Israel Report

June 2001         

Arafat's Little Game of Cease-Fires

By Yossi Olmert
June, 10 2001

- The current cease-fire starts resembling previous experiences with the Palestinians in particular, and Arab states, in general. Judging by these experiences, it is an alarming resemblance.

Successive Israeli governments have been intoxicated with the magic effects of a so-called cease-fire, and tended to accept them prematurely and under conditions which were less favorable than what they could be.

Let's remember the cease-fire of August 8, 1970, which ended the War of Attrition along the Suez Canal. Almost every historian of the Yom Kippur War has pointed to the fact that the Egyptians cheated on Israel and used the cease-fire to facilitate their preparations for the 1973 war.

It is still debatable whether Israel should have accepted the terms of the October 1973 cease-fire, when the Egyptian Army was on the verge of collapse and we succumbed to pressure and agreed to a cease-fire. The same can be said about the initial cease-fire which allowed Yasser Arafat to evade a complete and irreversible defeat at the end of the first week of the Lebanon War of June 1982.

Let's move on to the Oslo Accords, not exactly a cease-fire agreement, but an agreement whose timing was convenient for Arafat, whose PLO was then at its lowest ebb, rescued in the eleventh hour by an impatient Israeli government. Not to mention the endless series of cease-fires since the beginning of the current fighting, starting in September 2000.

Israel is repeatedly quick to agree to a cease-fire, perhaps out of exhaustion, perhaps out of real hope that this time it would work, but in reality, always under the illusion that we are dealing with a credible and responsible partner.

Throughout his career, Arafat has developed the art of exploiting cease-fires to his advantage and to the detriment of his enemies. He did it skillfully in Jordan, during the Black September riots of 1970, repeated the same strategy in 1975-76 during Lebanon's civil war, and again with Israel in July 1981, a cease-fire whose collapse led to the June 1982 war.

By now, Israeli leaders should know better regarding Arafat's tactics, but the way we handle the current situation indicates that we learned nothing and are bound, therefore, to repeat past mistakes.

The Arafat method is very simple: first, he initiates acts of aggression, as was the case with the Jordanians, Lebanese and ourselves. Soon enough, particularly when he is faced with superior military power and determination and resolve of his adversaries, he realizes that he is facing defeat, and then he shows willingness to accept a cease-fire.

During the negotiations leading to those cease-fires, he tries to extract diplomatic concessions from the other side, pushes for outside intervention of other states and resumes hostilities exactly when he feels ready militarily and politically to do so. In Jordan it happened 22 times, in Lebanon even more, and here we may be now in the midst of the fourth or fifth cease-fire since the outbreak of violence.

In principle, there is nothing wrong in Israel accepting a cease-fire, but in reality it should happen only when the other side urges it and is ready to pay the inevitable political and diplomatic price for its weakness.

We are told that Arafat was in a state of panic following Israel's harsh rhetoric in the aftermath of the Tel Aviv disco bombing. We are also told that he was subjected to unbearable diplomatic pressure and that Israel has already gained considerably from its policy of reticence.

Let's examine all this. If that is true, how come Arafat did not accept a complete and unconditional cease-fire? How come the hostilities continue, with the difference that they focus more on the settlers and less on Israel within the Green Line?

We also hear, see, and read what is coming out of the international community, and are shocked to find that even the foreign minister of the friendly government of Denmark still argues that Israel is responsible for the current wave of hostilities.

True enough, the Bush administration remains a bastion of friendship, and it has been so from its inception, regardless of casual differences of opinion with Israel. When Israeli intelligence is convinced that yet again, Arafat plays his usual cease-fire game, preparing himself for the next round, the question remains as to the inherent logic of the Israeli eagerness to adopt and continue to pursue the policy of reticence and virtual cease-fire.

We may gain some PR points, strengthen our ties with the US and look as if we are prudent, sensible and reasonable in dealing with an enemy as callous and vicious as Arafat, but with a view to past experience, the question remains as to whether it is really desirable to act like this in dealing with such an enemy.

©2001 - Jerusalem Post

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