

Prime Minister Sharon may be right, that the struggle for peace in the Middle East will be a long one, and that the war for independence is not truly over. At this point, however, the war that is being fought within Israel is not for the kind of independence to which Sharon is referring. Rather, it is as much for a psychological independence, for freedom from the mentality of the victimized nation, and it is a battle that ultimately Sharon must lose if Israel itself is to win. There can be no peace - there cannot even be any kind of trust in an Israeli desire for "nonbelligerence" - if the government of Prime Minister Sharon does not grant his neighboring countries the kind of respect for their territorial integrity that Israel has habitually demanded of them. (And Israel's neighbors, to be sure, must do the same.) Israel must not just say that it desires peace or "nonbelligerence," it must act as though it does; it must stop viewing itself as the victim, and claiming a victim's right to retribution. (And the PNA, to be sure, must do the same.) In attacking Syrian troops stationed in Lebanon, Israel does neither of these things; instead it provides more incentives for Syrian and Lebanese support of the very same guerilla groups Israel was trying to retaliate against.

Copyright 2001, by A. D. Freudenheim. May not be used in whole or part without written permission. However, you may link to this page as desired! This page is part of: The Truth As I See It.