What Israel Has Lost

A few weeks back, Charles Krauthammer wrote an article, 'Israel's Intifada Victory,' in which he argued that rather than bringing Israel to its knees, the intifada had been a strategic disaster for the Palestinians.  In one sense, Krauthammer is clearly correct: the Palestinian terror campaign now appears to be waning, and the construction of Israel's security fence promises to greatly minimize the threat of future terrorist incursions from the West Bank into Israel.  But in another crucial sense, the intifada has been seriously detrimental to Israel. It has made the Israeli Palestinian conflict the focus of Muslims around the world, and isolated Israel internationally more than at any point in its short history.

During the years of the Oslo process, there was a very slow process of normalization of relations between Israel and some of its Arab neighbors. Strong defenders of Israel, such as Dennis Prager, argued that this was important enough to move ahead with the peace process despite its risks. Negotiations were conducted with Israel's most implacable foe, Syria, as well as with the Palestinian Authority.  After a surge of terrorism following Arafat's return, the years from 1996 to 2000 were years of relative quiet on that front, and the economies of both Israel and the Palestinian territories grew rapidly.  Over a hundred and fifty thousand Palestinians were working within Israel, and Israelis were spending lots of money in the territories, including their losses in the Jericho casino. 

For a career terrorist such as Yassar Arafat, this situation was threatening. Circumstances were being created in which many Palestinians might have begun to see half a loaf (a Palestinian state on some of the land) as better than the situation that had existed since 1967. Many Palestinians might have been ready for compromise if the leadership of the movement had the courage to show them the way.

Arafat, of course, had never accepted Israel's existence as a predominantly Jewish state, nor did he ever accept that a Palestinian state should be confined to the West Bank and Gaza. Even during the detente period in the 90s, Arafat continued to talk of Jaffa, and Haifa and of course Jerusalem, as Palestinian and Arab cities. And he constantly demanded a right of return for three generations of descendants of refugees from the 1948 war to move back to their homes within pre—67 Israel, despite the fact that 95% of these so—called refugees had never even set foot within pre—67 Israel. At times, such as when Bibi Netanyahu completed the tunnel near the Western Wall, Arafat created a provocation leading to a short but deadly burst of violence, which resulted in nearly 100 dead Israelis and Palestinians. In case they had forgotten, this served to remind Israelis that the terror weapon had not been bottled up for all time.

The culmination of the Oslo process came at the Camp David talks in the summer of 2000. Some in the Israeli peace camp (and their allies in the American Jewish community) continue to argue naively that Arafat really wanted to get a deal done, but Israel's offer was not 'generous enough.'  Some of this revisionist history is attributable to a more obvious explanation —— the participants in the left—of—center Israeli governments who trusted Arafat for seven years, and believed he was capable of ending the conflict, do not want to appear to history and their present day colleagues in Israel to have been rubes.

What Arafat hoped to achieve with the intifada is anybody's guess. Did he merely want to squeeze a few more concessions from Israel? I doubt this, because it suggests that Arafat believed a deal could be struck that ends the conflict.  If there is no intersecting set between the best Israel could offer (a two state solution) and what Arafat ultimately desired (a single Palestinian Arab—dominated state), then clearly no slightly sweeter compromise offer by Israel would end the conflict.

Did he envision the intifada taking the course it did?  I tend to doubt that all the terror groups which participated in the intifada were merely Arafat's puppets. Some groups and leaders were positioning themselves for the power struggles to come in a post—Arafat political entity. And killing large numbers of Israelis quickly became the most socially acceptable way to achieve political prominence in the deep sickness of the Palestinian political culture. 

But whether planned at each stage or not, the continuation of the conflict has played out in a way that has been intensely harmful to Israeli interests. The emergence of satellite television and the internet in homes across the Arab and greater Muslim world, and the extraordinarily vicious way in which Israel has been portrayed in these media, stoked resentment against Israel and Jews to a frightening level. The behavior of disaffected Arab youth in cities across Europe, where Jews have been mauled, and their synagogues and institutions bombed and defaced, is a sign that even in 'civilized' Western countries, the anger of the Arabs towards the 'Zionist entity' knows no bounds.

