WHEN WILL IT END?

Gershon Baskin, Ph.D.
Israeli-Co-Director of IPCRI

Sunday, December 02, 2001

  When will it end?  This is the question that journalist after journalist have been asking me during the past two days (and one that I have been asking myself for the past 14 months). This is the question that we should all be asking ourselves.  How long will we allow violence to be the only tool used to “resolve” the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Each time one of the foreign Foreign Ministers arrives in the country (Israel and Palestine) or one of the envoys sent on a new “peace mission”, some naïve people seem to believe that they are coming with a magic wand in their pockets that will suddenly create the conditions for peace or at least for a cease fire. Usually what they accomplish (probably not by their own design) is a short breather in-between escalations. Each escalation in warfare is more extreme than the previous one.  The two terrorist attacks of the last 2 days is the first step of significant escalation from the Palestinian side and the Israeli response is yet to come – but it will come and it will be extreme.

  The calls of the public and of politicians in Israel is becoming more and more a choir sounding off in one clear voice: get rid of the Palestinian Authority! I would guess that later today Sharon will be trying to convince President Bush to add the Palestinian Authority to the list of “states” that support terror, thereby allowing Israel to do to the Palestinian Authority what America did to the Taliban. There would be very few people in Israel who would shed a single tear if the Palestinian Authority ceased to exist. This reminds me of the public call in Israel after the intifada began “t’nu lezahal l’nezach”  - “let the IDF win!”  I have not yet heard someone define what victory means in this case.  Okay, let’s say that Mofaz gets the order from the Government – “Go ahead – bring us victory!” – What the hell does that mean?  If the IDF did fully reoccupy the Palestinian territories and expel Arafat and the heads of the PA – is that victory?  What is it exactly that Israel wins?

  The Palestinians also can’t seem to find an implementable version for their definition of victory for themselves.  The leaders of Fatah Tanzim have declared that they will not stop the intifada until they have ended the Israeli occupation – removed the Israeli army, the Israeli settlements and brought about a solution to the refugee issue. In order to actively bring about a Palestinian victory under these terms, Fatah Tanzim have joined in a coalition of terror attacks against Israel.  On the very day that Arafat declared that he would honor a ceasefire and called upon the Palestinian public to observe the ceasefire (once again), Fatah Tanzim joined with the Islamic Jihad in a terror attack in Afula.  The attacks of last night in Jerusalem and today in Haifa appear to be the work of Hamas and Jihad, but there is no doubt that there is wide Palestinian public support for these attacks.

  Both sides are suffering almost beyond belief. In my eyes one of the most amazing things is that both sides seem to want more. The calls for revenge come from the streets of Israel and from Palestine. Upon hearing of the attack last night in Jerusalem, the first thing I did was to call my 15 year old daughter to make sure that she was not in the area of the bombings – a place that she frequents on weekend late evenings. She wasn’t there – I couldn’t stop thinking all day long, what might have happened to her if she had been there. I saw the horrifying results on television.  Today we heard the names of the children who were killed last night. Later today we will hear the names and the personal heart tearing stories of the victims of today’s bloody attack. Last week we heard the names of the Palestinian children killed in Rafah. I have no demand for revenge in my heart.  I do not want more.  I want it to end.  ENOUGH – I have had enough.

  I do not believe in our leaders.  I have no belief and no sympathy for Sharon or for Arafat.  I want them to go.  Their time is over.  They cannot bring peace.  They only know war and bloodshed.  They send our children to their deaths.  They can offer no hope.  They can offer no security. They cannot bring us security; they can only continue to bring us suffering.

  US envoy General Zinni is here trying to enforce a ceasefire. I don’t believe that he can deliver the goods. There is no reason to believe that Zinni will succeed where Tenant and Mitchell failed before him. Tenant and Mitchell could not provide Arafat with the “political gains” for which he could declare victory and then retake control of the territories.  They could not produce those results because there is no partner on the Israel side to allow the Palestinians any victory – even symbolic.

  Arafat has chosen to give up control of the territories.  He has decided that he does not have the possibility to convince his public that the 750 Palestinian deaths of the past year, thousands of wounded and a completely crippled economy produced anything worthwhile. Arafat cannot successfully retake control of the territories without some kind of political gain. Arafat has the power and the forces to try to take control.  He can arrest Hamas, Jihad and even Fatah militia leaders and activists, but he cannot defeat the street. Sharon too cannot convince his public that we must negotiate with the Palestinians even if there is not 100% quiet (which is not an unreasonable demand).

Arafat’s cabinet just declared an emergency situation in the West Bank and Gaza.  The cabinet has declared that the Palestinian law will be enforced in the territories under their control and that those engaged in illegal activities will be arrested. Arafat will probably once again declare his commitment to a ceasefire.  He will notify General Zinni that he has given orders to arrest those responsible for the latest terror attacks. Israel has already blamed Arafat directly for the attacks and as soon as Sharon arrives home from Washington, or perhaps even before his return, Israel is likely to launch a massive attack against the Palestinians.

