Who, then, is serious about peace?


WASHINGTON -- When Barry Goldwater told the 1964 Republican convention that extremism in defense of liberty is no vice, a scandalized journalist reportedly exclaimed, "He's going to run as Goldwater!" Today comparable exclamations resound concerning Israel's new prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

Some news reports of his government's guidelines make much of the fact that they closely resemble his campaign promises. Well, did you ever!

President Clinton, speaking from his bunker on barricaded Pennsylvania Avenue, says he hopes Israel will continue to take "risks for peace."

Four wars, or five, or six

In the 48 years since Israel was founded on one-sixth of one percent of the 7.5 million square miles of land that is too casually called "the Arab world," Israel has not known an hour of true peace. It has suffered four wars (1948, 1956, 1967, 1973). Five if you count the 1969-70 "war of attrition." Six if you count the continuing conflict with various terrorist organizations supported by hostile nations.

In three weeks of war in October 1973 Israel's casualties, as a percentage of its population, were three times larger than U.S. casualties in eight years of war in Vietnam. For Israelis, boarding a bus is risky. How grating they must find the exhortations to risk-taking that issue from a powerful nation surrounded by two friendly neighbors and two broad oceans.

Jews were 10 percent of the population of the Roman Empire, and if today they were the proportion of the world's population that they were then, they would number 200 million. They number 13 million. The world was an especially dangerous place for Jews before they had a national home. And that home was especially vulnerable in its pre-1967 borders, when it was 12 miles wide at the waist.

Mr. Netanyahu's guidelines say the Golan Heights, from which tanks poured in 1973, will not be returned to the aggressor Syria. And there will be no Palestinian state or other foreign sovereignty west of the Jordan River. And Israel has a "right" to act against terrorism "everywhere," and "will act" to remove the threat in Israel's north. Much as the U.S. government acted against threats out of Mexico in 1916.

The guidelines say Jerusalem shall forever be Israel's undivided capital under Israel's sovereignty. Ask average Americans to name the capitals of Delaware, Vermont and Israel. More will know Jerusalem than Dover or Montpelier. Yet the U.S. government for decades said that locating the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem would "prejudge" the city's status.

Indeed. That is a good reason for locating the embassy not just in Jerusalem, as Congress has committed a reluctant Mr. Clinton to do by May 1997, but in East Jerusalem, the portion Jordan lost by its 1967 aggression, and which Mr. Arafat plans to make the capital of a Palestinian state.

'Zionist fulfillment'

Mr. Netanyahu's guidelines say Israeli settlements in the West Bank and elsewhere are important for defense and "Zionist fulfillment."

In 1990 Strobe Talbott, who now holds the State Department's second-highest position, compared Israel's West Bank settlement policy to Saddam Hussein's claim to Kuwait because Kuwait and Iraq had been part of the same province under the Ottoman Empire. Actually, the settlements are legal because the West Bank, which Jordan seized militarily in 1948-49, is an unallocated portion of the Palestine Mandate of 1922.

It has been nearly half a century since Israel became the first salient of democratic values in an inhospitable region, and the world still waits for an Arab nation to become the first democracy in the history of Arab civilization. While waiting for such developments, the Netanyahu government's unspoken guideline will be Golda Meir's admonition: Jews are used to collective eulogies but Israel will not die so that the world will speak well of it.

On the eve of the 1967 war, a young Israeli soldier wrote in his diary of an Englishman, an American and an Israeli caught by cannibals, put in a pot and offered a last wish:

"The Englishman asked for a whiskey and a pipe, and got them. The American asked for a steak and got it. The Israeli asked the chief of the tribe to give him a good kick in the backside. At first the chief refused, but after much argument he did it. At once the Israeli pulled out a gun and shot all the cannibals.

"The American and the Englishman asked him: 'If you had a gun all the time, why didn't you kill them sooner?' 'Are you crazy,' answered the Israeli, 'and have the U.N. call me an aggressor?' "

So wrote the man who on a memorable date -- July 4, 1976 -- led, and was the only Israeli killed in, the raid that rescued the hostages at Entebbe. Jonathan Netanyahu. Benjamin's brother.

George F. Will is a syndicated columnist.

Pub Date: 6/24/96

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