The lessons Israel should learn

The first conclusion that the Israeli political and security establishment should learn and internalize after 18 months of Palestinian Intifada, concerns the intensity of Palestinian blind terrorism and guerilla warfare against the State of Israel and the entire Israeli presence between the Jordan and the Mediterranean. These have reached dimensions that are both painful and impressive from the standpoint of the use of force. This is relevant not only for the Jewish public in Eretz-Israel and the world, but for most international actors, large and small, whatever their direct stake in the outcome.

Thus the upgrading of Palestinian warfare over the past year and a half arouses concern. It obliged the Israeli government in April 2002 to initiate a large-scale military offensive against Palestinian terrorist concentrations in all the Arab cities of the West Bank (except Jericho, Hebron and East Jerusalem) and surrounding Arab villages. This counterattack clearly reflected the Israel Defense Forces’ force superiority in direct encounters with Palestinian terrorist bases. On the other hand, international pressures exercised by the United States, Europe and the United Nations forced Israel to withdraw the better part of its forces from most of the territories they occupied- -a withdrawal that revealed, and apparently will continue to reveal, unnecessary acts of Israeli cruelty.

In the absence of a fair political solution for the realization of the Palestinian people’s legitimate right to self determination– independence alongside Israel, not instead of Israel–brutal Palestinian terrorism will continue. In the not too distant future it will provoke new temporary IDF conquests, which in turn will generate intensified international pressures on Israel, followed by a renewed and temporary IDF withdrawal, and so on and on in a routine of bloodshed, until the only possible and fair political solution is realized: the establishment of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel, in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, whose government operates in East Jerusalem. Such a solution will inevitably require the removal of a number of Israeli settlements from the West Bank and Gaza Strip. It is apparent that without energetic pressure and intervention by the world’s powers, led by the US, Israelis and Palestinians will not succeed on their own in compromising on a permanent peace agreement.

Meanwhile it behooves us to focus on two negative phenomena that are increasingly taking root in the Israeli reality. First, Israeli security circles are becoming captivated by the ritual of fences. This approach is based on a vain trust that failed as far back as 1938, when the British built the “northern fence” along the border with Lebanon. It makes sense to put up political fences to separate nations and states, but only after they have reached clear political understandings, and if possible peace agreements. A strategic fence without a political agreement is a pointless waste. Unfortunately, for some people in Israel the notion of a fence is replacing political peace arrangements.

Secondly, there is slowly developing a dangerous dynamic among Israel’s Arab citizens. The more extreme the Palestinian struggle against Israel in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the stronger the negative suffusion of Palestinian hatred for Israel into the hearts of Israeli Arabs. This is an unnecessary additional injection of venom into Israel’s future. It must not be ignored, lest this important Arab public, which has been slowly coming to terms with its fate of living together with us in a modern democratic country, now ally itself with our enemies.

In conclusion, note the interesting statement by General Peterson, from a visiting delegation of pro-Israel retired American generals (Yediot Aharonot, April 26, 2002, Saturday Supplement, p. 11): “Al Qaida exists and will continue to exist as long as there is a situation where people live without hope. This is the infrastructure where al- Qaida soldiers will be found.” In my assessment, this perceptive analysis by an American general is doubly applicable to the Palestinian people.

Colonel (res.) Dr. Meir Pa’il is a military historian. He was a member of the 8th and 9th Knessets (1974-1981) on behalf of the Moked and Shelli peace parties.

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