Israel Report

November 2002         

The Strength of the Weak

By SHLOMO GAZIT - November 25, 2002
The violent confrontation Israel was thrust into more than two years ago will not be decided by a "knockout." It is a long and continuous confrontation, a confrontation with many battles and complications, and it will probably only be decided by points.

In this kind of campaign the result will be determined by the fortitude of the Israeli side compared to the Palestinian side. The test will be which society breaks down first, which will be prepared to make concessions, compromise and withdraw from the positions it held before the intifada broke out.

In this battle the Palestinian side enjoys an obvious advantage: the advantage of its weakness. The advantages of this weakness are the inability of Palestinian society to break down (because only a strong and cohesive society can break) and the absence of Israeli leverage with which to motivate the Palestinian leadership to change its course.

The great failure of Israeli strategy in the last two years has been its inability to eliminate the Palestinian leadership. Everyone is still playing "make-believe," as if there still are Palestinian institutions that function, and as if the failure of the Palestinians to offer a new diplomatic decision stems from the inability or unwillingness of their leadership to change its ways.

Not so. I would even venture to say that the real reason for the Palestinian Authority's refusal to commit to and implement a cease-fire is not its unwillingness to do so but its acceptance of its inability to do so.

Supposedly, the president of the PA still occupies his offices in the Mukata in Ramallah; he still fires and appoints cabinet ministers; and there is even a house of representatives that convenes once in a while (if Israel lets it) to have discussions and make decisions. But these are nothing but virtual operations.

What there is today is anarchy of gangs and "Chinese generals," with each man doing what he sees fit.

ANOTHER ADVANTAGE to PA weakness is the primitive nature of its economy. Indeed, the suffering of its civilian population is great and the standard of living has definitely dropped. But this has no political-strategic significance. Wealthy individuals either survive or move out of the region until the storm blows over. The vast majority simply has no way out. Even if they wanted to they would have nowhere to go, as there is no border that is open to them.

A third advantage is the absence of personal fear of terrorist attacks. The Palestinian population surely suffers from Israel's strong arm. The rate of casualties on their side is still higher than it is in Israel, and this is certainly all the more true when it comes to the destruction of Palestinian property.

But the Palestinian mother goes to the market with assurance, and she sends her children to school without fear of a terrorist bomb blowing up in their vicinity. The weapon of terrorist attacks is used solely against Jews.

The negative picture shows the strength of Israeli society. After 26 months of confrontation the Israeli population is surviving and showing unexpected fortitude. But we must ask ourselves whether Israel will still show fortitude in another 26 months.

The real test will be in the economic sphere. The Israeli economy belongs to the developed world, and that is its weakness: Our economy is very vulnerable and our society is unprepared to accept periods of extreme deprivation. Israel also maintains a very highly developed welfare system, and supports two weak sectors within it, the haredim and the Arabs. Israel also maintains a policy of supporting the many unemployed.
But this burden falls completely upon one segment of the society that is small in the first place, and therefore it is doubtful how long it can be sustained.

Finally, what is close to the breaking point in our society is restraint, the ability to grit our teeth and continue carrying the burden. More and more calls for vengeance are being heard: "They blow up one of our buses, we should blow up eight of theirs." We have already seen the beginnings of Jewish underground terrorist cells. I am afraid this phenomenon will grow and spread.

On the political level, the calls for a unilateral withdrawal without negotiations and without a political agreement express the cracks in our national fortitude, the sober assessments and the wish to initiate planned and controlled measures before losing control altogether.

The writer is a former head of military intelligence and a director of The Jerusalem Post.

©2002 - Jerusalem Post


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