The View From <i>Haaretz</i>

The main theme of the left-wing columnists was, as always, that peace with the Palestinians and the Arabs is there for the taking and it is only Israel's pig-headedness that keeps the conflict going. Special targets of these pundits' spleen were the separation fence, Ariel Sharon and Israeli society itself.

P. David Hornik

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During the Israeli workweek of Sunday, January 18 to Friday, January 23, I kept track of the opinion pieces published on the English website of Israel's left-wing daily Haaretz. The paper, which goes back to pre-statehood days, is actually considered to have moved toward the Center during the intensified terror war launched in 2000. But as the quotations below will show, it is, at best, a minor change.

Indeed, during the week I surveyed, the picture was not all black. Haaretz's token right-wing columnist, the insightful Israel Harel, wrote a piece supportive of Israel in the context of the incident at the Stockholm museum, in which Ambassador Zvi Maz'el damaged a display of a snow-white suicide bomber floating over a pool of Israeli blood. The thoughtful left-of-center columnist Amnon Rubinstein also came out, more cautiously, in favor of Israel's official position that the display was an outrage, as did a Swedish Jewish activist in a guest column. And former minister Moshe Arens, an occasional contributor, provided a splendid column on the folly of kowtowing to Syria.

Yet, with these exceptions, the paper was in typical form. The main theme of the left-wing columnists was, as always, that peace with the Palestinians and the Arabs is there for the taking and it is only Israel's pig-headedness that keeps the conflict going. Special targets of these pundits' spleen were the separation fence, Ariel Sharon and Israeli society itself. One would not guess from their writings what is understood by more and more people of goodwill; that, however foolishly and recklessly, Israel offered the Palestinians a state in 2000 and has kept offering them one ever since, and the Palestinian reaction has been constant terror and incitement.

Thus, Zvi Bar'el (January 18) detects soft breezes of peace blowing in the Arab world: "Last week, the editor of the Lebanese daily Al Nahar... proposed to the Israelis and Palestinians, and to the Arabs in general, '...Let us look toward a political society like the European Union, in which we will renew our aspirations together before we all drown together.' ...Even in Egypt, the weekly Al Ahram al Arabi can publish... articles about the... dictatorship under which the Arab states exist, while in Saudi Arabia the public discourse against Islamic terrorism is being cultivated."

But unlike Lebanon, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, those bastions of enlightenment and pacifism, Bar'el finds Israel lacking in the right stuff: "The shockwaves of the conceptual jolt haven't yet reached Israel, though. No barricade has yet been positioned against the dictatorship of the old conceptions: 'The only thing the Arabs understand is force,' 'There is no partner for negotiations,' ...'First the cessation of terrorism, and then negotiations.' ...The belief in the truth of these conceptions is so fanatic that any challenge to them is tantamount to the desecration of all that's holy."

Considering the real facts of history ? the Camp David Accords with Egypt and the retreat from the entire Sinai, the "Oslo process" with the Palestinians ? one can only marvel at these words written by a professional Israeli commentator.

Aluf Benn (January 22) quotes the U.S. vice president expressing a reasonable view that takes account of the facts on the ground: "Richard Cheney... explained last week: 'As long as Yasser Arafat is the interlocutor on behalf of the Palestinians... we think any serious progress is virtually impossible. The Israelis are never going to sign up, nor should they sign up to a peace, unless... they've got confidence that there is someone there on the Palestinian side prepared to keep those commitments.'"

What's that? A top U.S. leader implying that the conflict isn't Israel's fault? Benn isn't going to take that lying down: "Without intending to do so, Cheney guaranteed that Arafat will remain in his Muqata headquarters. The Likud government will not take a chance on removing him if leaving him in place frees it from negotiations."

The words are somehow twisted to put the onus not on Arafat, but on Israel. Just for the record, Likud governments, for better or worse, have shown a distinct readiness to negotiate, as in the Camp David Accords, the Madrid Conference, the Hebron Agreement, the Wye Agreement, and the present Likud government's oft-reiterated commitment to the Road Map.

But Benn adds for good measure: "Washington... continues to keep close tabs on Sharon, for fear that he will go wild and ignite the region."

Ze'ev Sternhell (January 23) chips in that Israel's "traditional liberal-conservative right... died a long time ago; ...its place has been taken... with respect to the Arab world, by an aggressive and battle-hungry attitude." Yoel Marcus (January 20) grouses that "Military Intelligence reports about Assad's seriousness do not dovetail with Sharon's political interests at the moment...." That Sharon, despite the godly edict from Military Intelligence, might genuinely doubt Assad's sincerity and be loath to give up the Golan for solid strategic reasons, is something Marcus would not allow, because it might make Israel look better than Syria.

