After a particularly bloody weekend, including deeply painful defeats for Israel, a chorus of defeatism can be heard in the land. Casualties, however, do not change the truths that have accompanied the Arab-Israeli conflict since its inception.
There should be no papering over the fact that the destruction of a main battle tank and the killing of most of its crew, the killing of a soldier at a roadblock and escape of the attackers, the death of a senior IDF commander in an operational accident, and the suicide bombing in a shopping center all represent security lapses or operational failures of one kind or another.
Each incident must be thoroughly investigated and lessons learned for the future. The other side is always improving its tactics; Israel must never rest at the task of making both its defensive measures and offensive operations more effective. Yesterday's killing of two would-be suicide bombers near Hadera provided a welcome boost to morale.
But in addition to tactical improvements, it is important to understand why this Palestinian escalation is happening now and how it can be defeated. It is happening now, despite Yasser Arafat's latest attempts to ingratiate himself with the United States, for two reasons: the emergence of cracks in Israel's resolve and the perception that Israel is at least temporarily constrained from ending Arafat's rule.
On the domestic front, the handful of soldiers who refuse to serve in the territories, magnified by the international press and protesters who demand unilateral surrender by Israel, are reminding the Palestinians of the Lebanon war. The notion that a constant drumbeat of casualties can drive Israel out of territory was a major factor in sparking the current Palestinian offensive against Israel. For over a year, the Israeli public proved that the Palestinians were wrong to apply the Lebanese model, since the vast majority of Israelis saw no justification in the wave of terrorism launched against what was perhaps Israel's most dovish government in history.
Now, after about a year of stunned silence, Israel's extreme Left has picked up where it left off, as if Israel had not offered to "end the occupation" at Camp David. Even though the refusal to serve is a fringe phenomenon, the delusion that if only Israel were to meet Palestinian demands the attacks would stop is not. Meretz leader Yossi Sarid is opposed to refusing to serve, but has lapsed into full "blame Israel first" mode.
"Israel cannot lend its hand to the occupation much longer if it wants to hold onto democracy," said Sarid, who was recently seen handing out bumper stickers in Tel Aviv with the latest Peace Now slogan, "Get out of the territories, get back to ourselves." The notion that we can unilaterally withdraw and therefore shut out those who are trying to kill us is what Israel tried in Lebanon. Instead of reading the withdrawal as proving Israel's seriousness about peace, the Palestinians read it as a sign that what Israel would not yield in negotiations it would yield by force.
The essential mistake of the left-wing, which is now being repeated, is the belief that Palestinian demands are fixed and finite, and once those demands are fulfilled there will be peace. Lebanon was an ideal case to test this proposition, since there could not be something more finite than withdrawing from a foreign country to a border signed and sealed by the United Nations.
Yet we find that Hizbullah has no trouble finding excuses to continue fighting Israel. In the Palestinian case, there is no natural end point to demands made of Israel. Even if Israel withdrew to the 1967 lines, there would still remain the "right of return," which asserts Palestinian rights to pre-1967 Israel as well.
The fact is that there is no set of Palestinian demands that Israel can satisfy, because there is no form of justice in Palestinian eyes that is consistent with Israel's existence. Palestinian demands are not fixed; they are defined by what is possible. Any concession produced by defeating Israel will result in further attacks designed to produce more concessions.
The alternative model is that provided by Egypt, which tried to destroy Israel a few times, but made peace when defeating Israel no longer seemed possible. America is discovering in its war on terrorism that victory is the ultimate peacemaker: The enthusiasm of the Arab "street" for Osama bin Laden dropped as the Taliban fell in Afghanistan. Israel's current conflict with the Palestinians is not exempt from the rule that victory works and defeat does not.
The constant drumbeat within Israel declaring that "there is no military solution" is wrong, except in the most trivial sense. Yes, in the end a "solution" will likely be enshrined in some negotiated agreement. But a diplomatic solution of any kind is completely dependent on military-political realities. Those realities are defined by Israeli steadfastness and will, and by an American decision to stop protecting Arafat from Israel, even in the short-run.
©2002 - Jerusalem Post