Israels problem isnt its leaders &mdash its that theres no solution

Since the summer war in Lebanon ended on such a bad note, Israelis have been in a quandary. How, they complain, could the government and IDF fail to deliver the victory they promised in what they said was a war of survival?

Israelis have tried to identify the problem and they think they’ve found the answer: The problem is the leadership and the system of government, and the solution is to replace both of them. Then, people believe, the country will get back on track.

I think Israelis are completely wrong. I think they’re effectively scapegoating the government and the political system for a much deeper problem, one with no evident solution, that was exposed by the war in Lebanon: Israel has finally run out of ideas for how to achieve security.

The war, together with the escalation of Palestinian violence in Gaza, not only shattered the ideology of unilateral withdrawal, it also mucked up the ideology of “victory.” It seems we can’t separate from our enemies and we can’t vanquish them, either.

So the Olmert government is treading water, going nowhere, and is interested only in its own survival. But honestly, does anybody, either on the left or the right, have a good idea for how Israel can gain security? Does anybody have a way out of this gridlock? I haven’t heard it.

The left, as always, blames the government for not being earnest enough in the pursuit of peace negotiations, which was Israel’s ideology of the 1990s that got shattered by the intifada. But does the left have a case for peace negotiations when Hamas and the Fatah militias lead the Palestinians? Who the hell are we supposed to negotiate with?

I do agree with the left that Olmert is wrong to brush off Syrian President Bashar Assad’s offer of peace talks; I think Israel should at least put out feelers to the Syrians to see if such negotiations might have a chance for success.

Yet I don’t see any cause for optimism. In 2000 the peace talks with Syria foundered on Hafez Assad’s demand for access to the waters of the Sea of Galilee, which Ehud Barak rightly refused. Assad’s son hasn’t budged from this demand, and there’s no reason at all to think he will.

Then on the other end of the spectrum, what is the right offering? The public’s disillusionment over the war’s outcome has brought Benjamin Netanyahu and the Likud back from the dead, but would they do anything differently in Lebanon, Gaza and the West Bank than what the government is doing, or likely will be doing in the near future? What would Bibi do — reoccupy south Lebanon, reoccupy Gaza, build more settlements around Ramallah and Nablus? About the only thing the Likud really has to offer is Netanyahu’s skill at persuasion, and even that ain’t what it used to be.

As for the man of the hour, Avigdor Lieberman, you have to be pretty stupid, rotten or both to think he can bring Israel security. It may make some people feel good to think that all our problems with the Arabs can be solved by carpet bombing and expulsion, but, thank God, this is a dark fantasy and nothing more. Whatever acts of Liebermania the Supreme Court wouldn’t stop, the United States would. Israelis may talk tough, but they’re not ready to be ostracized by the civilized world, which is where Lieberman would lead them.

So in the absence of any clear road to security, what is Israel’s next step? Apparently it’s a major military confrontation in Gaza. Not a pleasant thought, but then can anybody really object to it too strongly, given the staggering amount of sophisticated weaponry the Palestinians have smuggled in, and the likelihood that it’s not being earmarked for a Museum of the Intifada but rather, once again, for a Hezbollah-inspired war against Israel?

Yet does anybody believe that the seemingly inevitable assault on Gaza will be Israel’s last battle with the Palestinians, or even a decisive one? Does anyone have a military solution to our problem with those nearly 3.5 million people that amounts to more than just another dark fantasy? Interestingly, Israel has run out of ideas for finding security in the Middle East just as America has run out of them, too.

The Bush doctrine of using U.S. military power to defeat terrorism and spread democracy in the Muslim world has turned into a bitter joke. Even the Republicans have deserted the cause. Finally, Americans are seeing the Middle East for what it is, and they’ve decided they want no further part of it. Which, of course, isn’t a solution either.

Neither the Republicans nor the Democrats have an answer to militant Islam or the other strains of anti-American, anti-Israeli political violence.

Neither does Kadima, Labor, Likud, Meretz or Israel Beiteinu have an answer. I wish I could say this constituted a failure on our part, because then it would be in our power to correct it and come up with a solution. But we — Israel, the United States and the other Western democratic powers — are not the problem in the Middle East, certainly not now.

The problem now is the entrenched, intractable power of violent radicalism in Gaza, the West Bank, Lebanon, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and other parts of the region. Whatever military, political or territorial solution anyone had to that problem has, of late, gone up in smoke. The best any Israeli government can do is try to manage the danger — above all, to try not to make it worse — and hope that a better solution than the ones already tried will present itself in the future.

That’s the new situation, that’s the new reality Israel faces for the time being. And another new set of faces in the government and IDF, or another new system for electing and bringing down political leaders, isn’t going to change it.

But it’s no wonder Israelis blame the leadership and the system. If they took a good look at the reality of the situation, they’d be in an even deeper malaise than they’re already in.

Larry Derfner is a veteran Israeli journalist. This column previously appeared in the Jerusalem Post.