The bombing of Lebanon is new proof of Israel's disregard for Arab life, says Palestinian peace negotiator Ahmad Khalidi. But peace is still necessaryby Ahmad Samih Khalidi / June 20, 1996 / Leave a comment
Rarely have the fruits of peace tasted so bitter. Across the Arab-Israeli divide, the events that began with the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin last November, through the Hamas bombings of February and March, culminating with Israel’s latest misadventure in Lebanon, have created a public revulsion against the “peace process.” To paraphrase Clausewitz’s much mangled dictum, to many Arabs and Israelis the peace process appears as no more than the extension of war by the very same means.
The Israeli general election of 29th May will be an indicator of how this revulsion will translate into politics. The re-election of Labour will be seen as a boost for peace. Conversely, the return of the Israeli right on the crest of anti-peace sentiment, combined with frustration at the failure of Shimon Peres’s Lebanon policy, will stall (if not derail) the peace process.
The timing, object and method of the Israeli assault on Lebanon seem to have been intimately bound up with electoral considerations. In order to vent Israeli anger at the Palestinian Hamas, Shimon Peres appears to have decided to force a military showdown with the Lebanese Hizbollah. The difference between the two are lost on an Israeli public thirsty for retaliation and a world opinion already predisposed in Israel’s favour by the “Iranian-backed Islamic terrorist” label affixed to both organisations.
Peres’s gamble may or may not pay off in internal Israeli terms. But the Lebanese misadventure has highlighted the tenuousness of Arab-Israeli relations at the grass roots. Even if Peres regains the trust of his public, the cost in terms of Israel’s image in the Arab world has been incalculable. If true peace is one between peoples, not just the formal outgrowth of state to state deliberations, then the result of the Israeli election is almost immaterial.
The long march towards an Arab-Israeli settlement has been accompanied by a gradual, if tentative, change in Arab perceptions of Israel. But the killings in Lebanon have called much of this into question. Underlying the delicate structure of peace there are profound feelings of mistrust, bitterness and even unmitigated hostility-on both sides. This unpleasant truth needs to be told if only to rescue it from the pieties of “peace-loving” politicians and the pretences of international diplomacy.
From the Arab perspective, bitterness is reinforced by world reaction. While Israeli victims of the Hamas bus bombings were honoured by an “anti-terror” world summit, the Lebanese…