Israel Report

June 2001         

The Raw Test of Reality

June, 11 2001

On Friday, Mordechai Cohen, 27, was driving a father and his four children to see their mother in the hospital when nine bullets hit his van, wounding him seriously but miraculously sparing the children. Since Thursday, 13 mortar shells have fallen on Israeli communities in the Gaza Strip, one hitting a gym that luckily was empty at the time. Three Beduin women were killed by shrapnel from an Israeli tank shell as the IDF returned fire in the Gaza Strip. Such are just a few days in the life of a "cease-fire" with Yasser Arafat in which, as The Jerusalem Post "Dry Bones" cartoon puts it, Israel is in charge of ceasing, while the Palestinians specialize in firing.

Given that the cease-fire is hardly worthy of the name, the attempts of US envoy William Burns and CIA chief George Tenet to build upon it seem doomed from the beginning. Reportedly, one of the points in the American proposal is that Israel should "minimize damage" to the Palestinian side when "responding to violence." This request reveals American skepticism at its own efforts, given that it anticipates Palestinian attacks demanding Israeli responses will continue.

Incidentally, the United States should stop gratuitously moralizing in Israel's direction, presumably as a way of balancing its criticism of the Palestinians. In response to the tragic killing of the three Beduin women in their tent Saturday night, Assistant Secretary of State William Burns stated, "The IDF should ensure that the response to any gunfire emanating from Palestinian populated areas minimizes the danger to the lives and property of Palestinian civilians." In other words, the US acknowledges that the Palestinians are firing on Israelis from populated areas, yet is criticizing Israel for endangering Palestinians.

It is absurd to imply, as the US did with this and other similar statements, that Israel does not attempt to minimize the loss of civilian life, despite the deliberate Palestinian attempts to cause civilian casualties on both sides. Even the Mitchell Committee report acknowledged this Palestinian practice when it called upon the Palestinians to stop firing from civilian areas. Rather than rewarding such tactics by criticizing Israel, the United States should have used this opportunity to slam the Palestinians for shooting from behind innocent people, in the hope that such tragedies will occur.

As to the American cease-fire plan itself, it reportedly has three requirements for the Palestinians: Stop incitement and assisting terrorist attacks, arrest Hamas and Islamic Jihad "activists," and confiscate illegal weapons. These requirements are certainly laudable and necessary, if not new. What the US is now demanding of the Palestinians is no less than the heart of the requirements first of Oslo II, then of the Wye Accords, and then again (in a stripped-down form) of last October's Sharm e-Sheikh summit. Each time, Arafat solemnly agreed in the presence of world leaders to toss away the card of violence and terrorism, and each time this card magically emerged again from his sleeve.

Not surprisingly, a Gallup poll last week indicated that 80 percent of Israelis did not believe that Arafat's declared cease-fire means that he is willing to end the use of violence against Israel. It is hard to imagine that Arafat's credibility is much higher among American or European diplomats. So the question becomes, what can be done to make this cease-fire stick, rather than adding it to the slag heap of Arafat's broken promises and tactical pauses to reload?

The answer regarding how to stop the violence is the same as it has always been: raise the costs and eliminate the potential benefits. There have always been, since the current attacks began, two ways of doing this: diplomatically and through force, both military and economic.

If this was not clear before, the US and European experience of the past week should have provided an unmistakable lesson. Following the slaughter of so many children at a Tel Aviv disco on June 1, the US and European countries threatened Arafat that they would cut all aid and ties to him if he did not call for an immediate cease-fire. Now Arafat is testing whether the current reduction in violence is enough to get the West off his back, or whether he can somehow shift the blame to Israel for ending the cease-fire while rekindling the fighting.

In a statement released after yesterday's cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon stated that Israel has not seen the arrests of those behind the suicide bombers and that "there are reports of preparations for further terrorist attacks in Israel." These accusations are unfortunately plausible, but in any case what matters is the raw test of reality: either the terrorism stops or it does not. It is already clear that Arafat is not doing enough to stop the terrorism. The choice before the US and Europe is stark: to tell Arafat that their pressure on him will not be diffused by half measures, or to stand by as what is left of the "cease-fire" is washed away by another round of pointless bloodshed.

©2001 - Jerusalem Post

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