As Israelis went to the polls, not one of the leading parties offered the option of winning the war against the Palestinians. It’s a striking and dangerous lacuna.
Rather than seek victory, Israelis have developed a lengthy menu of approaches to manage the conflict. These include:
•Unilateralism (building a barrier, partial withdrawals): The current policy, as espoused by Ariel Sharon, Ehud Olmert, and the Kadima Party.
•Lease for 99 years the land under Israeli towns on the West Bank: The Labor Party of Amir Peretz.
• Palestinian economic development: Shimon Peres.
•Territorial compromise: The premise of Oslo diplomacy, as initiated by Yitzhak Rabin.
•Outside funding for the Palestinians (on the Marshall Plan model): U.S. Representative Henry Hyde.
•Retreat to the 1967 borders: Israel’s far Left.
•Push the Palestinians to develop good government: Natan Sharansky (and President George W. Bush).
•Insist that Jordan is Palestine: Israel’s Right.
•Transfer the Palestinians out of the West Bank: Israel’s far Right.
These many approaches are very different in spirit and mutually exclusive. But they have a key element in common. All manage the conflict without resolving it. All ignore the need to defeat Palestinian rejectionism. All seek to finesse war rather than win it.
FOR AN outside observer who hopes for Arab acceptance of Israel sooner rather than later, this avoidance of the one winning strategy prompts a certain frustration, one that’s the more profound on recalling how brilliantly the Israelis early on understood their war goals.
Fortunately, at least one prominent Israeli politician advocates Israeli victory over the Palestinians. Uzi Landau notes simply that “when you’re in a war you want to win the war.” He had hoped to lead the Likud in yesterday’s elections but failed to win anything approaching a majority in his party and was ranked fourteenth on the Knesset list, not even high enough to guarantee him a parliamentary seat. With Likud itself expected to get under 15 percent of the popular vote, it is clear how deeply unpopular Israelis presently find the idea of winning their war.
And so, they experiment with compromise, unilateralism, enriching their enemies, and other schemes. But as Douglas MacArthur observed, “In war, there is no substitute for victory.