Soon, the separation fence is supposed to be on trial at The Hague. Supporters of Israel understand that it is being built as a defensive measure against the worst sustained campaign of terrorism any country has ever known. Haaretz pundits, though, have a different take. Member of Knesset Yossi Sarid (January 21): "...this fence may begin with protection but ends with a brutal attack on Palestinians who have committed no sin.... [E]ven in my worst nightmares, I never imagined that Ariel Sharon would go as far as he has in his fencing efforts.... Without a doubt ...Sharon's fence is a crime against humanity.... " Good thing Sarid won't be serving on the International Court of Justice.

Gideon Samet (January 21): "The separation fence folly is turning into one of the worst scandals in which an Israeli government has become entangled.... The fence is designed to serve as a makeshift interim solution that shoves aside diplomatic resolutions that the prime minister has done his utmost to derail.... [T]he fence has been his way of showing there is no way to get around the impasse in talks with the Palestinians ? an impasse for which he bears most of the responsibility."

Again, Samet not only trashes the fence, but sounds the beloved mantra that peace ? with the Palestinian Authority, home to Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, collaborator with Hizbullah, importer of weapons from Iran, etc. ? is shining like an apple on a tree, and it is only Israel that spoils it.

These leftists' animus against Sharon himself is prima facie and cult-like. In a different column (January 23), Marcus says: "Since he became prime minister, close to 1,000 Israelis have been killed. No peace, no security, lots of hot air...." Yet, if Sharon had at any point ordered the IDF to decisively defeat the terror, there is absolutely no doubt that Marcus would have sung a different tune about him as a brutal warmonger. Doron Rosenblum (January 23) informs us: "...[Sharon] was elected twice by a landslide not because of his... successful policies, but because of his trampling, bulldozer-like personality.... Only Sharon is capable of grabbing the microphone at a Likud convention and asking, 'Who is in favor of eliminating terror?' ? as if his very personality were synonymous with eliminating terror, and not some ugly, raging, egocentric thing."

For Yossi Sarid in the already-quoted column, it's even worse: "And as I know him, his character and his plans, I presumed that [the] fence would come out crooked. If Sharon is able to take something straight and twist it out of shape, he will unquestionably do so.... Sharon is larger than our nightmares... a brute without inhibition or tether, one suited to serve as prime minister of South Africa in the blackest days of the apartheid...."

Presumably, a society that would elect this brute twice in landslides is nothing to brag about itself. The Haaretz sages confirm that inference. Novelist-poet Yitzhak Laor (January 19), in a piece on Ambassador Maz'el's act of protest in the Swedish museum, suggests that Mazel "succeeded in explaining to the Swedes how far we ? not 'the region,' not 'the conflict,' but we ? are from notions of the freedom of artistic expression.... [R]eaders of newspapers on the Internet could learn about what had happened in Stockholm without slanting the incident in the direction of 'Gewald, they're murdering us.'... We have learned to live not only in fear, but also in the demonization of the other side [and] the total rejection of any rational debate...."

The leering cynicism of that "Gewald, they're murdering us" is hard to fathom from an Israeli who has been living in Israel these last few years.

The same derisive caricature of Israel as a boorish society hemmed in by fears of the past is offered by Samet in his column; he calls Israel a state in which "a tyrant [Sharon] is taking root," in which it is "so easy to appeal to anti-Semitism, national anxieties and all the other old ghosts...." Ari Shavit (January 22) refers to "the moral rot greedily eating away at the state." And here, again, is Doron Rosenblum: "Sharon has plunged us into a kind of national chaos of identity that he himself symbolizes. More than being the prime minister of a rational, law-abiding country, he operated like a Diaspora leader in a self-imposed ghetto.... Nixon, in the democratic United States, defended himself by saying: 'I am not a crook.' Sharon, in the Israeli Jewish community, can say: 'And even if I am ? so what?'"

It's all there in the words of these columnists ? the self-loathing, the softness toward enemies, the detestation of the prime minister, the crude defamation of a society subjected to severe traumas.

Not a struggling democracy, but a brutal, lawless, benighted, peace-obstructing country with a mad-dog leader. Even those with a dovish perspective must ask themselves if the intellectual level represented by these columnists is something to be proud of.

And Haaretz makes this bilge available to the world on its English website, every day of the week.