ATTRITION OR CAPITULATION?
By Shawn Pine
In January 2003, Israelis will go to the polls to vote in the most fateful election in the country's fifty-five year existence. The Likud electorate, having rejected Netenyahu's promise of victory, have opted for a continuation of Sharon's policy of attrition. While Netanyahu's promise might have appealed to most Likudniks, the fact that he failed to follow such a policy during his tenure as Prime Minister made the messenger suspect. Consequently, in January Israelis will go to the polls to chose between a continuation of Sharon's policy of attrition or Labor's candidate Amram Mitzna proposal of capitulation.
Early polling has Sharon with a significant lead over Mitzna. This is largely a function of the majority of Israelis coming to the realization that whatever the deficiencies of Sharon's policies, they are based upon a realistic assessment concerning the prospects for achieving a lasting peace with the present Palestinian leadership. However, despite his overwhelming lead in the current polls Sharon is vulnerable on the issue of security. Labor can argue that Sharon's tenure as prime minister has been a security disaster, with Israel suffering more than 4,500 casualties under his leadership, most of them civilians.
Moreover, Sharon's decision to embark on a policy to break the Palestinian will to fight, rather than decisively defeat them, has so prolonged the conflict that it has had a far more deleterious impact on Israel, and the Palestinians, than if Sharon had employed overwhelming force at the beginning of the intifada. Additionally, there is a danger that the international community may feel compelled to enforce an agreement. Should this occur, Israel would find itself internationally isolated and totally reliant on the United States to protect its interests. In such a forum, given the myriad of economic, security, and political concerns of the United States, Israel would undoubtedly find itself under immense pressure to make far-reaching concessions, regardless of whether there is a quid pro quo on the Palestinian side. Finally, given the general values within Israeli society there is always the risk that Israel will sooner tire of the bloody conflict before the Palestinians.
However, whatever the dangers posed by Sharon's policy of attrition, it pales in comparison to the risk that Amram Mitzna is proposing in his call for unilateral disengagement and withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza. Indeed, it reflects a pernicious, delusional psychosis and suggests a convoluted, irrational thought basis void of any realistic assessment of existing realities. Any rational analysis makes it clear that Mitzna's policy of unilateral withdrawal will neither resolve the conflict or stem terrorism.
Indeed, Barak's unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon, and the Rabin/Peres government's insistence on continuing the Oslo process despite overwhelming evidence that Arafat had not undergone a metamorphous from terrorist to statesman that his supporters and apologists have maintained, should have disabused even the most optimistic supporter of the peace process that a lasting peace can be achieved with the present Palestinian leadership.
All of the empirical evidence and historical record suggests that such a policy will only prolong and exacerbate the conflict. Unilateral Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza will be perceived by the Palestinians as an Israeli strategic defeat and vindication of the intifada. Indeed, this has been clearly articulated by Hamas leader Aziz-Rantisi when he remarked, in the immediate aftermath of Mitzna's election in the Labor primaries, that Labor's selection of Mitzna was a confirmation of the utility of Palestinian suicide attacks. Considering that Rantisi has repeatedly proclaimed that the goal of Hamas was to "take back all of Holy Palestine from the sea to the Jordan," the record suggests that the election of Amram Mitzna will hardly end suicide bombings.
History is replete with examples of how acquiescence to terrorism and threats of forced only exacerbated the insecurity of nations and the world. Undoubtedly, the most poignant example was Neville Chamberlain's capitulation to Hitler. More recently, the United States suffered the events of 9/11 in large part due to the unwillingness of successive Clinton administrations to respond to a myriad of past attacks by Islamic terrorists such as: the 1993 bombing of the World Trade center; the 1996 bombing of the Khobar towers; the 1998 bombings of the US Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania; and the 1999 bombing of the USS Cole.
