Magazine founder relates current Israeli atmosphere

Was Operation Protective Wall a success?

Yes, said Jerusalem Report founder Hirsh Goodman of Israel's military response to Palestinian terror attacks.

"It was very effective in destroying a lot of bomb-making capacity and either killing or capturing a lot of senior decision-makers and commanders and breaking down those structures," said Goodman on a visit last week to San Francisco. "It also uncovered tons of weapons that had been hidden."

But does that guarantee an end to terrorist attacks? Of course not.

"If it was 80 percent successful, it was successful," said the veteran journalist and former commentator for the Jerusalem Post.

That being said and done, however, the Israeli public, which overwhelmingly supported the operation, desperately wants peace, but feels there is no one to negotiate with, he said.

Of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, Goodman said, "Clearly nobody in Israel is going to conduct negotiations with this guy because nobody believes him. No one will accept his signature on a check."

However, when it comes to peacemaking, Goodman said that there is a leadership vacuum on both sides. While the Israeli public currently supports Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, most Israelis also are in favor of a Palestinian state, and realize that Sharon isn't the one who will be able to negotiate on their behalf.

While it is incumbent upon Arafat to introduce reform to the Palestinian Authority, "something has to happen on the Israeli side as well," said the South African-born journalist. "We need a leader to rise who is going to say 'we've had our wars, now let's make peace.' There is no credible leader on the Israeli left."

The reason Sharon is enjoying such popularity now, he said, is because "the country is fighting a war. But the moment you start making peace, everybody understands that we're going to give up most of the settlements to make peace and Sharon won't do that."

While former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may have caused damage to himself recently by declaring there should be no Palestinian state, Goodman said it is likely he will become Israel's next prime minister.

"He's very well-organized and financed and has a lot of people working for him on the ground," said Goodman. "He'd have a pretty good chance."

The challenge facing Israel now, Goodman said, is that although most of the populace does indeed back the creation of a Palestinian state, returning to a place where both sides are ready to negotiate seems insurmountable.

"We're not at ground zero, we're at ground minus-50," he said, in that even returning to the point before the current intifada broke out will take enormous effort. "On the one hand, we know that if there is to be peace, we must go back to the '67 lines," he said. "But what's broken down is the distrust between the two sides."

Saying that many on the Israeli left no longer trust that Arafat ever wanted peace, he said, "Israel has swung to the right in a very serious way."

The rightward shift has resulted in two populist points of view of what could be done in an interim period about "hamatzav," or the situation, as it is called in Israel.

One is transferring all the Arabs out of Israel, and the second is unilateral separation, which is akin to building a wall between the borders.

"Both are totally idiotic and unimplementable," he said.

As for the Labor party, Goodman predicted that its next leader would not come from within the ranks of the party leadership. While Barak may think he can stage a comeback, Goodman said he didn't stand a chance.

"Unfortunately, I don't think Barak has learned anything," Goodman said. "He's as arrogant as ever."

On the Palestinian side, Goodman believes there are many possible successors to Arafat, and while the Israelis may not approve of them, it is not their choice to make.

"We don't have to elect the Palestinian leadership, it's up to us to negotiate with them. It's very much their business."

Goodman was not too complimentary of the Bush administration's role in the Middle East crisis thus far.

"It seems that if the price of oil stays stable, there's no real U.S. policy." Goodman likened the U.S. to a fireman, putting "a blaze out here or there, but not really digging themselves deep into dealing with the situation."

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."