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Collective punishment doesn't really work

When preparing for the Gaza withdrawal, the strategic planning branch of the IDF laid down two possible scenarios for the post-disengagement era. One looked at Gaza as a test of the Palestinians' ability to govern. The results of the test, as stated in the IDF's strategic thinking, would determine to what extent it would be possible to enter a negotiated process with the Palestinians or advance the road map.

The alternative strategy looked at Gaza as a "pilot," which like the first scenario, would be a test. But rather than viewing it as something the Palestinians have to achieve on their own, in the pilot model Israel would do everything possible to ensure the success of the Palestinian take-over. The IDF strategic planners strongly recommended that the government adopt the pilot model; nonetheless, it is quite clear, four months down the road, that the "test" model was adopted and that, so far, the Palestinians have failed it badly.

It should also be mentioned that virtually nothing from the pilot model of assisting and ensuring success from Israel's side has been adopted and implemented.

The failure of the Palestinians to govern, to assert law and order, to control security, to prevent Kassam rocket attacks on Israel, to hold free and open primaries, and more is quite evident. As if the script had been written in advance, voices from the Israeli right wing can be heard loud and clear, saying, "I told you so…."

Like in Oslo, the fate of the process has almost been predetermined by a total lack of good will (on both sides) and a failure to implement agreements and understandings in good faith. With the exception of the opening of the Rafah crossing - which was only one element of a much wider agreement - nothing has been implemented that might assist in achieving more positive test results.

IN GAZA, the main failures of both sides are clear. The Palestinians have completely failed to maintain order, to create a sense of security for their people, to impart a sense of confidence in the future. The Israeli government is continuing to maintain and enhance the policy launched at the beginning of the intifada to completely separate Gaza from the West Bank.

With the exception of keeping the Karni transportation zone open, as promised to the Americans, Israel continues to impose and enforce knee-jerk policies that punish the Palestinian public and do little to fight terrorism.

Immediately after the disengagement Israel launched a program to grant work permits to Palestinian laborers and "businessman's cards" allowing holders to move freely inside Israel and even use Ben-Gurion Airport. However, after the continued Islamic Jihad attacks and Kassam launchings Israel once again imposed a full closure on Gaza and on the West Bank.

The plan to begin bus convoys between Gaza and the West Bank was canceled and, most recently, we saw the launching of Operation Blue Skies, bombing northern Gaza every night to prevent the launching of Kassams.

There is little doubt that the continued deterioration of life in Gaza will lead to a clear Hamas victory in the upcoming Palestinian elections (if they are not cancelled), and it may be too late to do something that could preempt that result. Canceling or postponing the elections is almost surely going to lead to renewed Hamas violence against Israel.

FOR YEARS now, even during the Lebanon War, the IDF held firmly to the working assumption that collective punishment is effective. The basic idea is that if the local population suffers, they will pressure their government to fight terrorism.
This has never happened. Israel was greeted by the Shi'ites in south Lebanon with candies and flowers in 1982; within less than a year the Shi'ite population there joined the "resistance" that planted road side bombs and killed Israeli soldiers for 18 years. There was a direct correlation between the level of suffering the public felt as a result of Israeli actions and its willingness to take up the armed struggle against Israel.

Likewise, in Palestine, the Palestinian public has suffered enormously over the past five years. At no time during that period did it adopt the Israeli thinking and apply pressure to its leaders to fight and prevent terrorism. Instead, its hatred of Israel increased and its desire to hit Israel and Israelis increased accordingly. It is amazing that a policy which has for so many years consistently failed to achieve its stated strategic goals is applied instantaneously, without thought, as a knee-jerk reaction.

AMONG THE upper echelons of the IDF it is clear that most senior officers recognize that these policies of collective punishment against the Palestinians provide more answers to Israeli public opinion needs and concerns than to fighting and preventing terrorism.

In light of decades of failure it is time to evaluate the chances of success of a different course, of different policies. The policy recommended here is valid for the Gaza Strip only and not for the West Bank. It is based on the reality of the end of the Israeli occupation of Gaza, which is not the case in the West Bank, where Palestinians will continue to fight against it.

The recommended course is based on reciprocity and on price tags. The notion of collective punishment is that when Israeli security is violated, the Palestinian public pays the price. The policy I am now suggesting is based on a reverse logic - there is a price tag that Israel will pay for security achievements.

If, for instance, the Palestinians find and close down a tunnel used for smuggling weapons, Israel will issue 2,000 closure-proof work permits. If the Palestinians discover and close down a Kassam factory, Israel will grant 1,000 closure-proof work permits. If the PA security forces begin to collect illegal weapons, each verified weapon collected will be worth X amount of work permits, or seats on the Gaza-West Bank bus, or Businessmen's Cards, etc.

Positive security performance by the Palestinian Authority would have a price tag that Israel would pay to benefit the Palestinian public. That price tag would be well known, and published. The payment would have to be immediate and visible. Israel would have to commit itself to implementing this policy consistently and over a long period of time. It would be worthwhile including third-party monitors to verify the actions of both sides - a tunnel should be identified and closed permanently and verified by a reliable third party.

Israel would have to make its payment in a verifiable way. The reports of the third party would be open and visible to the public.

It is time to try a new course that, rather than threatening and punishing, rewards positive actions and encourages the public to support an increasingly better reality. The alternative is more despair and hopelessness.

The writer is the co-CEO of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information.

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