Those who exercise power are usually more newsworthy than those who merely seek it, and it is not surprising to find that the views of the Israeli opposition have had little echo in the media.
Nevertheless, there are different views in Israel about how to deal with the problem of the PLO in Lebanon.
The Labor Alignment is the largest single party in our parliament, and some of its leaders, including Shimon Peres and former generals Rabin, Bar-Lev and Gur, have had a stronger impact on the history of our defense establishment than any group in any other party.
Their initial advice to the Israeli government and public was that Israel should seek security for its northern regions without entering Lebanese territory at all.
We proposed that the cease-fire, which had ensured peace in the north for 10 months, should be given a further try, and that the dangerous buildup of PLO forces in their Lebanese sanctuary should be contained by deterrence rather than by confrontation.
But once the Israeli government decided, on its own responsibility, to take military action, the Labor movement supported our troops in what, after all, is their legitimate task. This was defined as the creation of a zone of some 40 kilometers in which PLO forces would be banished, and an effective multinational force would prevent the kind of attacks on our northern villages that have outraged our people and led to spiraling hostilities.
It is beyond my understanding why any peace-loving government or people should withhold support from this objective. Its endorsement by the United States has strengthened Israel's resolve to pursue it.
Once this objective was brought within view in the first week of the war, my colleagues and I urged an immediate cease-fire. The most important thing in war is not to lose. The second most important thing is to know how and when to bring war to an end. We have therefore opposed the escalation of hostilities in the direction of Beirut and have published our firm opposition to the conquest of that city.
The PLO had subjugated Lebanon for the purpose of destroying Israel, and creating a center of operations and training for other terrorist movements across the world. The destruction of Israel, the subjugation of Lebanon and the fomenting of terrorism are not among the stated objectives of the United Nations or the European Community. But both the United Nations and the European Economic Community have behaved toward the PLO as though its aims and presence were legitimate.
The deferential international attitude toward the PLO was one of the factors in the growth of its virulence. Its most recent aim was to subvert the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty and to ensure that no similar treaties or agreements could be negotiated. It was not conceivable that the PLO would be able to accumulate armed forces in contempt of Lebanese sovereignty and then send them against Israel at its own whim and time without, sooner or later, incurring an Israeli response.
It is legitimate to hope that the PLO command in Beirut will cease to function, and that a sovereign Lebanon will emerge out of the darkness of Syrian and PLO occupation in which it has been held for seven years. But these are aims to be achieved by diplomacy, not by war.
One of the most urgent motives for the avoidance of escalation is the terrible toll that war takes of innocent populations caught up in the cross fire of contending belligerents. The fact that Israel's critics in the world community have never shown much solicitude for innocent bystanders in their own conflicts does not help us in our predicament.
The humane consideration involving Israel's young men, and the Lebanese and Palestinian civilians in Lebanon, has been at the root of the Labor Alignment's restrictive approach to the question of how far and how long we should press forward.
The answer is clear: no further. But the fact that a conflict was undesirable in the first place should not blind us to the fact that opportunities have been created that we have no right to squander. If an earthquake takes place in a neighborhood, there is no obligation to rebuild everything as it was before. There should be an ambition to construct something more solid and durable.
The first opportunity is for the Lebanese people. Their tendency toward fragmentation and sectarianism has contributed greatly to their own tragedy. It is not easy to create a unifying consciousness out of the mosaic of rival sects--Maronites and Orthodox, Sunni and Shia Muslims, Druze, Phalangists and others. Lebanese leaders have a chance to put traditional dissensions behind them and make the flag of the cedars into an emotional and, therefore, a political reality.
There is an opportunity also for the Palestinians. Their continuing tragedy has been largely self-inflicted. First, they put their faith in an anti-Israeli radicalism that exceeded their own strength. The idea that Israel's legitimacy is suspended in mid-air, awaiting their ratification, is so preposterous in terms of relative strength that no constructive diplomacy could even be based on it.
The Palestinians were also unduly excited by the potentiality of revolutionary violence as represented by a Beirut-based PLO, remote from local realities. Finally, the Palestinians took too seriously the idea that they were the focus of Arab solidarity. The Arab states are united in their rhetoric, but divided in their interests. Words are free, but sacrifice is reserved for the particular interests of individual nation- states.
In the past few years, Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia,,Libya and the Gulf States have taken courses of their own separate choice. The Arab world is a cultural and sentimental reality, but a political fiction. The Palestinians are alone. By turning to Israel for a compromise they would achieve more than by seeking broken reeds in Arab states that talk much and care little.
The same is true of Soviet support. A period of full autonomy in the West Bank and Gaza, to be followed by an agreed settlement of the final status of those areas subject to Palestinian ratification, is offered in the Camp David accords. It is a text worth rereading in the light of recent dramas.
For Israel the opportunity is for a return to itself. There should be a withdrawal from Lebanon as soon as the security of the 40-kilometer zone is effectively ensured. Lebanese sovereignty cannot rest on the shoulders of the Israeli army. The lower the Israeli profile, the greater will be the opportunity for Lebanese nationalism to assert itself.
Above all, it should be understood that if the scene of the drama is in Lebanon, its parent source is in the West Bank and Gaza, where the Palestine problem has its central focus.
The salutary weakening of the PLO and the heightened sense of Israeli self-confidence should teach us that it is less necessary than ever to dream of submitting 1.3 million Palestinians to permanent Israeli rule. Indeed, that would be a shortcut toward converting Israel into a new Lebanon--torn to pieces by the discordant and coercive pull of communities that do not really hold the ends of life in common.
We should agree on secure boundaries for Israel, while allowing the populated areas of the West Bank and Gaza to have an Arab destiny together with the million Palestinians on the eastern side of the Jordan. This is now the doctrine of the Labor movement, but I am convinced that if there were a sign of interest on the Palestinian side, it would become a majority theme in Israeli life and politics.
War can protect. It cannot create. At most, it sometimes trades the lesser evil for the greater and impels the stream of events into channels more hopeful than it would otherwise have taken.
But no durable human purpose is achieved when people die or buildings collapse or enemy forces retreat. That is why the destructive process of war must always be made subsidiary to a different kind of undertaking designed to create a stable harmony. It would be tragic if we could not even do after a war what should have been done before and without it.
This article is reprinted by permission of the London Observer..