Israel Report

July/August 2003         

Time For a Reality Check

By Barry Rubin - August 26, 2003
The cease-fire and Performance-Based Road Map have proven to be a mere reenactment of the failed 1990s Oslo peace process.

Oslo, initiated in 1993, was a step-by-step, five-year plan in which each stage was to build confidence and move the two sides toward a full peace agreement. The improvement made by the more recent plan was to ensure that we would know at the beginning if it was working. We now know it is not.

During the seven years of the Oslo process there were reasons for both hope and doubt. But the problems along the way were not supposed to matter. Everything was staked on the end of the process, the moment of truth, when the leaders met and Yasser Arafat had the opportunity to choose. And thus came the year 2000, in which Arafat rejected good peace offers at the Camp David summit and in the Clinton plan, deciding instead to wage a new war on Israel.

In all three cases, Arafat rejected peace and embraced violence and terrorism, as he had so often done before.

Why? The reasons are complex, involving his character and ideology, the nature of Palestinian and Arab politics, and many other factors. But one reason stands out above the others: Arafat was not willing to give up his goal of destroying Israel and getting all the territory between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean. Many Palestinians agreed with him, though some did not and others would have accepted either direction.

There were two ways in which Arafat hoped (and still hopes) to win this war:

By terrorizing the Israelis into surrender, forcing a unilateral withdrawal from the territories.

Terror was not some marginal aspect of his campaign, waged by extremist groups beyond his control, but the very core of his strategy.

By creating a crisis, portraying his side as the victim, and inspiring an international intervention that would hand the territories over to him without his having to make full peace or concessions.

In either case, he could then carry the struggle into the next phase, aided by the subversive efforts of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees who had been given a "right of return" to live in Israel.

Of course, his war failed miserably. Almost 3,000 people lost their lives, the Israeli army showed its military superiority, and the Palestinians became bankrupt, their infrastructure in ruins, their lives miserable.

Arafat himself faced a polite revolt by moderates led by Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen). It was necessary to make an alteration of course, though not of intended destination.

In dealing with the road map and the cease-fire Arafat, following his traditional fashion, tried to have everything, believing - with good reason - that the world would let him get away with it.

The truce, limited by the Palestinians to three months, in fact hardly endured a day. Arafat did not implement a real cease-fire but a pretend one, reducing terrorist attacks just enough to escape the world's notice and censure. He did not dismantle the terror groups or tell even his own Fatah people to stop attacking; he didn't stop teaching his children that the highest achievement in life is to be a suicide bomber, or arrest anyone planning or carrying out attacks on Israelis.

Simultaneously, then, he tried to enjoy the benefits of peace and the benefits of war. He could continue pursuing victory through terror, while any Israeli retaliation or preventive efforts could be portrayed as aggression. Thus, ironically, the more terror he carried out, the more international support he could mobilize.

Many Western governments and newspapers were happy to blame Israel and ignore Palestinian violations. Actual Palestinian commitments - stopping terrorism and incitement - were forgotten while Israel was criticized over prisoner releases and building a defensive fence, things not mentioned in the road map.

Most remarkably of all, this strategy turned upside down the US effort to promote Palestinian moderates, notably Abu Mazen. Rather than him posing a threat to Arafat's power, he was totally subverted and turned into a cover for advancing the radicals' aims.

Thus the Western states gave money and demanded Israeli concessions to help Abu Mazen while Arafat pocketed all the gains. Palestinians were left in no doubt by their leadership that Arafat was their leader and that they owed any benefits to him.

What is the basic solution? There is no hope to even begin negotiating a peace agreement. We can, however, strive for a real cease-fire and continue - albeit with all due skepticism - to try helping those Palestinians who want peace and a peaceful state of their own alongside Israel.

This requires neutralizing Arafat's two efforts.

Terrorism must be foiled by Israeli military action and building a defensive fence.

But the big change must be in dealing with Arafat's second tactic. It is time for the world to wake up and understand that Arafat and his followers are behaving like the equivalent of Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. The world should be on Israel's side. It should understand that the terrorism aimed at Israel is no different from what took place in Bali and Baghdad, in New York and Washington on September 11, or in Algeria and Saudi Arabia.

To portray the situation in a false light, to provide aid and sympathy for Arafat's movement, is to justify that terrorism, make peace harder to achieve, and be responsible for the continued death and suffering on both sides.

The sponsors of the road map should declare that the Palestinian side has destroyed any chance of progress. Otherwise, they will be rewarding the strategy of terrorism and encouraging more in future, not only against Israel but also against themselves.

The writer is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal, part of the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya (IDC).

©2003 - Jerusalem Post

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