The Israeli public quickly recovered from the
embarrassment of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) rapid evacuation of
Southern Lebanon two weeks earlier than planned. The scenes of triumphant
Hizbullah soldiers and their religious authorities gloating over Israel's
hasty departure was of course particularly galling.
Nevertheless, Israelis generally accepted that the complete collapse of
the South Lebanese Army (SLA) whose positions were taken over by Hizbullah
before United Nations Forces could even begin to move into their positions,
had created a new scenario that totally justified the rapid redeployment.
In fact, Prime Minister Ehud Barak is riding on a wave of public support
for what President Clinton termed his "daring" pulling out of
Lebanon. For the vast majority of Israelis, Lebanon was a swamp of attrition
in which the IDF was bogged down for little gain and much loss. Naturally,
there are still fears, especially in the northern towns and villages, as to
whether the pullout may have done no more than to bring Hizbullah terrorism
right into Israel's borders. Some analysts suggest that Syria and Iran will
over time make sure that there will be no peace in northern Israel. Time
will tell, but there are reasons for optimism. Aside from the official
Syrian response that indicates that it has no interest in goading Israel
into conflict, the fact that the civilian population that had formerly
inhabited Israel's security zone in Lebanon was encouraged to return
overwhelmingly by the Lebanese and the Syrian authorities, would indicate
that they have no intention of allowing Hizbullah to use the area as a
platform for violence against Israel, risking the latter's retaliation as a
In addition to the support of the vast majority of Israelis, Barak has
received accolades from around the world for his firm action, including from
the United Nations approving Israeli compliance of its resolutions. It is
difficult to recall when Israel received such world approval other than for
the Oslo Accords.
However the pullout from Lebanon has exacerbated other problems for Barak.
The perception in the Arab world and in particular among the Palestinians
that Hizbullah proved that Israel will only be moved by violent attrition,
has encouraged a more militant spirit in the West Bank and Gaza. There is
thus increasing pressure on Arafat to be less flexible and more demanding in
the bilateral negotiations.
But arguably the most serious ramifications of the withdrawal in the
North are to be seen among the Israeli settler population in the
To begin with, Barak's resolve and determination have dispelled a
perception that he does not have the commitment or will to move ahead on the
Palestinian track. This concern has been intensified by rumors of agreement
on a framework for a final status accord being worked out in talks in
Copenhagen. Minister Natan Sharansky has even publicly accused Prime
Minister Barak of accepting a "sell-out", which Barak has denied.
Even more serious in terms of the psychology of the settlers is the way
they perceive Barak and his government as having washed their hands of the
SLA. Protests initiated this week by the Council of Settlements in Judea,
Samaria and Gaza included placards saying, "We will not be like the SLA!".
In addition, the pullout from Lebanon has increased U.S. pressure on
Israel to use this opportunity to move ahead rapidly on the Palestinian
front and prevent the latter issue from serving as an excuse for renewed
tension in the North (which could involve Palestinian rejectionist groups).
The Clinton administration is particularly eager to help Israel and the
Palestinians achieve further progress in their bilateral negotiations before
the new presidential campaign gets into full gear.
All this of course only intensifies the fears of the settlers and their
determination to do all in their power through advocacy and protest, to
prevent any further withdrawal on the West Bank and Gaza.
The Israeli opinion polls (Dahaf and Smith) show overwhelmingly public
support for Barak to cut a final status deal with the Palestinians. This has
been increased by the pullout from Lebanon. Barak moreover continues to
declare his commitment to resolving the final status issues over the West
Bank and Gaza. Nevertheless he has a fragile and turbulent coalition that is
unlikely to give him the same degree of support that it gave him over the
withdrawal from Lebanon.
The pressure of settler protests will make it even harder for him to take
his coalition partners along the road to a final status agreement. He then
may have no other choice, but to go directly to the nation once again to
obtain a conclusive mandate to determine the permanent eastern border of the
State of Israel.
Analysis prepared by the ADL