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Left, Right. Right, Wrong. Listening to All Sides

June 23, 2005 By:
David Kimche
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We are all - left and right - entrenched in our views, convinced that we know best what's good for Israel. But what if diehard right-wingers and diehard leftists started listening to each other's arguments? What if sane rightists (not the messianics) and sane leftists (not the Israel-bashers) opened themselves up to the other point of view?

We'd all become a little less intransigent.

One of the most cogent arguments of the right is that the Palestinians must dismantle the terrorist infrastructure before any peace plan can be implemented and before any political negotiations can take place. Surely, this is logical, for how can you negotiate peace when a private terrorist army exists, whose primary purpose is to derail the process?

Israel's government, backed by the right, claims that Mahmoud Abbas is not doing enough to curb terror, that he is weak, and therefore Israel must move into political negotiations with the utmost caution.

Makes sense.

One of the left's most forceful arguments is that Israel should agree to Palestinian demands to begin end-of-conflict talks without pre-conditions. The Palestinians are ready, and peace is obviously our primary foreign-policy goal. It would positively transform our country in every sense.

So, why wait? We could negotiate without easing our pressure on the Palestinians to dismantle the terror infrastructure, and we would continue to pursue the terrorists as if there were no negotiations.

Makes sense.

But both arguments need to be examined in more depth. The right claims, justifiably, that Hamas is gaining in strength, and has not toned down its rhetoric against the very existence of Israel. A post-disengagement "Hamastan" in Gaza is a dire possibility. So is a renewed outbreak of hostilities.

One of the principal ways of pressuring Abbas to take action against the armed groups, including Hamas, is to put off negotiations until he does so. Using that approach between 1996 and 1999, then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu was able to get Arafat to act against Hamas.

Moreover, Abbas is not doing enough to curtail terror. The calm we're enjoying only allows Hamas to strengthen its armed capability without hindrance.

The left, on the other hand, claims that opening negotiations with the Palestinian Authority could pull the carpet out from under Hamas. Talks could strengthen Abbas to such an extent that he would be able to tackle the weapons' problem more effectively.

As long as Israel delays negotiations, Palestinian extremists can claim that it has no desire to reach a peaceful solution, and that they have every right to maintain their "armed struggle."

Hamas has popular backing for this position, and Abbas may have difficulty going against it. Meanwhile, Israel is not allowing newly recruited police to have the arms they need, thus making it difficult for them to curb terrorists. Further, the left claims, our government is deliberately putting off negotiations because it does not want to make the concessions needed for a peace that will finally end the conflict.

Both sides make logical arguments. Both make sense.

The Palestinians will have to collect unauthorized weapons - principally for their own good - but also gain the confidence of Israel and the international community. The longer they wait, the stronger Hamas will become, and the more justified Israel's reluctance to negotiate will be.

And the Israelis cannot delay negotiations indefinitely. Eventually, we'll have to make more concessions. The international community will see to that.

The sooner Israelis and Palestinians act, the better. The Palestinians should rein in terror, and Israel should begin final-status negotiations after disengagement.

As for our right and left, both should listen more to what the other has to say. It would do us all a world of good.

David Kimche is a former director general of Israel's foreign ministry.

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