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A Frog's-eye view

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Friday, January 24, 2003

Yesterday I found myself in Jerusalem's Machane Yehuda market, the first time I've been there in a while. My timing, it turned out, was somewhat fortuitous: just as I was making my way to my trusty coffee shop, Shaul Mofaz, Israel's defense minister, was making his way down the narrow market towards me, surrounded by a flurry of excited shoppers, Likud overactivists, and fed-up looking security men (this was really mission impossible).

As Mofaz and his hurricane passed, I struck up a conversation with an American journalist who was covering the event. "The thing is," I said to him, "they've won already". He agreed with me, and also agreed that Mitznah was now being mistreated by his own party who so gleefully crowned him only a few months ago.

"Well," he said, "he did run a shitty campaign. But the ideas are also out of date."

It was then that it occurred to me what the left's problem is, and why both he and Barak - experienced military officers - have made the same fatal mistake. They're fighting for the last peace.

It's a well-known accusations that unimaginative generals have caused their own downfall by fighting the last war. One of the most striking examples in recent history was France's impenetrable Maginot Line, a series of concrete bunkers designed to provide France with the upper hand in trench warfare. The problem was that the Germans were one step ahead, and had prepared themselves not for trench warfare, but for a Blitzkrieg, a 'lightening war'. The results for France were disasterous: long years of German occupation.

So it is when you fight the old peace. The Olso Agreement was based on the idea that Yassir Arafat and his cronies would act like Anwar Sadat, warrior turned peace-maker. All you had to do was to give him the right incentive, and he would crush the Palestinian extremist groups and provide you with a stable border. While this assumption was true of King Hussein - another warrior turned peace-maker - it was totally mistaken with regards to Yassir Arafat. Even though Arafat made it clear, merely days after his coronation in Gaza, that he regarded the peace agreement with Israel is a stop-gap measure, the Labour Party continued to praise him and to forgive him. Who can forget Peres's embarrassing verbal acrobatics as he tried to explain to an increasingly doubtful Israeli public that Arafat was a true partner for peace, and the shameful Orwellian expression "victims of peace" coined by the Labour government to explain away the fact that Arafat's return hailed a rise, not a fall in Palestinian terror.

Now that the Olso bubble has burst (a process that began at Camp David and Taba and reached a peak at the Passover Massacre), the Labour party ought to be preparing themselves for the future. They do not need to take on the Likud position, as proven by the more pragmatic and moderate statements of Shinui. But some how, the Labour generals can't stop fighting for the last peace. They can't give up that dream that somehow, in some way, they're going to make a peace-maker out of Arafat. They're preparing their new Maginot Line - or road map - irrelevant of what reality might present. They're presenting their magic solutions irrelevant of whether they're suited to the conditions of peace.

The Labour party are not alone in this malaise. Some months ago, Martin Indyk, Clinton's special envoy to the Middle East, declared that Sharon should be more of a Churchill. Apparently, Australian-born US citizen Indyk was not required to learn Churchill's speeches at school. A little reminder of Churchill's message:

"I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat"
Speech in House of Commons, 13 May 1940.

"We shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender"
Speech in House of Commons, 4 June 1940.

Churchill understood well that the war against militaristic dictators is not won in a day, and that there are no "magical" peace formulae that will ever assuage their murderous tendencies and delusions of grandeur. That was why Churchill was the right person for that moment. However, let us not forget that when peace did finally come in 1945, the British people voted Churchill out of office in favour of a more forward looking Prime Minister. Being behind the times is a malaise that is not the exclusive domain of the left.

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