The Jerusalem Post of July 18, 2001

WAR IS COMING

by Michael Freund

It is a chilling thought, but it now seems almost inevitable: the ongoing Palestinian violence will soon ignite an all-out war. It may be just a few days or weeks away, but the die seems to have been cast, perhaps irrevocably so. After eight years of reeling from crisis to crisis, the Oslo process is now poised for its final, Chernobyl-like meltdown.

It is impossible to know what the match will be that will spark the conflagration, but chances are that the Palestinians are cooking up something dramatic. Arafat seems intent on dragging the region into war, as his rejection of former Prime Minister Ehud Barak's proposals at Camp David last year made all too clear. The Americans have come and gone, with the Mitchell Report and the Tenet cease-fire having amounted to little more than an intermission, as the curtain prepares to rise for what might be a fearsome final act.

Indeed, the Palestinians have been conducting themselves as if they wish to provoke an all-out armed conflict. There is simply no other logical explanation for their behavior. The barbarity of the Tel Aviv disco bombing seemed designed to elicit an overwhelming Israeli response. By targeting teenage youngsters out for a night on the town, the Palestinians set a new low for ruthless cruelty, one they surely knew would turn Israeli public opinion still further against them. And now, the Palestinian provocations are again intensifying, as the mortar fire on Gaza's Jewish communities has returned, the gunfire against Jewish homes in Hebron and Psagot has resumed, and Hamas and Islamic Jihad are again blowing up innocent Israelis.

Arafat knows full well that the consequences of another mass terror attack against Israel will be overwhelming and decisive. According to media reports, the Israeli army is preparing to sweep into Judea, Samaria and Gaza and dismantle the Palestinian Authority should the terror continue. Nevertheless, despite heavy American and European pressure, Arafat refuses to rein in his minions, preferring instead to play with fire.

Perhaps the surest sign of the impending hostilities is the sudden burst of "desperation diplomacy". Shimon Peres' unscheduled meeting with Arafat this past Sunday, just days after Omri Sharon's secret visit to the Palestinian leader, are eerily reminiscent of the last-minute attempts by the previous Bush administration to forestall the outbreak of the 1991 Gulf War. Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the Western mind stubbornly believes that a last-ditch appeal to common sense can prevail upon hardened dictators such as Saddam and Arafat to step back from the brink. If only it were so.

Many analysts have suggested that Arafat's goal is to internationalize the conflict, force the United Nations to send a peacekeeping force and thereby turn up the heat on Israel to make further concessions. But such an analysis is faulty, for it is based on the assumption that Arafat sees war as a tactic designed to achieve better results at the negotiating table.

It should be clear by now, though, that Arafat views war with Israel not as a tactic, but as a strategy. His aim is not to regain the 1967 borders, which were offered to him by Barak, but the 1948 borders. His aim is to destroy the State of Israel, to eliminate the Zionist presence from the Middle East.

For some, it is a painful conclusion to reach after hoping for peace for so many years. For others, it is merely confirmation of what we suspected all along: that Oslo was a bad gamble, akin to betting one's entire paycheck on the roulette wheel of fate.

But however deep the political divisions may have been in the past, let there be no mistake about the willpower and determination of the Jewish people in the present. Arafat's gravest error will yet prove to be his underestimating the resolve of this people to survive. As Golda Meir told a rally in New York during the 1967 Six Day War, "Those that perished in Hitler's gas chambers were the last Jews to die without standing up to defend themselves." The spirit of Israel will not be broken or subdued.

Standing alone, facing an intemperate enemy bent on its destruction, Israel will still emerge victorious. The price may be high, the cost in lives excruciating, but there are times in history when a nation has no choice but to defend itself. As Woodrow Wilson, the pacifist American president who led his country into World War I, told the U.S. Congress in April 1917, "It is a fearful thing to lead this great peaceful people into war. But the right is more precious than peace, and we shall fight for the things which we have carried nearest our hearts."

The coming war is one that Israel neither wants nor hopes to fight. But if Arafat starts it, Israel will certainly know how to end it.

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The writer served as Deputy Director of Communications and Policy Planning in the Prime Minister's Office from 1996 to 1999.



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