Now It’s War
The entire peace process with the Palestinians was predicated on the assurances given to Yitzhak Rabin by Yasser Arafat in his letter of September 9, 1993. In that letter Arafat said the PLO recognized Israel’s right to exist, accepted UN resolutions 242 and 338, committed itself to a peaceful resolution of the conflict, renounced terrorism and revoked the anti-Israel articles of its charter. With the exception of revising the charter, Arafat has failed to live up to any of his other commitments. Today there is no peace process, there is a war.
The Palestinians have crossed the brink. The Palestinian Authority is behind the current wave of violence, which now goes beyond random acts of terror by extremists. The attacks are government-sponsored terrorism. But it is not just terrorism. The Palestinians are smuggling in large quantities of weapons, almost all prohibited by the peace agreements they signed, and their police and security forces are using them against Israeli targets. Snipers shooting soldiers is an act of war. Snipers shooting Jewish infants is a crime against humanity.
Israelis are in an impossible situation. They are in a war they cannot fight and cannot win.
How does Israel fight this war? The nation has been routinely condemned by the international community for allowing soldiers to defend themselves, even with non-lethal methods; Israel will be pilloried if it unleashes the full might of its military. Already, it’s being condemned for the limited use of helicopters and tanks. Even if Israel chooses to ignore international opinion, its options are limited. The Palestinian military targets are almost all within civilian populations. Even surgical strikes, such as those already launched, cause serious collateral damage and civilian casualties. The harder Israel hits the Palestinians, the more it bolsters their resolve to fight and the easier it makes it for Hamas to recruit suicide bombers.
How does Israel win the war? The answer is that it reconquers some or all of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. It can be done, but the cost in lives and international opprobrium will be high. And the result will be a return to the situation that prevailed before Oslo. Israel will be an occupier, responsible for millions of Palestinians, who, having tasted freedom, will be more embittered and hostile.
Israel is left with two principal options: negotiate or act unilaterally.
It is clear to almost everyone that negotiations with the Palestinians are fruitless. The premise, again going back to Arafat’s letter, was that the Palestinians recognized Israel’s right to exist and renounced violence. The Palestinians have demonstrated by word and deed that Arafat either lied or couldn’t deliver on his promise and that no amount of Israeli concessions will satisfy them.
This leaves Israel with the option of unilaterally withdrawing to the 1967 border, with modifications to incorporate most of the major settlements along the green line and virtually all of municipal Jerusalem. The Jews in other settlements must then decide whether it is more important to live in a Jewish state or to live on holy ground. If they choose the latter, they must face the consequences of living among Palestinians without Israeli protection.
Hanan Ashrawi complains this solution is a way of ghettoizing the Palestinians and creating Bantustans. Poppycock. The Palestinians can create the state they say they crave in something on the order of 90 percent of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. They may even be able to have a capital in Abu Dis; that is, Jerusalem.
As far as security, Israel will no longer have to put soldiers in Palestinian cities to face hostile mobs. They will be responsible only for patrolling the new border, with or without a fence or Great Wall of Palestine. Can the border be hermetically sealed to prevent infiltration? Of course not. The peacemaker Rabin, the visionary Peres, the terrorism expert Netanyahu, the war hero Barak and now the tough general Sharon have all found it impossible to stop Palestinian terrorists. Terrorists will slip through, but they will have to work harder. If the Palestinians choose to lob mortars from their new state, then Israel will have to retaliate as it has against its enemies in southern Lebanon, but it can then do so with a clear conscience.
The Palestinians had their chance to trade peace for land. They turned it down. In a way, they get a better deal, most of the land for nothing. But that is all they get. The negotiations are over. If they choose, they can coexist peacefully and work with Israel to expand trade and tourism. Otherwise, they should be left to their own devices and the goodwill of their Arab brothers and the international community that have provided them welfare for the last half century.
For its part, Israel must move on. Withdraw the troops to the new border and do whatever possible to defend it.