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Israel's Loss of Direction

By Carlos

September 16, 2003 - Most of the pages on this web site are critical of the Arab side. And with good reason. Since the day Israel was created, the Arab world has been seeking ways to destroy it. Not content with 22 Arab countries, the Arabs still refuse to allow a Jewish presence on even a tiny sliver of land in the Middle East - unless that Jewish presence becomes subservient to some Arab dictatorship, continuing decades of persecution of Jews of Arab lands.

However, when Israel continues acting against its own best interests, it is time to speak up.

The Palestinian Strategy

The Palestinian terrorists are pursuing a multi-pronged strategy against Israel that they believe is proving successful:

  1. Traumatizing the Israeli people with constant, unpredictable attacks against civilians, making normal life impossible, shaking the Israelis' resolve and destroying their morale.

  2. Making sure that a settlement providing for two separate states will never happen, by escalating acts of terrorism whenever the peace process shows any sign of progress and by violating their own cease-fires with the flimsiest of excuses.

  3. Persuading world opinion to blame Israel for the death of the two-state solution through an expertly crafted campaign of public relations and deception, even though it is the Palestinians themselves who are most diligently working against any possibility of establishing two states.

The Palestinians' hope is that by making daily life intolerable they can whittle away Israeli resolve, and that by pinning the blame for the violence squarely on Israel they can bring about overwhelming international pressure for a "binational" state. Such a state would not remain binational for long. With the region's Arab population growing at a faster rate, the Arabs will soon overtake the Jews in numbers. Then they will obtain what they have always wanted: not just a small, separate Palestinian state, but the entire region, including all of Israel. The new "binational" state will soon become an Arab entity run by Arab rules.

Can there be any doubt about this? The Palestinians have never wanted to settle simply for a limited state on the West Bank. Maps of the region published in Palestinian textbooks have designated the entire area, Israel included, as Palestine. Palestinian leaders have always spoken of their aspirations to sovereignty over the entire area. The PLO and Hamas Charters still affirm this aspiration. Every movement towards compromise has been disrupted by acts of terrorism. Israeli elections are routinely preceded by an upsurge of terrorist violence, influencing the election toward the candidate likely to take the hardest line. And now, Palestinian insistence on a "right of return" of Palestinians to Israel proper is another means of ensuring that Israel itself will one day become part of a Greater Palestine. The terrorists could hardly be doing more to make absolutely certain that they will never get a separate Palestinian state.

If the Palestinians truly wanted a separate state, they could have had one by taking seriously the Clinton/Barak offer in 2000, instead of rejecting it out of hand and starting a war in its place. All these Palestinian moves make sense only when understood within an overall strategy of preventing any possibility of a two-state solution. This is not to doubt the existence of a truly moderate faction that really does want to live alongside Israel, but that faction is not dominant within the Palestinian community and it never has been.

A two-state solution is greatly in Israel's interest. It is presently not in the Palestinians' interest, considering their growing belief that the entire prize lies within their reach. So it is no surprise that the Palestinian side is by far the one fighting hardest to make sure that two separate states will never materialize. And thus the double-edged Palestinian strategy: Make sure a two-state solution never happens, and make sure that Israel gets the blame for it.

Why the Strategy Works

This strategy is working. Why? Because Israel itself is making sure that it works.

Israel right now is demonstrating an appalling lack of vision and leadership and is playing right into the hands of the Palestinian strategy, which the Israelis seem not to understand.

The construction of a pervasive network of settlements throughout the territories was Israel's greatest mistake. In the beginning, it was understandable: the Arabs refused to negotiate a peace agreement after the Six-Day War, so Israel concluded that it needed a presence in the territories for security purposes, to make sure such a war would never be repeated. But Israel overreached, and began contemplating the incorporation and even the annexation of those territories without thinking through the consequences of including a new, large Arab population inside Greater Israel.

And so Israel missed opportunities to extricate itself. By all rights Gaza should now be part of Egypt, but Menahem Begin did not want to let go of the settlements there and so today Gaza is stateless. Yitzhak Shamir vetoed Israel's last chance to return the West Bank to Jordan, so now instead of being part of Jordan as it was before, it too is stateless. A stateless area is a dangerous vacuum, and politics, like nature, abhors a vacuum.

