“Force the Palestinians to Surrender and End the War” – the streets of Israel have been placarded with this slogan that correctly paraphrases the sentiments of the average Israeli. The Israeli public has been blinded or chooses not to see the true reality that we are living. The Israeli Government is lost. The IDF has failed. The Israeli public is living in a world of fantasy.
The Israeli war against Palestinian violence has failed and will continue to fail. There are still limits to how much force can be used against a civilian population of millions, and there are sever limits on the ability of military force to defeat the will of a people struggling for freedom and independence. Israeli policy makers, the military and the public only see one side of the war. The failure of Israel to honestly look into the realities on the other side will continue to guarantee that Israel is lost and that it has no real answers. Israel will continue to delude its public into believing that each new “operation” will end the war and will bring the Palestinians to their knees. The latest of these “operations” aimed at isolating Arafat will also fail to achieve the desired results. Amidst all this, Yasser Arafat has once again been transformed by Israeli policies into a hero. The Israeli Chief of Staff declared that Arafat will be isolated. But today, every Palestinian, even Arafat’s biggest critics, declare that “we are all Arafat – I am Arafat”.
While the people of Israel are busy celebrating their festival season, millions of Palestinians are locked in their homes under curfew. Palestinian children have not been able to attend school since the new school year has opened. The Palestinian economy is destroyed. Unemployment in Palestine is well above 50%. And there is no horizon of hope. Never before has Israeli policy making been so disconnected from reality. Israeli so-called experts on Palestinian affairs believe that once the Palestinians are defeated Israel can create a new regime in Palestine that will accept Israel’s dictates. These so-called experts believe that first the Palestinian Authority must be crushed and then the Palestinian people will understand that they have lost and will capitulate to Israel’s demands. Well, the Palestinian Authority has been defeated. It does not exist anymore. The PA doesn ‘t control any territory. The PA cannot deliver any services. The PA cannot hold political gatherings. The Legislative Council cannot function. The Palestinian Cabinet has resigned and Arafat cannot appoint a new one. All institutions of the Palestinian Authority have been either physically destroyed or their people have been arrested. There is no money, there is no Palestinian Police, there is nothing, but yet the struggle and the will of the people has not been broken.
The Israeli prisons are beyond full capacity with Palestinian prisoners. New wings of all the military prisons in Israel are being expanded daily. During the so-called six weeks of quiet in Israel when there were no successful suicide bombs, Israeli troops killed 69 Palestinians. Of those killed, 13 were children and nine were direct assassinations. The main cities in the West Bank have been under perpetual curfew – Nablus – more than 90 days with about 85 hours of allowances for people to buy food and seek medical care. Jenin and Tulkarem have also been under perpetual curfew. The other cities and towns are all closed off from one another. The six weeks of so-called quiet were not a result of the Palestinians surrendering, but much more a matter of Israeli successes of preventing the suicide bombers from entering Israel and a lot of good luck. The Palestinians have not given up their struggle. And while there has been growing support within the Tanzim and Fatah to call for an end to suicide bombers and attacks against the Israeli public, the general sentiment in Palestine has continued to support those attacks.
In the real hard and cold analysis, Israel has failed to win the war against terror. The Israelis have tried almost everything and yet it continues. The basic failing comes from the false belief that Palestinian terror is made possible because of the physical infrastructure that has been developed during the Oslo years. What the Israeli army and Government fail to realize is that the infrastructure of terror is not how many guns they have, or how many workshops for constructing ammunition have been built and then have been destroyed by Israel. The real infrastructure of terrorism is the human infrastructure. This infrastructure has not been reduced at all. There is a reverse correlation that works in the equation of the human infrastructure – the harder Israel hits the Palestinians, the stronger the human infrastructure becomes.
Israel is lost because it cannot deal with this reality – it goes against the most basic military logic – a logic that has become the policy making bible for the Israeli government. The logic follows that any acceptance of a political horizon at this time will only strengthen terror. Even the removal of so-called “illegal” settlements is perceived by the policy makers in Israel as making a concession under fire. So at the same time that Israel is hitting the Palestinians, the Israeli settlers have been given a free hand to capture more Palestinian land, to expand their settlements and to construct some 100 new settlements over the past 1 ½ years. And while 400 Jews of Hebron celebrate Sukkot, 120,000 Palestinians in Hebron are imprisoned because the settlers must be able to celebrate. And this logic is supposed to convince the Palestinians to give up their struggle.
The same logic follows with regard to the so-called “Bethlehem-Gaza First” plan. Initially, the Government of Israel gave its support for this plan. But then, the Chief of Staff, Yaalon and others, including the newly appointed Sharon supported head of the Mossad, Meir Dagan, convinced most of the policy makers that this plan must not be allowed to succeed because if it succeeds it will once again strengthen the hold of Arafat on the Palestinians. But despite all logic, Bethlehem has remained quiet. The army did pull out of most of Bethlehem, but the city is completely cut off from the rest of the West Bank and from Jerusalem. But beware, the boiling point is near to bringing about a “spill over” that will inevitably result with renewed violence coming from there as well. The Israelis will then have succeeded in guaranteeing that the Bethlehem-Gaza First Plan was a folly.
The great minds in the IDF have decided that the entire West Bank and Gaza must be converted into Area “b” – in other words, under full Israeli military control without any responsibilities towards the Palestinian public. A full Israeli incursion into Gaza is just around the corner. The plan is to do in Gaza what was already done in the West Bank. The plan is to put a final blow to the institutions of the Palestinian Authority and its leaders and then to appoint local officials in each town or canton to be responsible for the public’s basic needs – in coordination with the relevant Israeli officers. This is not a plan to bring back the civil administration – that would be a full occupation. The Israelis don’t want the burden of responsibility nor the image that would come as a result of that. In the Israeli plan, Palestinian local leaders would administer the services, Israel will occupy and impose its whip and sword when and where necessary, and then there would be an end to terror. They believe that the relative peace and quiet that existed in the Palestinian territories between 1967 – 1987 would return as a result of this brilliant plan.
