An Israeli warns of `Samson complex'

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

I DON'T know if you have this saying, but in Israel we say no one is a prophet in his own city,'' says Yehoshafat Harkabi, a former chief of Israeli military intelligence. Now a professor in Jerusalem, Mr. Harkabi is explaining his often lonely efforts to persuade Israel to respond to what he sees as new Arab willingness to accept Israel's existence.

He says Israelis are missing an opportunity for peace because of ``distortions of reality,'' of ``blind spots'' in their approach to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

To miss this opportunity, Harkabi says, ``verges on crime - national crime.'' Part of his work is to try to encourage among Israelis the ``maturity of judgment'' to face the difficult choices.

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But in Israel, he says, debate has come to be viewed as ``unpatriotic,'' and public opinion is ruled by the ``heart'' - religious fervor - rather than the ``head.''

Harkabi does not fit the image of a ``dove.'' He is a battle-tested military leader who argues on the basis of Israel's basic interests. ``I'm not motivated so much by ethical considerations ... but by considerations of realism,'' he says.

A retired general, Harkabi has served as chief of military intelligence (1955-59), special adviser to the Israeli prime minister (1960-63 and 1977), and as director of strategic research for Israel's Defense Ministry (1963-68).

Most of his recent years, however, have been devoted to studying the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a professor of international relations and Middle Eastern studies at Israel's Hebrew University.

Physically small, Harkabi has a view of history, Jewish tradition, and Israel's place in the world that is large.

The danger if there is no change in Israeli thinking, he argues, is a ``Samson complex.'' In the biblical story, he recounts, the blinded and shorn Samson says, ``Let me die with the Philistines,'' and then brings down the temple on himself and everyone else present. Similarly, unless Israel changes its approach to the Palestinian question, the next war could well bring down Israel and everyone else, Harkabi says.

On the other hand, if Israel can shed what Harkabi calls its current blinders, he envisions the promises of peace and of a ``Zionism of quality'' replacing the current ``Zionism of acreage.''

Over the years, he says, he has evolved from a ``hawk'' to a ``Machiavellian dove.'' ``We and the Palestinians are in the same boat.... If there is no settlement, there will be hell for them and us.

``I demand concessions of Israel for the love of Israel,'' he says. ``The choice for us is not between good and bad ... but between bad and worst.'' Harkabi agrees with those who say a Palestinian state would be bad, but he says the alternative would be worse.

The most important thing right now ``is to change the climate of thought in Israel,'' he argues, and by this to change the reality of Israeli politics.

Harkabi advocates negotiating peace with the Palestinians through the Palestine Liberation Organization and Jordan. He would, in the context of a satisfactory agreement, yield most of the territories that Israel occupied as a result of the 1967 war.

The former general supports such a stance ``not because I love the PLO. I consider the PLO an ugly organization ... [but] when we negotiate, it's not to give an affidavit of good behavior. We negotiate because there is hostility.

``The longer an accommodation is postponed, the worse off Israel will be.... Arab moderation cannot maintain itself without help from Israel,'' he argues.

Harkabi says Israel is not giving the Arabs any incentive to further moderate their views. Statements from Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir and Likud bloc leaders about Israel's historic rights to the West Bank only push away those who would be moderate, he adds.

No one should have been surprised by the Palestinian uprising in the occupied territories, Harkabi says. In 1982 he wrote that the West Bank would become like Belfast, Northern Ireland, unless Israel adopted more ``realistic'' policies.

Nor, he says, should the ``great bewilderment'' of many Israelis about how to handle the uprising be surprising. Many now think Israel should unburden itself of the Palestinians and the occupied territories, but because Israel's leaders continue to paint the PLO as wholly a terrorist organization, they don't see whom Israel can negotiate with, Harkabi says.

The view of Zionism that measures Israel by how many acres it controls is one of Israel's biggest ``blind spots,'' he says, and as with most countries, it will be a ``bitter pill to swallow'' to admit the vision is wrong.

But the results of no change are all negative, he argues. There will be great disillusionment and pointing to scapegoats as people realize that the promise of a bigger Israel won't come true.

It is unthinkable, he says, to envision a Jewish state with an Arab majority. ``A country can defend itself if it has bad borders; it cannot defend itself if half the population owes allegiance to the enemy.'' Short of a massive expulsion of Arabs, which would alienate even many of Israel's friends, Harkabi says the only option is to yield much of the West Bank and Gaza in the context of a negotiated settlement.

He argues that it is also an illusion to think the Palestinians will be satisfied with autonomy. The current uprising has further built their sense of nationalism; that will somehow have to be recognized in the final result. Despite the PLO's evident faults, he says, a majority of the Palestinians would still choose the organization to represent them if given the opportunity to vote. He asks: How would Jews react if another power tried to dictate who could represent them in a negotiation on their future?

Harkabi warns that Israeli intransigence will eventually alienate even the United States. The result will be to encourage extremism on both sides and eliminate non-peaceful options, he says.

Professor Harkabi argues that Jews around the world should participate in and encourage the debate and rethinking that is needed. They have great stake in the future of Israel, he says.

The US has its role to play, as well. Often, only a good friend that can point out blind spots, he says. He doesn't advocate that the US cut aid to Israel, however.

Both sides in the Arab-Israeli dispute share the blame, Harkabi says, and both have to give. ``I don't expect Jews to be nice. I don't expect Arabs to be nice.'' But, he thinks a solution leading to peace is there to be found.

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