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Arafat's convinced he's winning

Akiva Eldar

March 14, 2002



Sharon surely knows what ever visitor to the bullet-scarred offices of the PA chairman knows: Yasser Arafat is more convinced than ever before that in this war, the Arabs will beat the Israelis; and maybe, they've already won. The victory is on his desk every morning, in the newspapers. No Israeli tank can take it away from him. Nor can throwing the women of Ramallah out of their homes in the middle of night into the street where the shooting's going on.

It's no accident that Sharon and Chief of Staff Shaul Mofaz have adopted the mantra of "determination." They believe that if only we manage to convince Arafat that the mourning, bereavement, anxiety and despair won't bring the end of occupation any closer, Arafat will get down on his knees and beg Israel to allow him to surrender unconditionally. They ought to take a look at The Midterm Assessment, a brief essay by Dr. Gershon Baskin, co-director of the Israel Palestinian Committee for Research and Information. Baskin is well-connected to both the Palestinian leadership and the Palestinian street, and his analyses and their prognosis often prove to be remarkably accurate.

The Palestinians are well-aware, writes Baskin, that their military strength is negligible compared to Israel's, and that they have no chance of winning anything on the battlefield. "They believe, however, that they are much stronger than Israel politically and morally," Baskin writes. "They believe that justice is on their side and that history sides with them as well. They say that Israel is the last occupying power left in the world and that the success of the Palestinian struggle for freedom from occupation is inevitable. They also believe that Hezbollah-type tactics will work and that the great losses that are inflicted upon them serve to strengthen their resolve while constructing the most important chapter in the Palestinian narrative. This chapter is one of heroism and struggle that will end with the glorious victory of liberation and freedom. In view of their negative experiences of the Oslo process, the Palestinians believe that they could not have extracted from Israel total withdrawal from the occupied territories through negotiations. They believe that they will achieve this goal through their struggle."

Baskin's assessment is echoed by professionals in the U.S. State Department, and among other Western diplomats with responsibility for Palestinian affairs.
"Sharon tried economic pressure, on the assumption that would defeat Arafat and force him to concede," said one of those diplomats this week. "The assumption that an iron fist and determination would bring political results was also proven false," he added. "Too bad that the one thing nobody has tried is a velvet glove."