The Israeli Ministerial Cabinet, which is responsible for political decisions concerning the security of Israel especially in the issues related to the Arab Israeli conflict, and the situation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, held an exceptional meeting on Wednesday. The meeting followed the assassination of five Palestinian Islamic activists in Bethlehem by Israeli Apache helicopters. Just two weeks earlier, the Cabinet had assigned Sharon the responsibility for all decisions concerning Middle East security, specifically the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
The purpose of the meeting seems clear-Sharon, having learned his lesson in the aftermath of Sabra and Shatila for not having sought official approval from his political enemies, must gain their support for his activities in the territories. Directly after the assassinations, according to media accounts, Sharon spent three hours attempting to convince MK’s that a comprehensive attack on the territories under the Palestinian Authority rule could be dangerous on political and media level, especially if turned western opinion against Israel. This was the version of the meeting distributed to media while G8 meetings were held in Italy. But the actual content of the meeting might be indicated more accurately by the points approved by the Cabinet-continued assassination of Palestinian activists and the right of Israel to respond lethally to any Palestinian fire, even if it causes no Israeli injuries.
Sources reported that the Cabinet also took much more critical decisions:
-Adding military reinforcement in the West Bank and Gaza Strip of some 12,000 soldiers and additional weaponry and surveillance equipment.
– Israeli forces should be placed at the entrance of each Palestinian city and village and ready for attack at a moment’s notice.
– Forces should be supplied with equipment and ammunition to continue operations for an entire month in case Palestinians are successful in blocking shipments of supplies.
More threatening, however, was Sharon’s plan to reinforce Green Line borders with personnel and an electrified fence. The strategy would suffocate the Palestinians population centers. Such actions could very well be interpreted as a prelude to a full-scale assault.
Most Palestinian analysts agree that Israeli army forces would not face much trouble reoccupying the territories under Palestinian Authority control. The Palestinian Army is not equivalent to the Israeli one. Israeli tanks can easily penetrate Palestinian cities and streets, commanders can impose curfews, soldiers can shoot unarmed resisters.
This would not be the end of the story. Sharon’s cold-hearted military machine is capable of reinforcing its occupation with mass murder and expulsion as he and other Israeli generals and Prime Ministers have done in the past. But just as in the past, Palestinians would resist. Women and children would defend themselves with pots, pans, slingshots and knives. Sharon would soon find himself in a war he could no longer control.
The Director of Danish Television, an old friend of mine, asked me today: “How long do you think the Palestinians can hold on?” My response was immediate: ” Decades. Until the day comes when they can see their state, they will hold on and fight until they achieve their freedom. The fight for freedom is demanding. During the French Revolution it was said that French revolutionaries would only leave their parliament if they were dead. The case is no different for Palestinians.”
Bassam Abu-Sharif is a special advisor to President Arafat.