Until last week Lieutenant General Benny Gantz was not especially known as a demagogue. A professional military officer who had been steadily promoted until reaching the head of the pyramid, and his public appearances were rather dry and matter-of-fact. But at Bar Ilan University he entered with considerable skill into the sphere of horror propaganda, setting out a long list of nightmare scenarios: cybernetic damage to vital services, disrupting daily life in Israel; blood and fire on the Golan Heights;
salvo's of precise and destructive missiles all over the country; and ever more troubles which are about to come down on our heads - unless the government ministers come to their senses and immediately cancel the cuts in the Defence Budget.
Among his gruesome speculations the Chief of Staff included "the blowing up of an explosive tunnel, directly under a Kindergarten in a community near the Gaza Strip border." When he delivered his speech, the Chief of Staff already knew that a unit of the army under his command uncovered a long and well-built tunnel beginning in the Gaza Strip and penetrating several hundred metres into Israeli territory. He knew well that the tunnel ended under ploughed fields, and not near to any Kindergarten whatsoever, and that there was no indication that those who dug the tunnel intended to harm a Kindergarten. The last time when such tunnel was dug from the Gaza Strip, he diggers used it to attack a military camp and capture an Israeli soldier in order to exchange him for Palestinian prisoners held by Israel. But "the blowing up of a Kindergarten through a tunnel from Gaza" sounds much more dramatic and frightening.
As public opinion polls have shown over the years and also recently, the citizens of Israel have confidence in the IDF and its commanders. Much more confidence than they have in civilian politicians, communications media, courts of law or any other civilian institute. The Chief of Staff said something? Then, certainly, he knows what he is talking about. Some of the right-wingers with whom I correspond regularly, wrote this week: "Did you hear what your Palestinian friends intended to do? To blow up a Kindergarten! Are these the people with whom you want to make peace?"
Exactly this week, right-wing Knesset Members launched a big offensive against "the incitement by heads of the Palestinian Authority"...
Meanwhile, what is going on in the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks?
So far, it seems nothing much. Veteran journalist Shalom Yerushalmi penetrated this week much of the black-out over the talks in two extensive articles, which were published front page by Maariv:
"Negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians are on the verge of of collapse over the issue of the borders. Israel demands that the IDF be permanently stationed on the border with Jordan, is not willing to consider any alternative, and is also opposed to placing international forces in that area instead. One of the `creative proposals` brought by the Israeli negotiators was that the Palestinians will let the Jordan Valley to Israel under a long-term lease. The Palestinians rejected it out of hand and demanded that it would be their own forces and only them which will be placed in the Valley on the border line, as any other state guards its sovereign borders. The Israeli firmly refused.
"`We are willing to give you a demilitarized state' said the Israelis in the latest round. `What is a demilitarized state?' asked the Palestinians. `A demilitarized state is a state where we control the air space, the sea traffic and the border crossings', answered the Israelis. `A state with such limitations is not a state. It is not even an Autonomy' answered the Palestinians and threatened to break up the talks. `We demand to have control of our borders, our own international airport, and are own deep water sea port, without any control by you.' We prefer the present situation over getting a demilitarized state within a locked cage.' "
Last Saturday night some 35000 people gathered at the Rabin Square in Tel-Aviv, to mark the 18th anniversary of the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin. Most of them were young, including many who were not yet born 18 years ago. The keynote speech was delivered by Rabin's grandson, Yonathan Ben-Artzi:
"Mister Prime Minister! My grandfather was murdered for the sake of peace, and you owe us, all of us, to achieve the peace. Sir, you have a unique opportunity to bring us peace. For the first time in years there i9s a special global and regional situation to achieve peace, to resolve simultaneously the Iranian issue as well as the Palestinian one, within a single framework and with the support and encouragement of the entire world. It will not be easy, and certainly will not always be popular, but that is how history shows that leaders are tested. It seems to me, this is your time. From here I call upon you to make use of this opportunity, and bring us peace."
"The word `peace` aroused the youngsters on the square to very prolonged applause", reported Eyal Levy in the NRG news website. The same was observed by Gush Shalom activists who were in the crowd distributing stickers with the two flags side by side; the flag of Israel and the flag of Palestine.
A few days later there was in Jerusalem the State Memorial. There, Rabin's children Daliya and Yuval said similar things in the presence of Netanyahu. So did President Shimon Peres, who had been Rabin's rival and partner. After a bit of lip-service to Rabin the person and general condemnation of assassinations, the prime minister answered all of them bluntly: "Peace you make with enemies, but peace you make with enemies who want peace. We will not let enemies have a foothold in territories which are vital for the state of Israel." In other words: the Palestinians remain our enemies, we don't believe they mean peace, and we are not going to give them the Jordan Valley.
So, what is going to happen? According to several well-informed commentators, some time in the beginning of next year the Americans will come up with their own bridging proposals. And if even so the negotiations will end in failure, the question is who will be saddled with the blame. "We might get into a very difficult situation" says Amnon Lord, the commentator who is very close to Netanyahu. "The Palestinians might bring us back to the harsh diplomatic battlefield in the United Nations, and this time without the American protecting umbrella,
All this will happen some time next year. Meanwhile yesterday morning a Palestinian riding a tractor tried to break into an Israeli military camp in the West Bank area north of Jerusalem, and was shot to death by the soldiers. The latest incident in a lengthening chain of Palestinians who are not members of any organization, who have no contact with each other - all of them fed up with life under occupation and having no expectations of these talks. The writing is on the wall.