Repetition Compulsion

Anyone who has heard George Santayana’s aphorism is condemned to repeat it, perhaps, but what can you really learn from history while you’re still living it—when the only facts that stick are organized to keep you sane? Yoel Marcus, the dean of Haaretz columnists, decided to give Gideon Levy a history lesson this morning. His column, given his readers’ dread, was inarguably tonic.

Last week, Levy wrote a bitter column about Ehud Barak, appealing for a cease-fire with Hamas, arguing what most Israelis intuitively understand, that there is no military solution to Gaza’s rockets, and that the IDF’s targeted killings only strengthen Hamas across the West Bank:

If there's a lull in Qassams fired, then Barak does everything he can to ensure their renewal to justify the “large-scale op” in Gaza he intends to make. If Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is desperately trying to push forward talks, Barak eliminates any chance of bolstering his support. If Hamas suggests a cease-fire, Barak responds: “We will witness harsh scenes in Gaza before a calm is reached.” If all's quiet on the northern front, then Israeli pyromania claims Hezbollah's Imad Mughniyah, according to allegations. The security establishment does as it pleases: Killing; destroying; barring; seizing funds; issuing orders to close stores and factories in the West Bank; allowing construction in West Bank settlements; utterly humiliating the Palestinian Authority. It is oblivious to negotiations, Israeli commitments or lofty talk of peace.

This was, no doubt, written in anger. If the latest IDF attack in Bethlehem were the first, not the thirtieth, time the IDF chose to break a cease-fire in order to go after those notionally planning to break a cease-fire, one could chalk it up to—how did the Winograd Commission put it?—poor communication “between the political and military echelons.” But as my friend Yoram Peri, the author of the award winning Generals in the Cabinet Room, has shown, the army brass increasingly makes “professional” decisions politicians dare not contradict. Barak, who wants to return to the prime minister’s chair, has begun to preside over operational decisions without even the pretense of consulting his colleagues.

Nevertheless, Levi’s anger was too much for Marcus, who seems more and more the national therapist--you know, the short-term kind, who doesn’t like to see you squirm. He’s put together what could be the single most reassuring version I have yet heard of the crisis Israelis face. Anyone who has ever been to lunch with an Israeli consul, or has been cut off by an Israeli driver, knows the shrug he means his readers to perfect:

Israel [Marcus writes] is not Switzerland… its defense minister is not a character from the opera dressed in a fancy uniform. [Critics like Levy are so naïve, Marcus implicitly soothes.] Israel remains a target for elimination. [They want to kill us, don't they?] Instead of living alongside a pint-size sliver of a state called Israel, the Palestinians preferred to fight for all or nothing. [The wars are all their fault.] Israel could have easily become a military dictatorship. But it retained its humanity and its democratic character. [But Jews are just too good.] Israel fell in love with the territories it captured in the Six-Day War. [I’m not saying we’re perfect.] Windows of goodwill opened that allowed the signing of peace accords. [But we’ve done everything we could for peace.] Yasser Arafat proudly drove into Gaza in a black limousine, waving to the cheering, hope-filled crowds. But instead of words of peace, the chairman's maiden speech was a war cry against Israel. [Too bad, our enemy is so corrupt and blood-thirsty.] Ehud Barak who presented Arafat and president Bill Clinton with a comprehensive agreement that included the option of dividing Jerusalem. Arafat turned white. [Still, we offered them everything and they came back with war.] Hamas, boosted by the rise of Islamic fundamentalism now spreading like a plague in this part of the world, by Iran's threats to destroy Israel and support of terror. [And because they didn’t miss their chance to miss this opportunity, we have violence, which is fomented and directed by Iran.] But Israel has not promised to end the war on terror in the West Bank, out of fear that Hamas is liable to gain control there, too. [We must kill their bad people before they get us.]

We have to stop now.