In determining the utility of Mitzna's position of unilateral withdrawal it is important to remember that suicide bombings were the direct result of Israeli withdrawal form the territories. Prior to the Oslo process, when Israeli security forces controlled the territories, suicide bombings were nonexistent. They began shortly after the arrival of Arafat to the West Bank and Gaza. Between January 1994 to April 1996 Israel suffered more than a dozen suicide bombings. It was only with the election of Likud's Benjamin Netanyahu, and his initial demand for Palestinian reciprocity in fulfilling its obligations under the Oslo Accords, that the level of terrorism abated. The subsequent election of Ehud Barak, was construed by Arafat, and the PA, as an indication of Israeli weakness and a signal that they could return to a policy of supporting terrorism while receiving political concessions. The election of Mitzna would only reinforce this notion.
In the final analysis, Israel is bleeding because successive Israeli leaders lacked the will to fulfill the fundamental premise upon which governance of people exist. Namely, the obligation of an government to ensure the security of its citizens. This is especially true in a democracy in which people confer upon their leaders the obligation of the government to protect its citizens. It is important to note that Arafat's endorsement of Mitzna is not a strategic decision to make peace. It is just an attempt to rectify his tactical mistake by his categorical rejection of Barak's offer, and the subsequent Clinton proposals. It does not reflect a strategic decision by Arafat to resolve the Palestinian - Israeli conflict within the aegis of a two states solution. Indeed, since Arafat's arrival to the territories he has done nothing to prepare or persuade his people to make peace. Rather, he has systematically and deliberately inculcated the Palestinian people with a virulent stream of anti-Semitic propaganda stating that his goal was to destroy the Jewish State and that his participation in the peace process was nothing more than a means to facilitate that objective.
The Oslo process was born out of the strategic assumption that the core of the Israeli - Palestinian conflict is over the territories captured by Israel in the 1967 War. However, Arafat's categorical rejection of Barak's July 2000 offer of some 97% of the territories, including de facto Palestinian control over East Jerusalem, indicates that the core of the conflict is not over the territories captured in the 1967 Arab - Israeli war. Rather, it is still a function of Palestinian, and general Arab, rejection of the existence of the Jewish state. This is reinforced by scores of polls taken among the Palestinians. These polls have consistently shown that some 75% of the Palestinians view the "right of return" as a nonnegotiable core tenet in any peace process. Nor is this position merely a theoretical concession that they demand. Those same polls have shown that Palestinians believe that if given the "right of return" between 2 - 5 million Palestinians would exercise the "right," thereby effectively destroying the Jewish State.
Consequently, Palestinian support for the peace process was always framed in terms of the ultimate liberation of all of Palestine and the destruction of Israel. Indeed, Arafat made this goal patently clear when he proclaimed, "The struggle will continue until all of Palestine is liberated." (Voice of Palestine, November 11, 1995). Within this context, previous Palestinian support for the Oslo Process is understandable. More important, it makes it clear that the differences between Arafat and Palestinian Islamic terrorist groups are tactical in nature and that they share the same strategic objective.
Palestinian supporters and apologists for Palestinian terrorism have repeatedly attempted to exonerate and justify Palestinian extremism by claiming that it is an act of desperation of an oppressed people. However, such a characterization requires abandoning reality. The growing radicalization of the Palestinians has occurred precisely at a time when the Palestinian were achieving greater political freedoms than at any time in their history. Prior to the outbreak of the current intifada, some 98 percent of the Palestinians in the territories were under the control of Arafat and the Palestinian Authority and they had physical control of over 40 percent of the territories. If not for Arafat's categorical rejection of the Barak offer in July 2000, the Palestinians would have already had a state in virtually all of the West bank and Gaza.
As Israel prepares to go to the polls in January, it would behoove Israelis to remember George Santayana's warning that those who do not learn from history are destined to repeat it. In this respect, Israelis should remember that the reward for electing the Rabin/Peres government was the creation of the Palestinian Authority and a wave of suicide bombings that only ended with the election of Benjamin Netanyahu. The reward for electing Ehud Barak was the current intifada and the deaths and injury of over 4,500 Israeli citizens. Given this trend, the election of Amram Mitzna may very well signal the end of the modern Jewish State.
Shawn M. Pine is a military/strategic analyst who served for 9 years on active duty in the U.S. Army. He recently returned from Israel where he was a Ph.D. candidate in international relations at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He has published a number of articles concerning the prevailing political, military, and strategic environment in the Middle East. Pine is a research associate of the Freeman Center For Strategic Studies.