Ariel Sharon was characteristically blunt when he took the helm as Prime Minister of Israel yesterday. While promising to work for peace, he told the Palestinians there would no new talks until the current violence stopped.That is as it should be. After five months of bloodshed that have left more than 430 people dead, a cooling-off period is vital. Until guns are holstered and stones put down, nothing can be achieved at the peace table.
Why, then, do the Palestinians continue their uprising? The intifada, as the Palestinians know it, has achieved nothing for the Palestinian cause. To the contrary, it so alarmed Israeli voters that they elected the hard-line Mr. Sharon, a man whom Arabs consider a bitter foe. As a direct result of the intifada, the broad concessions offered to the Palestinians by Mr. Sharon's predecessor, Ehud Barak, are now off the table.
Yet Palestinian stones (and sometimes bullets) continue to fly. Only yesterday, a senior Palestinian leader said the intifada will go on until the Israeli occupation comes to an end. "We have to show Israelis that Sharon will not get them security," said Marwan Barghouthi, a leader of Yasser Arafat's Fatah organization. "If they want occupation and settlements, they can't have security."
Warming to his theme, he said: "We don't believe there are any advantages to negotiations without an intifada. So the intifada is the condition for the negotiations to succeed. The negotiations have no meaning without the intifada." In other words, while Mr. Sharon says talks can't start until the intifada ends, Mr. Barghouthi says they can't start unless the intifada continues.
This clarifies things. Palestinian leaders have always claimed that the intifada was a spontaneous eruption of rage at the Israeli occupation, and that it continued only because of the harsh Israeli response. Coming from Mr. Barghouthi it sounds more like a deliberate strategy, designed to remove Israel from the occupied territories by force.
Well, it won't work. Israelis always circle the wagons when they feel under attack, and that is exactly what they have done by electing Mr. Sharon. Instead of withdrawing, Israel is now determined to tighten its control of the territories and respond to every attack with equal or greater force.
Even if Palestinian violence had some chance of success, it would be wrong. When the Palestinian leaders formally entered the peace process in 1993, they promised to renounce violence. The Israelis effectively agreed to a negotiated departure from the West Bank and Gaza Strip. That was the deal: land for peace.
By reverting to violence, the Palestinians have broken that deal. That might have been justifiable if peace talks were going nowhere or the Israeli occupation were growing harsher. But the opposite was true. After many delays, Israeli forces had withdrawn from most Palestinian towns. Mr. Barak had tabled the most extensive concessions ever contemplated by an Israeli government, including an offer to cede Israeli sovereignty over parts of the holy of holies, Jerusalem.
Two months later, the intifada began. Why it happened then is a mystery. That it continues now is a crime.
©2001 - Globe and Mail