(April 27) - At this time of twilight between fighting and talking, two debates swirl incessantly: over whether or not there is a "military solution" to Israel's predicament, and over whether Yasser Arafat can control the attacks against Israel. Both debates need to be reframed in order to more usefully address the current situation.
Whether one is talking about long-term peace prospects or how to end the current post-Camp David Palestinian offensive, the mantra that "there is no military solution" heard from politicians and generals relies upon a true, but not very relevant fact. It is true, almost by definition, that any significant agreement with the Palestinians, whether interim or final status, will be the result of negotiations. But to say that this means "there is no military solution" ignores an equally true fact: The prospect of negotiating a peace that will stick depends almost entirely on Israel's ability to defeat the Palestinian offensive by military and economic means.
Even if the endpoint is negotiations, the real question is not whether there is a "military solution," but whose "military solution" will prevail, Israel's or the Palestinians'? After all, Arafat's efforts to launch, prolong, stoke, and nurture the current offensive are an attempt at a "military solution" to avoiding a peace proposal he did not like.
Now some suggest that Arafat needs to have something to show for the tremendous sacrifice of hundreds of lives lost, thousands of wounded, and profound economic hardship that the Palestinians have suffered. This may be true if agreements are the objective, but if it is peace that is sought, the opposite is the case.
Israel's task now is to make sure that, as terrible as Palestinian sacrifices were in the last six months of conflict, that no benefit is derived from their resort to violence. Israel's job, in short, is to convince Palestinians that "there are no military solutions." It may seem to crass to think in such zero-sum terms as "victory" and "defeat," but this is situation that Arafat's pursuit of a military solution has forced upon us. Regardless of whether in the end Arafat declares victory for his offensive, the more Palestinians understand that their offensive failed, the better the prospects of peace.
Peace, in the end, is not a matter of talented negotiators or persuasive mediators, but a reflection of realities on the ground. For all the credit that is due to Anwar Sadat for his vision and bravery, what made Sadat's initiative possible was Egypt's defeat in the 1973 Yom Kippur War.
Anyone who hopes for peace, then, should not hope that Israel will find a way to help Arafat declare victory. Rather, the hope for peace is strengthened the clearer it is that Arafat had no choice but to end his attack against Israel.
This brings us to the second debate, that over whether Arafat is in control.
According to Deputy Chief of General Staff Maj.-Gen. Moshe Ya'alon, "Just like the Palestinians made the decision to adopt violence, they have to make the decision to stop it, and I don't see them making this decision yet." The General Security Service reportedly takes a different view, claiming that Arafat has lost control over gangs that are engaged in terrorism.
Recent discussion of a possible deal with the Palestinians regarding the Jericho area, where the Palestinians would ensure quiet in exchange for Israel allowing Israelis back into the Jericho casino, is a sign that Ya'alon is right. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer have correctly rejected this idea, arguing that Arafat cannot just deliver quiet where it is in his financial interest to do so.
The whole discussion over whether Arafat has the ability to deliver quiet tends to ignore a question that is both more critical and more easily answered: Is Arafat trying to end the violence? Here there can be no serious debate; on a strategic level, Arafat has not begun to try.
There is no disputing that Arafat is in control of what he says and what Palestinian television broadcasts. Nor can Arafat shed responsibility for the security forces that are closest to him, the Fatah "Tanzim" and Force 17, both of which have spearheaded the current offensive. Before official Palestinian media stop glorifying terrorism and Arafat publicly calls for ending the attacks, as he committed to do at Sharm e-Sheikh summit, there is little point in debating his degree of control.