The Midterm Assessment

Gershon Baskin, Ph.D.



It seems to me that now is the time is right to offer a midterm assessment of the Palestinian Intifada and the Israeli war against it. In my view we have crossed the mid-point, not necessarily in terms of time, but in terms of the final outcomes. At this point in time, I would conclude that Israel is winning the battle but losing the war and conversely, the Palestinians are losing the battle but they now know that they will win the war. Those of us who had questions about the lack of a coherent Palestinian strategy should now be able to say that they do, and despite the almost unbearable costs, from their perspective, the strategy is working.

When analyzing the current situation from within the internal understandings of both sides, it is possible to find clear logical and coherent thinking. The problem is that when analyzing the situation from outside the internal logic of each side, the situation appears to be one of two societies which have gone insane.  But there is clear sanity from within the internal understandings and it is necessary to conduct the assessment of the midterm after first understanding the internal thinking of both sides.

Israel bases its strategy on the belief that the Palestinians view the Israeli withdrawal from south Lebanon as a military defeat of the mighty and powerful IDF by a small group of guerilla fighters with determined motivation. Israel believes that the Palestinians learned from the Lebanon experience that if they (the Palestinians) hit the Israeli army, the settlers and the general public, causing a high number of casualties, they will successfully reduce the resolve of the military and at the same time cause deep rifts within Israeli public opinion. Israel believes that we are engaged in a war of attrition and as such,  it is a zero-sum game. There can only be one winner and one loser. Within this thinking, there can be no Palestinian victories, militarily or politically. As in the well known game of “chicken” the first to blink is the loser.  So the Israeli strategy is first to say “no” to any Palestinian political initiative, such as international observers, and to systematically hit the Palestinians in the aim of causing so much pain and anguish that they will be the ones to surrender, not Israel.

The Palestinians know that they are much weaker militarily than Israel and there is no possibility to defeat the Israeli army on the battle front. They believe, however that they are much stronger than Israel politically and morally. 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 the occupation is inevitable. They also believe that Hizballah type tactics will work and that the great losses that are inflicted upon them serve to strengthen their resolve at the same time that it is 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. Based on their negative experiences of the Oslo process, the Palestinian believe that they could not have extracted from Israel the total withdrawal from the occupied territories through negotiations. They believe that they will achieve this goal through their struggle.

In my assessment of the situation at this point in time, the Palestinians are winning the war. They will achieve their goals. Israel will withdraw from more than 96% of the occupied territories. Israel will also agree to compensate the Palestinians for territories annexed to it from lands within Israel proper. Jerusalem will become the capital of two States.  Israeli society is beginning to “crack”. More and more Israelis are beginning to believe that some 250,000 settlers are holding more than 5 million other Israelis hostage. While the Israeli desire and resolve to make the Palestinian feel the pain of their war against Israel has not reduced, more and more Israelis are understanding that their strategy is not working.  Palestinian resolve is not on the decline, in fact everything that Israel has done during the past 1 ½ years has only strengthened their determination and their support for their leader. Arafat’s symbolic importance as the father of the Palestinian nation and the eventual founder of the Palestinian State has significantly increased as the Israeli determination to weaken him and humiliate him has increased.

In my assessment, it seems now that it is mostly a matter of time and a question of how many Palestinians and Israelis will lose their lives before the end of this war is in clear view. Perhaps the main problem that we face is the lack of leadership, in Israel, Palestine and internationally, that can draw the conclusions now and put an end to the bloodshed. If we had real leaders in our midst, they would stand up now and put the deal on the table – the end of the occupation, a sovereign Palestinian State next to Israel based on the June 4, 1967 borders, a fair solution of the refugees' suffering mainly through a Palestinian Law of Return to the State of Palestine with significant international and Israeli financial assistance, a shared capital city in Jerusalem, and international guarantees and involvement.

There must be a mechanism designed for both sides to declare victory at the same time. The Palestinian victory will achieved as the end of the occupation through their heroic struggle for Statehood. The latest chapter of their narrative should be able to aid them in closing the chapter of 1948.  If this hypothesis is correct, then Israel should be able to claim victory by stating that the main purpose of the war was to end the Palestinian claim for the right of return. If this occurs, then the basis for agreements moves away from the existential conflict of 1948 and becomes a manageable resolution to the final end of the1967 war. This will enable the two sides to build their future understandings while each side being able to hold onto to their honor and dignity.

It is also essential to understand that peace agreements might now be more within reach (even though at this point in time it seems to be far fetched) but, the possibilities for real reconciliation between the two peoples has never been further away. The pain and suffering of the past 1 ½ years will remain an engraved memory in the consciousness of both peoples for many years to come, perhaps for generations. The best way to overcome the scars lefts behind is to engage on the people-to-people level. The struggle for peace must now become a joint struggle of Israelis and Palestinians working together. The establishment of a joint Israeli-Palestinian peace coalition, still in its infant stage, is an important benchmark in this process.  The leaders of the peace coalition must understand the tremendous responsibility that they have taken upon themselves.  They must first understand the urgency of being open and inclusive.  I note this because at the present time it seems that they seek to be monopolistic, elitist and exclusive.  If they do not succeed in enlarging their ranks, they will be responsible for a gross loss of opportunities and will probably cause damage to our goals.

This past weekend more than 50 Israeli and Palestinian activists from organizations and institutions that initiated People-to-People projects over the past years met under the umbrella of the Norwegian organization Fafo for four days in Istanbul.  During the bloodiest days of the past 1 ½ years these people (IPCRI amongst them) reached understandings and voiced a loud willingness and desire to re-launch a public peace process based on people-to-people contacts.  This is a very positive development.

In conclusion, the somewhat optimistic analysis written above should not allow us to realize that there are no signs of any kind of de-escalation on the horizons. The Palestinian military campaign and the use of terrorism will continue.  The Israeli response, the military reoccupation of the territories, the massive use of the IDF’s fire power will continue.  The suffering, the bloodshed and the mutual destruction will not end in the near future.  The Zinni, Cheney and other’s visits to the region may create a temporary reduction in violence, but it will not hold.  There will be future escalations. This could be termed “more of the same”, but “more of the same” only really means escalation because each side’s pain is increased and the responses and calls for revenge match the suffering inflicted.

Yesterday I received an email from a friend that said “The Government(s) have decided to save electricity – from now on the light at the end of the tunnel has been shut”, but for the first time since September 2000, I am beginning to see a small flickering of that light.