Once these brilliant thinkers discover that their plan has not worked and the Palestinian people have not surrendered their will for freedom and independence, and more and more Palestinians will prove their will to die for their cause, the Israeli public will awake amidst the growing calls for transfer. On Friday night, the former head of the Israeli Air force, General Eitan Ben Eliyahu, posing as a news commentator, ended the evening news magazine with his analysis on the so-called demographic problem – he said “eventually we will have to ‘thin-out’ the number of Palestinians living in the territories”. What did he mean and what plans does he have in his mind for ‘thinning out’ the number of Palestinians? He didn’t say, but we may very well wake up one morning to find those operative plans on the table of the decision makers who have already shown us that they are lost. At that point it will be too late to say “we didn’t know”.
At last nights Peace Coalition demonstration in front of Sharon’s house some 50 Israelis participated. Where are the hundreds and the thousands who should be there? Most of them are also lost. They are either in despair with a sense that nothing can change the situation, or they basically feel that Israel has no choice but to continue to support the policy of the sword. They feel under attack and afraid and fed up of the situation. They feel helpless and hopeless. They have been duped into believing that there still remains a military solution. The Labour Party led by Ben Eliezer and Nobel Peace Prize winner Peres, has lost any right to claim that they are part of the peace camp. They have joined the war camp led by Sharon, Effie Eitam and Lieberman. The Labour Party has no moral right to claim that it is placing boundaries on Sharon and the right wing. The Labour Party is now a full member of the Israeli right wing.
On the Palestinian side, as we approach the beginning of the third year of the intifada, many Palestinians, politicians and ordinary citizens have come to the conclusion that they too have lost the way. Many Palestinians think that their leadership has failed. Many believe that they were mistaken not to continue the negotiations with Israel in a more positive way. Many blame Arafat directly for these failures. Many, if not most Palestinians, would like to see a new leadership. Most Palestinians are fed up with the corruption of many of their leaders. Most Palestinians want new elections and even desire to have the benefits of democracy as they see in Israel. Most Palestinians want deep reforms in their government and society. Most Palestinians want this war to end and would like to get back to negotiations. At the same time, they refuse to be humiliated or have their leaders humiliated. They refuse to live under occupation. They refuse to accept the dictates of Israel or of the United States. They refuse to accept that they must live under occupation and curfew in order to guarantee the security of Israel and Israeli settlers. The Palestinians will not give up their fight. They will continue to support terrorism which they perceive as the weapon of the weak. The Israeli tanks and bullets can destroy and kill, but in the eyes of the Palestinians they will not kill their struggle. They will not be brought to the knees.
It is completely true that Israel has only used a small portion of the fire power at its disposal. There are many Israelis who would like to see F15’s and F16’s wipe out entire Palestinian towns. It doesn’t seem like this is yet on the agenda, but at this point, recognizing that the conventional fighting forces being employed today cannot win the war, anything is possible from those who’s careers are based on their military minds and on the logic of force.
It seems that the US is too pre-occupied with it plans to go to war against Saddam Hussein to consider some kind of American intervention in Israel/Palestine. There are also too many variables involved now to wager on what would be the longer-term outcomes of that war. But it is clear that without some form of US intervention here, through the Quartet or alone, the current situation will continue to escalate. Israel is likely to bring about the exiling of Arafat. But what then? Will Arafat, free to travel the world be less in control of the West Bank and Gaza or more in control? Will an exiled Arafat be more interested or less interested in reaching an agreement with Israel? Will a new and free Palestinian leadership in the West Bank and Gaza take over while Arafat is in exile? It seems that the answers here are not completely clear and nothing should be taken for granted. Most Palestinian analysts agree that an exiled Arafat would work against any Palestinian governmental and political reforms. The weight of the extremists and those who support armed conflict with Israel would rise. Those Palestinian critics of Arafat and those who today demand real democratic changes would be silenced both by their own feelings that this would be collaboration with Sharon and by those who gain the upper hand in calling for increased resistance against Arafat. The exiling of Arafat would deliver the final blow, at this time, to any chances of a new and more responsible Palestinian leadership emerging and of a peaceful negotiated settlement.
Perhaps this is where Sharon is really leading us and perhaps this is the grand scheme of the Israeli right wing. No negotiated settlement means no Israeli withdrawal. They are deluded into thinking that this will serve the interests of the State of Israel and the Jewish people. This thinking, will in time, be proven criminal. The downfall of the State of Israel will be at the hands of its own leaders and heroes. The policy of the sword will bring Israel to “win the war” in its own eyes and interpretation, but they will also destroy the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic State. This is what is at stake now.
The failure of us all the bring about a political solution who’s end is known – a Palestinian state on 22% of Mandatory Palestine with a shared capital in Jerusalem – will force Israel to become a bi-national state that denies one of its nations national and political rights. This will be the end of Israel that its forefathers and mothers dreamed of. Unfortunately for us all, the people of Israel have a historical memory of some 24 hours. Unfortunately for us all, the leadership of the Palestinians fell hostage to their belief that they could use violence to extract concessions from Israel. Unfortunately for us all, some 9 million Israelis and Palestinians are being forced into waging a war that has no winners.
The time has come to turn on the lights. How long can we continue to live in this darkness? Too long, I’m afraid.
* Gershon Baskin is the founder and co-director of IPCRI, the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information.