Israel Report

March 2002         

Where Do We Go From Here?

By Boaz Ganor - March 15, 2002
Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat's decision not to accept the Barak government's generous offers at Camp David and Taba , and his choice instead to initiate an unprecedented wave of violence and terrorism against Israel , have forced Israel to change its policy.

Instead of investing its resources in resolving the conflict, it has had to focus on managing it and minimizing its damage as much as possible.

Arafat's unleashing of terror was the direct continuation of his past policy, based on his experience with all the Israeli governments he has dealt with, that violence does ultimately pay off - carrying out terrorist attacks leads to a greater Israeli willingness to make compromises.

Israel has had to mobilize all of the knowledge and experience of its security forces in the attempt to fend off, limit and neutralize this wave of Palestinian violence, while using all known means to fight terrorism.

But despite frequent and impressive achievements, and despite the damage done to the terrorist organizations, it appears that not only have those measures not achieved their purpose, there is a continuing deterioration, with a danger of loss of control.

Israel is paying a high price for its past governments' turning a blind eye to Arafat's failure to fight terrorism since the PA was established in 1994.

Since stabilizing his rule in the PA territories, Arafat has chosen not to fight terrorism. He avoided hitting the Islamic terrorist organization's military and operational infrastructures -- not to speak of their religious-social infrastructures.

On the contrary, Arafat chose to preserve those organizations' terrorist capabilities so that he could use them as levers to apply pressure on Israel when he believed that would serve Palestinian national interests. Moreover, he has consistently increased and developed the military and terrorist capabilities of the PA and the Fatah organization he heads, in violation of his commitments in the Oslo, Hebron and Wye agreements.

Over the years, Arafat prevented attacks against Israel when he thought that served his goals. When Arafat wanted to prevent Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad attacks, he did not harm their operational infrastructures, but used "persuasion and threats." These organizations, wanting to avoid civil war, understood the message and acceded to his request.

From Israel's point of view that is like sitting on a keg of gunpowder. The factor limiting the scope of terrorism and violence against Israel was no longer the organizations' capabilities, but their motivation to strike out or avoid striking out at different times.

In September 2000 Arafat loosened the reins and gave the terrorist organizations and his people a wide (but not unlimited) berth for carrying out attacks against Israel.

The question is: What is Arafat's goal in continuing the wave of violence against Israel? His main goal seems to be to internationalize the conflict. Arafat wants to escalate the situation to the point that the international community has to intervene and force a solution on the two parties. Such a solution will naturally be a compromise, but such a forced compromise will give the Palestinians much more than what Israel was prepared to offer them in its maximal concessions at Camp David and Taba. Therefore, from Arafat's point of view, violence will pay off again, and it does not matter how many Jewish or Palestinian lives it will cost to reach the desired goal.

Arafat knows there are two shortcuts that can lead to his goal: an Israeli mishap in which a large number of Palestinians are killed, or a vigilante initiative by Israeli extremists, in which tens or hundreds of Palestinians are killed in one event, which would allow him to cry out to the international community and demand its intervention to prevent the massacre of his people.

In the face of Arafat's defined goals, Israel finds itself dragged after the events. It reacts but does not initiate, it moves forwards with no defined goal or plan, like a boat in stormy water. A few half-baked ideas pop up on to define strategic goals of operation, the common denominator of which is the desire to reduce the violence and prevent the bloodshed, but they differ in the proposed mode of operation.

To try to understand the essence of those ideas we have to backtrack and understand the violence equation: terrorism is a function of motivation and operational capability. When a group of people or an organization have the will and the ability at the same time, there is a wave of terrorism. But if one of the factors is absent, there will not be attacks.

One Israeli school of thought is to try to solve Palestinian terrorism through solutions that would lower the Palestinians' motivation to act against Israel. Paradoxically, that school includes two figures striving to reach the same goal from opposite points of view - Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. The former thinks that if we grant the Palestinians a substantial concession at this stage even without the precondition of stopping the violence - such as recognizing the Palestinian state or conceding more territory - then we can reduce their motivation to attack Israel and can thereby stop the wave of violence.