Then came the first intifada, the disastrous Oslo years, the second intifada, and Israel found itself painted into a corner. Staying in the territories was dangerous, but unilateral withdrawal was even riskier: it would have given the terrorists a free hand to use the area as a base, and would also have been interpreted as a sign of weakness. Israel faced a terrible dilemma: it could not stay, and it could not leave.

This is why the Roadmap was so important. It would have given Israel a face-saving way of starting an evacuation of the settlements. That would have been in Israel's interest in any case: while Israel may still need a military presence in the territories as long as terrorists are active, a civilian presence only poses a liability. The civilians in the settlements are exposed in hostile territory, are bearing the brunt of the casualties, and are difficult to defend. America did not need civilian settlements in Afghanistan to fight terrorism there, and Israel should not need them in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The argument that the settlements provide a buffer zone or a step toward a more defensible border is being disproved daily. The settlements do nothing to prevent attacks inside Israel, and they only put more Israeli civilians at risk, requiring more precious resources to defend them.

The Roadmap has often been compared to Oslo, but there are crucial differences. In the Roadmap, the dismantling of terrorism is number one on the list. Had Israel complied with its own obligations under the Roadmap, it would have been in a strong position to insist that the Palestinians comply with theirs. At the very least, by carrying out the Roadmap's provisions, which served Israel's best interests anyway, Israel could have used the Roadmap as a tool to isolate the Palestinians diplomatically. Instead the Roadmap quickly became irrelevant, made useless by both sides.

Another opportunity that Israel is missing concerns the security fence. The barbarous Palestinian terrorism has given Israel more than ample justification to build a fence for the purpose of keeping terrorists out. But that is not what is happening. The fence has become more than a security measure; it has become a political tool that the Israeli Right would like to use to make a Palestinian state impossible. The fence is still not complete because of arguments about how far east it should be built, and lives are being lost as a result. Israel now has an opportunity, through the fence, to impose unilaterally the Clinton/Barak plan that the Palestinians rejected three years ago, a plan that makes sense both for Israelis and Palestinians, and that the international community would have a difficult time opposing. But Israel's reluctance to give up the settlements seems once again to be blocking its exit from an untenable position.

The problem is that the security fence is not being built along the 1967 Green Line. It is cutting significantly into the West Bank, becoming part of the system of fences and checkpoints that constrict Palestinian movement and that make a contiguous Palestinian state impossible. One can argue that these checkpoints are justified as long as there is terrorist activity. But checkpoints can be easily removed; it is difficult to deny the security fence's potential to become a permanent border.

It makes no sense to build a security fence so far to the east that thousands of Arabs end up on the Israeli side. That defeats the entire purpose of the fence. Having gates in the fence to be opened at specified intervals to allow passage for these Arab residents of the Israeli side would not only make their lives very difficult, it would pose an enormous security risk to Israel. In addition, if sections of the fence will surround certain Palestinian communities and cut them off from their farmland, as some reports indicate, it will create an explosive situation that can only harm Israel in the long run. The fence need not completely adhere to the Green Line - see "Ariel and the Fence" - but its route must be defensible, both in terms of Israel's security and fairness to the Palestinian communities that will be affected. While the complete route of the fence is yet to be determined, there are some who would build it in a way that ensures the permanence of the settlements and prevents a Palestinian state. This would be suicidal.

Demographic projections predict that within a few years the Arabs will be a majority in the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. They will want the same vote granted to the Jewish settlers living among them. If Israel is to remain democratic, it will not remain Jewish. It will be the end of Israel. If Israel gives up democracy in order to preserve Jewish rule, it will also be the end of Israel.

At first we might see a so-called "binational" state - incredibly, even now some on the Israeli "post-Zionist" left are calling for such a state - but what it will inevitably become is another Arab state with a Jewish minority living under the heavy hand of Arab autocracy, a story history has told many times before to the grief of the Jewish people.

The opportunity Israel lost with the Roadmap can be regained through the security fence, but only if it is built close (if not identical) to the Green Line, conforming with Clinton/Barak. Unfortunately, it does not look like we are headed in that direction. Sadly, it may perhaps be said that the Palestinians are not the only ones who "never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity."

