Elie Wiesel on the Gaza Withdrawal...
Wiesel asks what's next?
On a strictly military level, the operation is a success. For that, and for his brave decision to pursue future peace even at present political cost, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon deserves praise. But starting now, Israelis and Palestinians must face the question: What next?
And here I am obliged to take a step back. In the tradition I claim, the Jew is ordered by King Solomon "not to rejoice when the enemy falls." I don't know whether the Koran suggests the same.
I know only that in my opinion, what is missing from the chapter now closing is a collective gesture that ought to be made, but that hasn't been made, by the Palestinians.
Let's imagine it, if you will. Let's imagine that, faced with the tears and suffering of the evacuees, the Palestinians had chosen to silence their joy and their pride, rather than to organize military parades with masked fighters, machine guns in hand, shooting in the air as though celebrating a great battlefield victory. Yes, imagine that President Mahmoud Abbas and his colleagues, in advising their followers, extolled moderation, restraint, respect and a little understanding for the Jews who felt themselves struck by an unhappy fate. They would have won general admiration.
I will perhaps be told that when the Palestinians cried at the loss of their homes, few Israelis were moved. That's possible. But how many Israelis rejoiced?
And now, where are we? A lull is imperative. The tears must be allowed to dry and the wounds to heal. Haste, in this delicate moment, is dangerous. Any pressure from outside risks being counterproductive.
Why these words of warning? Because last May, at an official dinner offered by King Abdullah II of Jordan, I spoke with the Palestinian prime minister, Ahmed Qurei. When I asked him what he thought of Mr. Sharon's courageous decision regarding Gaza, it was with a wave of the hand that he objected, adding with disdain: "All that is worth nothing, means nothing. If Sharon doesn't begin right away to negotiate definitive borders, a great catastrophe will be the result." He repeated those words: "right away" and "a great catastrophe."
The optimist in me wants very much to believe that those were just words. Gaza, after all, is but one chapter in a book that must ultimately be about peace.