Looking to past wars for insight into the present conflict
Published before the outbreak of the major conflict between Hizbullah and Israel, Shlomo Ben Amis important book provides perspective on the Jewish states arrival at this juncture in its history. Ben-Ami, the former foreign minister of Israel under Prime Minister Ehud Barak, was involved in the Camp David summit in 2000.
His book reflects the politics of the Israeli Left those who view the choices facing Israel during Ariel Sharons tenure as prime minister, and now under Ehud Olmert, as options between a violent and unilateral separation or disengagement and a comprehensive peace plan that would be imposed on both parties by an international peace coalition headed by the United States. Ben-Ami, in urging the latter path, argues that such a peace plan be anchored in a special UN Security Council resolution that will view it as the authoritative international interpretation of UN Resolution 242, the basis for the land for peace formula that has become the mantra of the Israeli Left.
Present when Yasser Arafat rejected the Clinton plan that would have led to the creation of a Palestinian state on more than 90 percent of the West Bank and Gaza, Ben-Ami faults former President Bill Clinton for his failure to rally the Arab governments behind his peace initiative and for not building a solid and effective international foundation to sustain and internationally legitimize his plan. Ben-Ami is prescient when he also argues that a major fallacy of the Oslo Accords was that they lacked any mechanism to lead the transition of the Palestinian resistance from a revolutionary movement to one committed to an orderly and democratic state. The result was that Hamas, unreconciled to Israels existence, continued to use the language of confrontation against the Jewish state and, through the democratic process, was elected a majority in the Palestinian parliament. It was simply a matter of time, therefore, before the militant Hamas movement, ideologically committed to the destruction of Israel, would lead the Palestinians into confrontation with their sworn enemy.
In providing the historical background for this summers hostilities in Lebanon, Ben-Ami is critical in his description of Israels initial military incursion into Lebanon, which lasted from 1982 to June 2000. The major objective of Israels invasion was to eliminate the military and political challenge posed by the Palestine Liberation Organization, which had created a powerful standing army in control of much of the country.
Although dismantling the Palestinian infrastructure in Lebanon was the primary objective of Israels military strategy, Ben-Ami reveals that the architects of the invasion, Prime Minister Menachem Begin and his defense minister, Ariel Sharon, had far wider ambitions. They believed that the defeat of the Palestinians in Lebanon would trigger a mass exodus of Palestinians to the east bank of the Jordan River, which in turn would bring about the collapse of the Hashemite dynasty and the Palestinisation of the kingdom in a way that would allow Israel a free hand to assert her rule in Judea and Samaria.
Having defeated the Palestinians, Begin and Sharon planned moves to create a new order in Lebanon, with an undisputed Christian hegemony that would be forced to make peace with Israel. Ben-Ami notes with passion: But the war in Lebanon, which started in deceit and with grand strategic designs, ended in military disaster, political defeat, and human disgrace. It developed into an all-out confrontation between almost all the ethnic and national forces in Lebanon, and its saddest episodes were the massacre of hundreds of Palestinians in the Sabra and Chatila refugee camps that was perpetrated by Israels allies in the Christian militias with IDFs connivance.
Ben-Ami helps us understand the background of the current crisis that Israel faces in Lebanon when he notes that although Israel destroyed the PLO infrastructure in Lebanon, it unleashed an even more formidable threat to its northern border with the founding of the Shiite militias of Hizbullah. The war in Lebanon in 1982, as is the case in the present conflict, brought Iran through its proxies the Hizbullah militias to Israels doorstep. Ben-Ami points to a similar dynamic in regard to Gaza whereby Israel, obsessed with the destruction of the PLO and the elimination of Arafat, ended up enthroning Hamas and other Islamic fundamentalist groups.
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