Israel is sending confusing and incoherent signals in response to its predicament. The latest is the move towards possibly expelling Yasser Arafat. It is hard to fathom what constructive purpose this will serve. With the whole world available to him as a stage, Arafat will be in a position to do more damage than ever. Of course Israel has not yet definitely said what it will do, but even raising the option has boosted Arafat's popularity and energized his supporters, with thousands now flocking to his aid. It has also brought Israel more international condemnation.

This talk of expelling Arafat does not sound like a move that comes from strength. It sends a signal of weakness, the desperate gasp of a country rattled by terrorism and out of options. It must be a source of great encouragement to Israel's enemies.

Defeating the Strategy

Israel is on the road to losing the war. But it is not too late. There are steps Israel can take to reverse course and defeat the Palestinian strategy.

Unfortunately, right now Israel is polarized between a hard Right that does not want to give an inch to the Palestinians, and a weakened Left that has begun to doubt Israel's very reason for existence. Neither side has the resources or the vision to save the country. What will be needed is the emergence of a strong centrist voice that continues to take a hard line against terror, that believes in Israel as much as the Arabs believe in Palestine, but that understands punishing terror will accomplish nothing unless one gives the Palestinians a sense that dropping terrorism really will improve their lives.

This is just what Israel did not do during the initial phase of the abortive Roadmap. Israel did not take serious steps to scale back the settlements; instead, it played a shell game, removing some outposts while others sprouted elsewhere. It's true that Palestinian violations were far more outrageous; one cannot compare an illegal outpost to the death of an innocent victim of terrorism. Nevertheless, not only did Israel lose the chance to point its finger at the Palestinians, it also failed to give them a sense that the Roadmap really would lead to meaningful change. If Israel can produce tangible evidence that the cessation of terrorism really will lead to the "painful concessions" of which Sharon spoke, then it can also more ably press its war against terrorism beyond the half-measures that so far have rendered its anti-terrorist efforts impotent. The Palestinians must be given no excuse to say, "Why should we not resort to terrorism, when nothing else seems to work?" The fact is that terrorism is working for the Palestinians, and is helping them on their way toward a binational state.

The Palestinians must come to perceive that their present strategy is not in their best interest, and that a two-state solution is. They must come to perceive that their own lives will remain miserable as long as terrorism persists, but that if terrorism stops they will experience a very noticeable improvement. An Israeli military presence is one thing - as long as it remains necessary, anti-terrorist action must continue and become even stronger - but it is in Israel's interest to withdraw its civilians from most of the settlements, and a program for so doing should be developed for the sake of Israel as well as the Palestinians.

For both humane and practical reasons Israel must take the Palestinians' quality of life into account, and must consider the hardships that their anti-terrorism measures have imposed. Some of those measures may be temporarily justified while terrorism continues, but they should be seen as necessary evils for which alternatives must be offered. While the Palestinians may have cast all human values aside as they run to celebrate over the graves of Jewish terrorist victims, Israel must keep showing a better face to the world.

Strong leadership in Israel is therefore required to press the point that the interests of the settlers who insist upon remaining in the territories do not coincide with the interests of the rest of the country. The conflict is fundamental, and unless it is squarely faced it promises to become Israel's undoing. By making the Green Line increasingly irrelevant, the settlements themselves have become the foundation of a binational state that threatens the end of Israel.

If Israel shows the Palestinians that the quality of their lives really will improve if they relinquish terrorism, they will be hard put to justify its use. The true Palestinian program will be uncovered. Until now the Palestinian deception campaign has succeeded in framing the conflict as a war against occupation. By insisting on keeping a civilian presence in the territories, Israel plays right into that campaign. But the Palestinian terrorist war is not and never was a war against the settlements. It is a war against Israel. Arab terrorism and aggression against Israel began long before a single settlement was built. It is about time more attention was called to the Palestinians' real strategy, and that their leaders be held accountable for their words and their deeds. Using "occupation" to justify a genocidal campaign against the entire population of Israel is the centerpiece of the Palestinian public relations strategy, and once and for all this strategy must be exposed and neutralized.

Israel's survival is not a lost cause. But Israel must start believing in itself again, believing that there is a justification and a need for a Jewish state as fervently as the Arabs believe in Israel's destruction. And finally, Israel must be ready to abandon a strategy that is inherently self-contradictory, the pursuit of a Greater Israel that would inevitably become the 23rd Arab state.

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