The Jerusalem Post, March 12, 2002


By Evelyn Gordon

(March 12) - US Secretary of State Colin Powell lambasted Prime Minister Ariel Sharon last week, saying "If you declare war on the Palestinians and think you can solve the problem by seeing how many Palestinians can be killed, I don't know if that leads us anywhere." Powell has a valid point. It just isn't the point he thought it was.

Powell intended his point to be that military action is incapable of stopping Palestinian terror. That is the accepted leftist wisdom: that guerrilla warriors fighting for self-determination can never be vanquished. Historically speaking, of course, that is nonsense. History is rife with examples to the contrary, from the Roman defeat of Jewish guerrillas fighting to regain their independence 2,000 years ago, to the American defeat of Indian guerrillas fighting to regain their lost land.

However, it is also irrelevant - because the current Palestinian violence is not guerrilla warfare, but rather warfare backed by a recognized government. Indeed, the lion's share of fatal Palestinian attacks are now being committed by an organization that answers directly to Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat, the Al-Aksa Martyrs Brigades, which is a wing of Arafat's own Fatah party.

For government-sponsored warfare, there are certainly military solutions, but to succeed, they require a clear objective: the defeat of the enemy government. Sharon, however, has consistently refused to set that as his objective, and his military strikes are patently not directed at that aim. Without such an objective, Powell is quite correct - Sharon's military action is leading nowhere.

The current deluge of Palestinian terrorism is possible only because it is protected by a government to which Israel has essentially granted immunity. There are two main reasons for this.

The first is the existence of "safe havens." Much of the West Bank and Gaza is under the Palestinian Authority's control rather than Israel's, and these areas constitute havens where terrorists can build bombs, train bombers, and organize attacks undisturbed, and to which they can flee after an attack.

The existence of such safe havens was a major cause of the sharp rise in terrorist violence after the Oslo Accords were signed (more Israelis were killed in the following two-and-a-half years than in the entire decade preceding), and it is also a major reason why the current violence is so much worse than the first intifada. Never in the last 35 years has so much of the relevant territory been out of Israel's control.

Though the recent IDF incursions into the refugee camps are ostensibly meant to deny the terrorists such havens, their utility is limited, because for each camp the army temporarily invades, there are dozens more where Israel has no foothold. The result is that when Israel attacks in one place, they simply move their base temporarily to another Palestinian-controlled area.

The only way to truly deny the terrorists a safe haven is to have a government committed to fighting terror in control of all the territories, leaving the terrorists with no place to flee except abroad. And since Arafat's government is patently unwilling to fulfill this role, the only candidate at the moment is Israel.

The second crucial service the PA offers the terrorists is arms procurement and protection. The Palestinians built up caches of weapons during their eight years of self-rule, and the PA protects these caches by its very existence: Israel cannot effectively search for and seize this weaponry as long as another government controls the territory.

But even more important, additional arms are constantly being smuggled in. Arms smuggling is an expensive business, even when the costs are partially defrayed by generous donors such as Iran - and without PA funding, these efforts would be severely hampered. The weaponry aboard the intercepted arms ship Karine A, for instance, cost some $15 million, almost all of which came out of the PA's coffers. Individual groups such as Hamas could never hope to raise such sums. But a government can - especially one backed by generous infusions of European cash. By eliminating the government, one eliminates the main channel through which Western money is converted into guns and bombs. And without a steady flow of arms, no military conflict can be sustained.

It is true that military action can never eliminate every last terrorist. For that matter, neither can any diplomatic agreement. However, it is equally true that without the PA, the Palestinians would be unable to sustain the violence at anywhere near the current intolerable level.

Powell, albeit unintentionally, was thus right on the mark: Sharon "has to take a hard look at his policies to see whether they will work." His policy toward the PA would be a good place to start.

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