The Israeli—Palestinian conflict has been front and center in the faces of Arabs and Muslim for four years. And the presentation of this conflict has not, to use a favored phrase of the New York Times, been particularly 'nuanced.' The Jews are presented as murderers, baby killers, occupiers, oppressors, and brutal settlers. The Palestinians are mere victims.  As a result, the entire Arab and Muslim world is now involved to a much greater extent in the conflict than in prior periods. Hence, it is not just for the Palestinians to make a deal with Israel.

Arafat has always exercised some degree of control over how internationalized this conflict became.  Now his power to stoke the masses has been greatly enhanced.  As Krauthammer has argued, the Palestinians have suffered from Arafat's war, just as the Israelis have. Their incomes and standard of living have declined. Many died or were wounded. Any short term hope for an improved future and greater political autonomy has disappeared.  Bitterness reigns.

But if your goal is war and struggle until victory (as is the case with Arafat and many Palestinian leaders), this suffering was a necessary move in the long term struggle. A mellowing of the mood of Palestinians, and improvement in their lives, as occurred from 1993 to 2000, was inimical to the goal of hardening the Palestinians for the battle ahead. Now, Palestinians detest Israel more than they did before Oslo. And they have over a billion Muslims who support any and all actions to strike back at Israel.  Compromise is not in the air, and is not possible.

Hence Sharon's plan — to lessen the area of direct contact between the two sides and achieve some separation, is probably the best that can be achieved in the years ahead.  The security fence will both limit Palestinian terror attacks (and Israeli reprisals), and enable Israel to remove roadblocks in the West Bank, and eventually ease living conditions for the residents. With the Palestinians behaving like a wounded tiger, the Israelis have chosen not to let the tiger roam free to mangle their people.

The decision Friday by the International Court of 'Justice' telling Israel to remove the fence from Palestinian territory has to be seen in the light of what has occurred the past four years. The Court would have needed a modicum of courage to pass on the controversy, and try to defuse an issue that requires political resolution, rather than a judicial one. Israel's own Supreme Court had already ruled on the matter, taking into account both the Israeli security concerns, and any hardships caused for the Palestinians. Unlike the ICJ, the Israeli Supreme Court acknowledged the security issue directly.  For the ICJ, only hardship for the Palestinians mattered, not to even mention their prejudging a resolution of the political conflict. Israeli lives are not cheap, and many Palestinians want to slaughter Jews.  That, after all, is why the fence is being built. 

As pointed out in an Australian newspaper, the Court opinion also took a slam at anti—terror measures by the United States in its opinion, a fact not elsewhere reported,   by effectively rewriting Article 51 of the UN Charter, and limiting the self—defense or retaliatory measures a nation may take if it is not directly attacked by a state.  Since both the US and Israel have aggressively fought both terrorists and their state sponsors and accommodators, the Court essentially chose to shield both the perpetrators, and their state sponsors.

Israel now has only one ally, the Untied States, another reason why the International Court might have chosen to take a shot at both countries in its opinion.  Fortunately, that ally in the person of President George Bush, has been unwavering, and solid in backing Israel through an extraordinarily difficult four year period.  But the pressure on Israel by the Palestinians and their allies will continue to be applied in every court, and international body the Palestinians and their Arab and Muslim allies can find.  Outside of the United States, the rest of the world is now either part of the mass movement that wants Israel gone, or cowering in the face of the intense anger of this group of nations and people who hate Israel.

While thousands are slaughtered in the Sudan, the International Court of Justice, the General Assembly and the Security Council will worry about cutting down olive trees. While nationals of various countries are beheaded in Muslim countries around the world, the UN will focus on Israel.

Arafat has achieved nothing for his people, but also a great deal. He has made them the world's chosen victims, and their grievance the only one for which the world demands action. And by so doing, he has insured that in this decade, and for this generation, the conflict will continue, and remain bitter, a raw sore for all those who now have bought into the Palestinians' fantasy history of how this all got to be this way.  Few in the Arab or Muslim world remember Arafat walking out of Camp David, and if they do, they undoubtedly think he made the right decision. Arafat has played the ultimate Palestinian card —— the weak against the strong —— and asked the world to choose. It has chosen. This is no victory for Israel.