Peres would appear to be right in light of past experience: repeated Israeli concessions temporarily quelled violence. But that approach does not lead to resolving the conflict, it only postpones violence to a later date and strengthens the Palestinians' belief that violence pays off. A few months after the fighting stops, when negotiations with the Palestinians reach another rough patch, the situation will revert to where it was, but will be even worse: the Palestinians will lick their wounds, fill their depleted stockpiles and implement the lessons of their military defeats.

Sharon, on the other hand, thinks Palestinian motivation to attack Israel should be stopped by increasing the military and political pressure on Arafat, thereby changing the PA and its leader's cost-benefit equation. This position sounds reasonable, but unfortunately it has yet to prove valid. Arafat likes to take risks and he continues to teeter on the edge of the abyss like a blind man. And with hardly any limits to the Palestinians' capability, it looks as if Israel's military pressure breeds more attacks and more terrorism.

Oslo supporters presume Arafat can stop the violence. Indeed, Arafat seems to have adopted a strategy of "elective loss of control." He has not lost control of the territory but has simply chosen not to exercise control. Arafat cannot be said to have lost control as long as he has done nothing to secure his control. Had Arafat not been able to control the situation, then the Israeli government's decision a few months ago that he is "irrelevant" would have been justified. Israel would then have had to wait for his replacement by another Palestinian leader who could control the situation and guarantee the only thing Israel wants in a peace agreement - the security of its citizens.

The opposite school believes that to stop the wave of Palestinian terrorism, the Palestinians' ability to carry out attacks against Israel has to be significantly reduced: the organizations' and the PA's military-terrorist infrastructure has to be destroyed, the munitions labs have to be detected and destroyed, arms have to be confiscated and terrorists arrested.

Members of this school of thought understand those goals are possible only by reoccupying the territories. But they are split into two groups. One, headed by right-wing leaders and settlers, believes this can be achieved by returning the situation to its previous state, that is the recapture of the PA lands and deepening Israel's hold on the land. That approach does not seem to hold water because it would draw severe international criticism, which, through the UN Security Council, could even prevent achieving the military goal of recapturing the territories. Moreover, even if the military goals are achieved, the political dead end and the presence of Israeli military and civilian forces throughout the territories will inevitably lead to the Lebanonization of the situation, not to speak of the quickening tick of the demographic bomb.

The second group thinks recapturing and cleaning out the territories would only be a temporary measure that would last a few months as a necessary precondition for the implementation of a political solution, whether by agreement or unilaterally. That is, after the military operation is completed, Israel would retreat to a defensible border, remove settlements from the evacuated territory, create buffer zones and physical obstacles between the Palestinian and the Israeli territory, and wait under comfortable military conditions for the Palestinians to recover sooner or later and accept Israel's outstretched hand for peace and enter talks on a final settlement of the conflict.

This approach could lead to a wide national consensus because it incorporates both the Left and the Right's views. It requires a substantial blow to the Palestinians' military capabilities while granting them a political horizon. It includes a withdrawal from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, but not necessarily to the 1967 borders but rather to defensible borders that take into consideration geographic and demographic assets, while leaving Israel territorial assets as an opening to future negotiations over the end of the conflict. It does not rely on the Palestinians' good will but includes the option of a unilateral move.

Let anyone who recoils from the recapture of the territories know that the direction emerging in the past weeks points to an escalation whose end point is clear and predetermined: being drawn into the recapture of the territories to fend off the threat of mortars, Kassam rockets and attacks on Israeli civilian centers, but without any political plan or defined strategic goals. In that respect, indecision may be the most dangerous situation of all.

(The writer is the director-general of the International Policy Institute for Counter-Terrorism at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya. The contents of this article reflect the author's position and not the positions of the International Policy Institute for Counter-Terrorism.)

©2002 - Jerusalem Post

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