With saddening regularity, the debate about whether Israel
should defend a security zone in southern Lebanon recurs. It
is saddening because it is invariably prompted by a tragedy
such as the recent deaths of several senior Army officers
from a guerrilla bomb.
Dr. Yossi Beilin, a Labor MK who was one of the prime movers
in the Oslo Peace Agreements and a protege of Shimon Peres,
is invariably one of the loudest voices calling for a
unilateral withdrawal to the international border. He argues
that the guerrillas fighting in southern Lebanon have no
interest in conquering Israel, and would not pursue the
conflict if Israel left them alone by withdrawing to the
international border. Even now, he says, the guerrillas could
attack the northern Israeli communities, and they do not.
Those on the other side argue that the guerrillas have said
that they do not recognize the international border, as a
corollary of the fact that they do not recognize the State of
Israel. They also point out that Syria is the real Arab power
in Lebanon, and Israel's northern front heats up or cools
down as it suits Syrian interests. Syria has every reason to
continue the conflict, and its incentive would actually be
increased by a withdrawal: such a display of Israeli weakness
would encourage it to press the advantage.
The guerrillas of southern Lebanon are utterly dependent on
Syrian good graces. Even those who do not take direct orders
from Syria and are supported by Iran, receive their supplies
via Syria. They cannot afford to ignore Syrian wishes. Thus,
even if they were not inclined to continue to fight Israel
past the northern border, they would find it hard to ignore
Syrian requests to keep the pressure on Israel in general and
in particular to satisfy Syrian demands for the unconditional
return of the Golan Heights.
Most military experts are against a unilateral withdrawal
without any political settlement. Labor leader Barak's
promise that he would get Israel out of Lebanon within a year
of being elected prime minister is probably just indicative
of the fact that he has progressed in the transition from
Army general to politician -- and that he recognizes that
elected politicians suffer much less from breaking their
promises than professional military men who can be fired.
The leadership of Dr. Beilin suggests that the crusade to
leave south Lebanon is messianic in style, if not in content,
much like the Oslo "peace process." Beilin's efforts, and
presumably those of Shimon Peres his mentor, were not
propelled by any analysis of the situation and the options,
but rather by a blind faith that a solution exists and that
one need only move "forward" in order to realize it.
In an interview (Ha'aretz March 7, 1997), Beilin said
that he never had any plan or specific expectation of where
the process would lead in the long run. He simply insisted
that the solution does exist. "I want to live in a world
where the solution to our existential problem is possible. I
have no proof that this is really the case . . . I am simply
not prepared to live in a world where things are
Though it has not religious content, this is a messianic
position: it asserts that all big problems are solvable.
The flip side is that it negates the reality of exile. It
cannot suffer the world of the Jew as it has been for almost
2,000 years, yearning for redemption but prepared to tolerate
the difficulties of exile in all senses of the word.
And, we can assure Dr. Beilin and any followers he may have,
that the end to our "existential problem" and all other such
problems, will not come from a reckless insistence on "moving
ahead" but rather only when "the spirit will be aroused from
on high." In the meantime, of course, we must do the best we
can within the practical realities.