Thursday, September 19, 2002
The phoniness of Israel's responses to Palestinian terror is really getting me down. Israeli tanks have again surrounded Arafat's compound in response to the murder of five Israeli civilians in a bus bombing today. But no action is going to be taken against Arafat personally, because . . . I no longer know why.
The Jerusalem Post has an interesting little item. Bret Stephens, the editor in chief, points out that the current war still has no name - other than "the situation" - and that the lack of a name bespeaks a confusion about the causes and purpose of the conflict. Without knowing these things, you cannot define victory, and if you cannot define victory, you cannot achieve it. And not achieving victory is exactly what's going on with these periodic invasions of Arafat's compound coupled with promises not to harm a hair on his precious head. So the Post has asked writers from Israel in America are asked to come up with a name.
I think they have a point. Israel may be firmly united in its determination to prosecute this war, and determined not to surrender to terror. But it is not united on the war's aims, and this is the reason that the war has no name. (The Palestinians, by the way, are united in what they call the war: they call it the al-Aqsa Intifadah, that is to say, the Jerusalem Uprising. That's pretty clear: this is a popular upheaval to drive the foreigners out of Jerusalem. It is not only a national but a religious war, and it is, expressed in this way, presumptively justified.)
I myself have been calling it "the Oslo War" for some time, but I know that's polemical: I believe strongly that the Oslo Accords are the root cause of this particular war. Not all Israelis agree. I suspect they eventually will, and that this will be the informal name for the war for most people in the future. But if there is no consensus on cause, what can there be consensus on? What name could most Israelis agree on?
* We could name it after the enemy: The Fatah War. Kind of how we named the wars that engulfed Europe in the early 19th century after their author, Napoleon. That would be nicely clarifying, since plenty of people are still under the delusion that Fatah are the good guys, as against the more extreme Hamas, when in fact Fatah has been responsible for most of the murderous violence of this war. If this is the Fatah War, then the war aim must be the end of the current regime in the Palestinian territories.
* We could name it after the tactics: The Terror War. Israel fought a war after 1967 known only as "The War of Attrition," and naming the situation "The Terror War" would be similar. This is probably the formulation that would be most acceptable to mainstream Laborites. If this is the Terror War, then the war aim is simply to frustrate and defeat terror as a tactic; there are no political or territorial aims per se.
* We could name it after the date it started: The Millennium War. I kind of like this one. On the one hand, it's purely factual: the war started in 2000, after Arafat's emphatic "no" at Camp David. But it also captures something of what Richard Perle talks about in his comment to the Jerusalem Post that this was "the idealists' war" - a war caused brought on Israel by idealists who willed their belief that peace was at hand, against all evidence. And using a Christian date would be nicely neutral, since this is largely a war between Muslims and Jews.
* Or we could name it, perhaps overly poetically, after Ehud Barak's favorite phrase to explain his strategy: The Unmasked War. Barak repeatedly said that he was ready to make Arafat such generous offers at Camp David and at Taba because it was a no-lose proposition for Israel. Either Arafat would accept the terms, and he would then have no grounds for additional claims; or he would reject terms that were obviously generous, and his true aim - the destruction of Israel - would thereby be "unmasked" before the world, resulting in diplomatic support for Israel. Well, he was unmasked all right - and so was much of the world. This war for the first time has made it truly clear who Israel's friends are and who are its enemies, and just how little the world cares if the only Jewish state in the world is extinguished by violence. Quite an unmasking.