The Palestinians are making a huge mistake if they think that Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon can be compared to the situation in the West Bank and Gaza. They are making an even bigger mistake if they think that Hizballah's tactics will work here. This is not some foreign land we are in. This is home, and when one is fighting for one's home the rules become different--very different.
Just months ago I would never have considered Netzarim in the Gaza Strip as home. If anything, I still consider the building of the settlement an act of lunacy. But now we know: Even if we were to give up Netzarim, give back almost all of the West Bank and Gaza, make up the difference by giving the Palestinians part of pre-1967 Israel, divide Jerusalem, give up sovereignty on the Temple Mount and find a logical formula to the right of return, it would not be enough. Not only that, but to give up Netzarim now would be interpreted as an act of weakness-- a sign that the Hizballah tactics now being employed by the Palestinians against Israeli forces and settler in Gaza actually work. And if they work for Netzarim, according to this logic, they will work for Ofrah, Gush Etzion, Gilo, Jaffa and Haifa.
There is no doubt that we are heading for a major confrontation with the Palestinians. More and more semi-heavy weapons are being smuggled into Gaza and the West Bank. Ten inflatable devices packed with anti-armor weapons were fished by Israeli forces off the coast of Gaza by sheer chance a few weeks back. As they have been doing with drugs for years, Lebanese and Egyptian smugglers use the currents they know so well to deliver "packages" to the Strip, slipping easily through Israeli naval patrols in the area. There is also growing evidence of Palestinian security personnel to the para-military groups now attacking Israelis, taking their weapons and knowledge with them, indicates trouble ahead. Already one sees more sophisticated roadside bombs being used against Israeli patrols in Gaza twice or more daily--bombs very similar to those used so effectively against Israeli forces in Lebanon over the years.
What one sees forming in front of one's eyes is a replay of the situation in Lebanon during the 80s: dozens of para-military groups, each armed to the teeth, each with its own agenda but with one common enemy: Israel. As in Lebanon, there is no one central authority one can call to question, or take revenge against. Clearly Arafat and the Tunisian fatcats around him no longer call the shots, or control who shoots. The central authority has slipped into subtle anarchy, inexorably being replaced by armed bands, some of whose current leadership were, with Israeli approval, CIA-trained during the Oslo years. Now they are injecting a new level of "professionalism" into the para-military forces facing Israel.
While Palestine may be deteriorating into a chaos reminiscent of Lebanon in the 80s, and the Palestinians may have thoughts of emulating Hizballah, they will be erring if, for one moment, they confuse this conflict with Lebanon. For, as noted, this is home. This is not going to be a fight over some modicum of normalcy for the people living in northern Israel; this is a fight for the heart of Israel. The Palestinians, with their usual penchant for gross miscalculation, have made places like Netzarim home as well.
We know clearly how the Palestinians see the war to come. Through a combination of terror, attacks against settlers and settlements, sporadic attacks on Israeli suburbs like Gilo, the use of more sophisticated weapons against Israeli soldiers in confrontation areas, they will try and bring us to our knees. They will continue to stir up their people to hatred with seditious propaganda in the mosques, on the airwaves and in the schools. They will lie to themselves and the world about Israeli nerve gas and other imagined atrocities. They will exaggerate Israeli responses against them in hope of bringing the international community in on their side.
That's the scenario if Israel allows it to develop that way. Changing the dynamic will not be easy. The chances of re-starting serious peace talks seem almost impossible in the foreseeable future. There has been a total breakdown of trust on both sides and Israel is still in political turmoil glowing the February 6 election. There is no one to talk to among the Palestinians and no one yet to talk on Israel's behalf. Military responses to the situation are limited. The problems of fighting back in areas densely populated by civilians are clear, as are the international reactions we can expect if Israel does so ruthlessly. More economic sanctions would only create more desperation on the other side and thus be counterproductive.
There is always the possibility of a unilateral Israeli withdrawal to a line behind which the country would consolidate until peace is possible, but the move is extremely complicated and would take even a stable Israeli government months to implement.
The Sharon government does not have much time to prepare for this war. It is going to require ingenuity, surgical skill, and effective information effort vis-à-vis the world--and an early lesson to the Palestinians that Netzarim is home as long as almost 100 percent of pre-1967 Palestine is not enough in return for peace.
©2001 - Jerusalem Report, March 12