A hundred and forty years ago, on August 22, 1862, US president Abraham Lincoln commented about the nature of the American Civil War in a letter published in the Washington Intelligencer newspaper. His draft letter contained a sentence which James Welling, the newspaper's editor edited out because he considered it too common and folksy for his "dignified" publication. The president had written, "Broken eggs cannot be mended and the longer the breaking proceeds, the more eggs will be broken."
Abraham Lincoln left countless memorable words for posterity. Yet, this unpublished sentence contains within it the essence of the president's thinking on the meaning of the war and how it would be concluded. For Lincoln, by the summer of 1862 it had become clear that contrary to what many in the North desired, the war could not end in a draw, leading to a negotiated peace with the rebellious southern states that had seceded from the United States the previous year. The South had broken too many eggs. The United States, at the war's end, like Humpty Dumpty, could never return to what it had been before.
One month later, on September 22, 1862, against the advice of several members of his cabinet and political consultants, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, declaring that as of January 1, 1863, all the slaves in the rebellious states would be free. In one fell swoop, the president transformed the war from a limited campaign to "restore the Union as it was," to a revolutionary struggle to transform the union into "what it ought to be."
From the start, Lincoln's policies were steeped in controversy. Even after he issued the Emancipation Proclamation, most northern generals and politicians believed that there was no military solution to the conflict. Their thinking, represented most clearly by Maj.-Gen. George B. McClellan and by the Democratic Peace Party, which McClellan would lead in the 1864 presidential elections in a run against Lincoln, was that the aim of the war was to reach a military stalemate.
This military stalemate would lead to a negotiated peace restoring "the Union as it was." For these leaders, a fundamental transformation of the South, from a slave-owning society to an egalitarian one, far from being a war aim, was considered a recipe for disaster — forcing upon the nation a prolonged, bloody total war for the subjugation of the South. For them, this was a price too high to pay and a goal too radical to accept.
History has proven Lincoln right. A negotiated peace with the South was unacceptable to Lincoln because he understood that without a fundamental transformation of southern society, which could only be brought about by a total Union military victory, the causes of the war itself would be left to fester on and the peace could never hold. Yet, Lincoln's revolution was not limited to the South. By pursuing the war to full military victory rather than accepting a negotiated settlement, he transformed the North as well. He redefined for his fellow citizens what the fundamental essence of the United States was, and what it meant to be an American.
One hundred and forty years later, we in Israel are facing a dilemma similar to that faced by the United States and Lincoln so many years ago. After two years of war with the Palestinians, we have yet to decide for ourselves what this war means and what our aim in it should be.
The Labor party, in all its component parts, is clearly of the opinion that Israel's aim in this war is to return Israel and the Palestinians to the place we were before Arafat and his minions opened this terrorist war against us. The new Labor sweetheart, Amram Mitzna, like his colleague Yossi Beilin, speaks of opening negotiations with the PA without conditioning these negotiations on a cessation of their war against Israel. For his part, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres defended Yasser Arafat's leadership this week in Norway, explaining that it is not that Arafat chose war, but rather that he is incapable of reining in his terrorists.
And of course, Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer had himself photographed with Arafat's "generals" this week, and "negotiated" the IDF's withdrawal from Bethlehem. Palestinian forces loyal to Arafat have now replaced our troops.
The Labor party's view of this war is thus clear. There should be no transformation of Palestinian society at the end of this war. Terrorist leaders, who have supported, funded, abetted and committed attacks against Israel are still acceptable negotiating partners. At the end of the war will come a negotiated solution based on the same proposals the Barak government put on the table at Taba in December 2000 and January 2001 as if it is possible to dismiss everything that has happened over the past two years.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has not come forward with a competing vision of the post-war era. While he maintains that there will be no negotiations until there is a complete cessation of Palestinian terrorism, he has allowed his ministers to negotiate with the Palestinian leadership and has sent his own emissaries to meet with them. For Sharon then, it would seem, there is no fundamental disagreement with the Labor Party's view that the end of the war will be to restore the status quo. Rather a difference of opinion over what conditions must be met before such a restoration of the status quo can be achieved and what Israel's negotiating position will be once things are returned to the status quo antebellum seems to be the sum total of his disagreement with his Labor ministers.
Ironically, the only strong voice advocating for a fundamentally different war end has been that of the Bush administration. In his June 24th address, President Bush argued that for peace to be achieved, Palestinian society first must be transformed.
In the president's words, for Israel to achieve security and peace "I deeply believe you need a reformed, responsible Palestinian partner." Bush called on the Palestinians to reject their current leaders and to "elect leaders not compromised by terror." He explained, "A Palestinian state will never be created by terror — it will be built through reform. And reform must be more than cosmetic change, or a veiled attempt to preserve the status quo. True reform will require entirely new political and economic institutions, based on democracy, market economics and action against terrorism."
Two weeks ago, as Israel's leaders flocked to embrace Arafat's new "reform" ministers, US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was clearly unimpressed. Far from jumping on the bandwagon, Rumsfeld raised the possibility that for Israel to find a responsible Palestinian partner, it may be necessary "for some Palestinian expatriates [to come] back into the region and provide the kind of responsible government that would give confidence that you could make an arrangement with them that would stick."
What is it about our leaders that makes it impossible for them to accept that the Palestinian Authority must be destroyed before there can be a prospect for a viable peace to be forged with other Palestinian leaders at the end of the war? Why is it that our leaders cling to the terror bosses who individually and collectively bear responsibility for the murder of over 600 Israelis and the maiming of thousands more over the past two years?
For the Labor Party, the answer is clear. A prerequisite for Israeli adoption of the Bush administration's vision of a transformed Palestinian society is a transformation of the way the Israeli Left perceives the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. No Israeli who continues to ascribe to the Oslo agreements, or to the interpretation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as fundamentally one of Israel's making, can possibly advocate transformation of Pa
lestinian society into one governed by democratic norms and peaceful leaders who accept Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state.
As for Sharon, his continued abidance by the thoroughly discredited Labor paradigm of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a mystery. It can hardly be due to fear of public opinion. Over the past eighteen months, poll after poll has shown that the majority of the public rejects the Labor model and wants a complete revamping of the way things are done in Israel. Given the Bush administration's clear rejection of the Labor Party's paradigm, international pressure is also not standing in his way.
On the first anniversary of the September 11th terror attacks, the US government decided that Lincoln's most important single statement — the Gettysburg Address — will be recited simultaneously at the ruins of the World Trade Center and at the Pentagon. In that speech, given on November 19, 1863 on a battlefield where thousands of soldiers had just sacrificed their lives for their country, Lincoln gave meaning to that sacrifice.
"It is for us the living," he said, "to be dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion."
When considering our war dead, are we to accept that our citizens were sacrificed to preserve the Palestinian Authority or can we commit ourselves to a larger vision of this war? Are we too timid and cowed by our self-righteous Oslophiles to embrace the radical vision of the US president? Is it too much for us to accept that we wage our war against Palestinian terrorism to force a transformation of Palestinian society from a genocidal enemy into a democratic and peaceful neighbor that embraces Israel while we ourselves are transformed into a society capable of demanding such behavior from our neighbors?
It would seem that too many eggs have been broken for us to do anything less.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.