As I see it there are two possibilities for enabling a real Palestinian commitment to a ceasefire: if the US were to launch a real peace initiative that included a clear plan for what peace meant, e.g. a sovereign independent Palestinian state in the 1967 borders (plus/minus) which a shared capital in Jerusalem including US and EU troops on the ground as verifiers, peacekeepers and dispute managers; or if there was some kind of real Israeli initiative that included implementation of commitments made with regard to Israeli withdrawals from the territories and the beginning of Israeli settlement withdrawals with a commitment to re-enter into final status negotiations from the point where they ended in Taba in January 2001. Neither of these seems very likely (especially the second possibility). A third possibility might be if there was a Palestinian peace initiative that could reach out to the Israeli public, but this too seems very unlikely.  For one, who on the Israeli side still trusts Palestinian peace initiatives and second, the Palestinians are not known for producing initiatives of this type.

A continuation of the deterioration on the ground is what is most likely to happen. If I were General Zinni (with the full backing of President Bush), this is what I would do:

  1. I would declare that the United States will send US peacekeeping troops to the West Bank and Gaza to enforce the ceasefire that both sides have declared that they support.
  2. I would demand that the Israelis and Palestinians immediately reconvene the joint security committee and the security cooperation on the ground and state that the US will chair the work of that security cooperation. The joint security committee should convene this evening prior to the Israeli military response.
  3. I would demand that Israel withhold its planned attack against the Palestinian Authority this evening.
  4. I would insist that Arafat declare the military wings of all factions, including Fatah Tanzim, as illegal and then collect all the weapons in the hands of those factions and then turn those weapons over to the American peacekeepers.
  5. I would demand that Arafat establish one unified command of all the Palestinian security forces under the guidance of a clear chain of command responsible to the office of the Palestinian President.
  6. I would demand that Israel remove its internal closures of all Palestinian cities and towns.
  7. I would demand that Israel immediately cease its policy of targeted killings.

After this is accomplished I would move the sides into implementing the Mitchell report understanding that there is very little likelihood that this would lead to a renewed peace process.

Realistically, I do not believe that Sharon and Arafat can bring us to a real peace process. If the Palestinians cannot produce their own peace initiative that they would adopt and convince Israelis to support, the most important thing that Palestinians can do for themselves is to create the mechanism for an orderly and clear process of transitions from the Arafat era of Palestinian politics to the post-Arafat era. If there is no clear mechanism for transition established while Arafat is alive and in power, the chances for chaos, bloodshed and disaster is what is most likely to occur. If Arafat cannot deliver peace and Palestinian statehood to his people, the least that he can do for them is to lay down the means to carry-on a peaceful struggle after him.  Today, as it stands, a post-Arafat era would most likely produce coalitions between various military leaders and forces and various combinations of the public, with the most organized sector of the public being the fundamentalist Islamic groups. In my view, this will result with a greater fragmentation of Palestinian society.  There will be no central government and there will be no order, peace, security or any chance for Palestinian democracy. The chances for peace under these conditions would be even less than they are today.

I would urge the International community at its donors meeting next week to link donor contributions to the Palestinians with Arafat commitments and plans for creating mechanisms for orderly transition. If Arafat cannot agree to International demands of this kind, then the donor money should be given directly to non-PA service providers in the West Bank and Gaza administered directly by donor organizations.

I would recommend that we all brace ourselves for more violence and more suffering.  Sadly it seems that we have not yet reached rock-bottom.  It seems that there has not yet been enough suffering for normal people on both sides to take to the streets and demand an end to the insanity.  New Prophets of dome on the Israeli side are producing new false hopes, new myths called unilateral separation. This will also not work.  No peace will come from walls, fences, ditches and other blockades. As long as Israel insists to keep the settlements and continue the occupation there will be no peace for Israelis.  Palestinian terrorists who want to hit Israel will find the way to do it with blockades or without them.  Unilateral separation based on fences, blockades and ditches is a recipe for the continuation of the occupation and a guarantee of continued Palestinian hunger, poverty and suffering. But the calls by Israeli politicians to support unilateral separation are gaining public support.  Once again, the public chooses to deceive itself with false hopes rather than coming to the only conclusion that can really produce peace – negotiations and agreements with significant means for verification, compliance, dispute resolution mechanisms managed and supervised by US, EU and other foreign troops on the ground.  Even this will be extremely difficult, but this is the only plan that I can think of today that has a chance of leading us towards real peace.

In the end, it is only by the will of the Israeli and Palestinian public that we will find our way to the path of peace.  It is time to say: we have had enough – we are not willing to kill or to be killed anymore when we all know the price of peace.  It is time for both sides to pay that price – Palestinian statehood, an end to the occupation, a shared Jerusalem as the capital of two states and a resolution to the refugee issue through compensation and resettlement in the Palestinian state.  No doubt, a costly price for both sides – but that it the price and both sides must pay it.