Peace wont be instant, but dream cant be dropped

On the eve of Israel's 55th Independence Day, the country can look backward and forward with a mixture of satisfaction and anxiety. There is satisfaction that Israel is surviving constant and murderous Palestinian acts of terrorism and Arab enmity and that it is broadcasting to the whole world a determination to hold on and not to give up its Zionist dream of a Jewish and democratic state. But there is anxiety as to the prospects of peace and security.

There is also a glimmer of hope: The "road map'' and the election of Mahmoud Abbas may offer a way out of the vicious circle of terrorism and repressive counter-measures, but the terrorist attacks in Kfar Saba and Tel Aviv snuffed out any optimistic thoughts. There is no sign that the Hamas and its cohorts are ready or willing to abide by the no-violence clause in the road map, and without this there is no plan and all hope is dashed. But Israel faces greater dangers: Weapons of mass destruction are menacing Israel from Iran and Syria, and these weapons are coupled with a growing anti-Israeli and anti-Jewish hysteria that renders their use all the more probable.

It is no wonder, therefore, that many Israelis have given up on their cherished dream of instant peace and a new Middle East. Indeed, most Israelis have given up their former much-cherished credos: The left, crushed and diminished by Yasser Arafat's treachery is painfully giving up its belief that Israeli concessions will ensure an everlasting peace. Meanwhile, the right is gradually retreating from its belief in a greater Israel and in the idea that Israel can rule over the Palestinian people, who hate and violently reject its dominion.

The main policy of Israel, around which all its diplomatic efforts should be concentrated, is to ensure its survival without pinning all hopes on instant peace. This can be achieved, especially in view of the war in Iraq, only by relying on the assurances of the United States and its public opinion. Without an American security umbrella, the Arab states and the Palestinian leadership will be tempted to continue their policies of not making peace with the Jewish

state. Indeed, without a Pax Americana, the whole of the Middle East may revert to one

of serial mad explosions with all attendant risks. Israel's main challenge, therefore, is to ensure a continuing American commitment to its security as well as supportive public opinion. This factor, and not vain hopes in a quick peace fix, should direct its government to accept and be ready to implement the American road map and to give up finally the elusive and harmful dream of ever-growing Jewish settlements in what will inevitably be non-Israel territories.

Israel can look backward with tremendous pride. Minute in size, not much bigger than a sliver of Mediterranean coastline, it has withstood continuing Arab onslaughts, wars, boycotts and terrorism; it has turned itself from a poor, rural country to an industrial and post-industrial powerhouse. Despite the long road ahead, and the need for further integration, it has reduced social, educational and health gaps between its various components, including gaps between Arabs and Jews. Some of its achievements are unprecedented: Israeli Arabs have a higher life expectancy than European whites.

Inside Israel proper, democracy functions even in times of great national emergency. Israel boasts one of the most activist and interventionist courts in the world, which do not fear to tread where other courts shun intervention. It has maintained freedom of the press in time of war; it stands out as a singular democratic, First World island in an Arab and Muslim sea of poverty and backwardness.

In short, Israel deserves support, and its existence and prosperity are in American and Western interests. But it is also incumbent upon Israel to comply with American and Western interests and rules of behavior — and these rules of behavior require total acceptance of the road map and all that this implies, including a freeze on settlements.