By Mario Sznajder (for Safe Democracy)

Mario Sznajder analyzes the political impact that the war in Lebanon has produced in Israel, where military and civilian protests are calling for the dismissal of Olmert‘s government, and governmental investigations are looking into the decisions made during the war. It is obvious that the unilateral pullout of Lebanon in 2000 did nothing to stop Hezbollah‘s strategy, and in Sznajder‘s opinion, the same will be true of the West Bank. Even if Israel pulls out and establishes the security wall as an international border for the new Palestinian state, eventually missiles will begin to fall from that border too. The only option left, therefore, is negotiation.

Mario Sznajder is a Leon Blum chair and professor of political science at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He is a researcher for the Truman Institute for the Advancement of Peace. He has published hundreds of articles in scientific journals on fascism, human rights, democracy, and the Middle East.

IN ISRAEL THE ARGUMENT NEVER STOPS. NOBODY AGREES ON ANYTHING; everything is up for debate. But the one thing that everyone seems to agree upon is the terrible impact that this second war in Lebanon has had on Israel. After more than five weeks of missile attacks on Haifa and the Galilee, open confrontations with Hezbollah, and heavy losses on both sides the war is finally over.

But the conflict has truly just begun. The military and civilian losses as well as the material damages are all testimony to what has been and what will continue to be an ever-more precarious existence for Israel in the Middle East. And despite the recently signed ceasefire, in accordance with UN Security Council resolution 1701, the United Nations has been incapable of assembling the new UNIFIL (United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon) to keep the peace on Israel’s northern border. This ceasefire is just as fragile and impermanent as all of the rest.

The UN agreed to step in and support Israel’s demands that the northern border be controlled by UNIFIL and by the Lebanese Army.

The Lebanese Army has already begun its deployments in the south of the country, but UNIFIL is still having trouble getting off the ground. Israel has also called for Lebanon to disarm and control Hezbollah to ensure that it can no longer pose a threat to Israel.

But since the war ended, Hezbollah’s strength has grown rather than diminished. As the Lebanese government sits by silently, Hezbollah has gained more and more support, including immense political power within government.

And despite the heavy losses that Hezbollah suffered during the course of the war (Israel succeeded in knocking out a large portion of Hezbollah’s arsenal as well as eliminating many of the organization’s best combatants), Hezbollah has declared the operation to be a total victory. A political victory, a propaganda victory: now more than ever the majority of the Arab world seems to agree that Israel’s self-defense was a war of aggression, and Hezbollah’s attacks were a struggle for freedom.

Perhaps the most major part of Hezbollah’s symbolic victory resides in the political impact that the confrontation has had on Israel. Ehud Olmert’s government finds itself now in a very precarious situation. The protests of reserve soldiers returning from Lebanon and of civilians have grown rapidly carrying the slogan: Ehud Olmert (Prime Minister), Amir Peretz (Minister of Defense) and Dan Halutz (Army Chief of Staff) renounce your positions!

In political circles another demand has arisen for an official investigation to be held, presided over by a judge, to look over all of the political and military decisions preceding and during the war to study its legality. The Israeli people have met this demand with a great deal of support.

What’s more, many leaders within Kadima, Ehud Olmert’s political party, have openly contradicted the Prime Minister’s position and called for a reopening of negotiations with Syria. Others are considering starting talks with the PLO again, especially if Abu Mazen succeeds in replacing Hamas’ government with a national coalition government led by Al Fatah, or a technocratic government.

After seeing what little success unilateral pullouts have had in convincing Hezbollah to stop its terrorist attacks, Ehud Olmert has thrown out the original plan to pull out of the West Bank to establish an international border with the Palestinian nation.

Even if Israel pulled out completely, and established the defensive wall as the new international boundary of a separate Palestinian state, it would be no more than a temporary solution. Eventually missiles would start falling on Israel from the West Bank as well. In the long run, the only real solution is negotiation.

And this is a realization that must be taken into consideration not only by Ehud Olmert but also by Benjamin Netanyahu, who is already preparing himself for the next elections, and General Moshe Yaalon, ex-Chief of Staff of the Israeli Defense Force who was ousted before he got a chance to begin his work and has now declared his intentions to become Minister of Defense.

If Israel hopes to one day have peace with its neighbors in the Middle East, it must stick to the path of negotiation. Unilateral decisions, and attacks made in self-defense have only strengthened the positions of the terrorists intent on Israel’s destruction.

In the long run, more important than ones ideology, negotiation will be the only way to reach a peaceful resolution to the seemingly endless conflicts in the Middle East.

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