Reprinted from The Jerusalem Post of June 21, 1997

SORRY, THERE'S NO HAPPY ENDING TO OSLO

By Martin Sherman

Pre-detente there was MAD, post-Oslo we have SAD.

And it's really gloomy.

Remember MAD, Mutually Assured Destruction? It was the acronym for the underlying rationale of superpower deterrence strategy during the Cold War face-off between the US and the USSR. Well, here's SAD - Self-Assured Destruction - characterizing the underlying rationale of Israel's policy in the post-Oslo era.

It makes little difference whether we're talking about the minimalist version of Israel's proposal for the final settlement with the Palestinians, in which 40 percent of Judea and Samaria will supposedly be transferred to Palestinian control, or the maximalist version, which cites 60 percent. Either ensures the creation of an untenable situation for both sides. Each proposes the establishment of tiny, dislocated enclaves crisscrossed by security corridors under Israeli control. Clearly totally unacceptable to any Palestinian regime, they also guarantee the Balkanization of the area.

In fact, it would be hard to come up with a more effective formula for a Bosnia-like scenario than a proposal which advocates the establishment, within highly-confined territorial boundaries, of two military organizations, Israeli and Palestinian. Each would be operating under separate systems of command, with different loyalties, different operational priorities and agendas; each would be based on a different, inimical ethnic composition. As a proposal for tranquillity, it appears to make as much sense as trying to extinguish a fire by dousing it with gasoline.

Even if some authoritative Palestinian leadership willing to forgo 40-60 percent of Judea and Samaria could be found, it would be confronted by vigorous, probably violent, resistance from within its own people. Such opposition would not be difficult to comprehend, since the proposals do little to satisfy even the most rudimentary prerequisites for Palestinian national self-esteem, economic viability, and administrative feasibility.

As former Meretz minister Prof. Amnon Rubinstein once wrote, such measures can serve "only to deepen Palestinian humiliation and perpetuate Jewish-Arab enmity." Negative Palestinian feelings will vent themselves in two ways. Firstly, there will be hostile resentment toward the incumbent Palestinian leadership because of its "perfidious surrender" of national interests. This will create fertile ground for incitement aimed at replacing that leadership by a less accommodating regime, commensurately more inimical to Israel. Secondly, there will be acts of violence directed at Israel, as an expression of continuing commitment to the struggle to realize Palestinian national rights.

HOW will things look on the ground? On the one hand, the long, contorted borders of the proposed enclaves, running along the fringes of major population centers, will be almost impossible to secure. On the other, the territorial discontinuity of the areas under Palestinian authority will make them almost impossible to govern effectively.

Thus even assuming the best of intentions among the Palestinian leadership, protecting the coastal metropolis and Jerusalem area from attacks by the "enemies of peace" would become a mammoth task. It would also have very little prospect of success. To understand the difficulties involved, one might compare the situation likely to arise along our new eastern frontier with the one prevailing on our northern border. There, the existence of a "security zone," the presence of a pro-Israel militia, and the operational deployment of IDF troops inside Lebanon barely suffice to ensure a very precarious calm along a relatively short (less than 100-km) border.

One can only imagine the much more onerous and fragile situation in the case of an extremely long (almost 700-km) border, without the benefit of any security zone, without a proxy militia, and without the physical deployment of IDF forces inside the Palestinian-held territory.

Under such conditions, almost the entire urban infrastructure of the country would be under continual threat; the economic and social routine in the heart of the country would be in constant danger of disruption. Incursions from across the adjacent borders - no more than walking distance from our major cities - and bombardment from the hills commanding the coastal plain by cheap, mobile light arms and rockets available to irregular militias or terrorist organizations could only be prevented by Israeli invasion of Palestinian-controlled territory.

So drastic a measure as ground invasion of a fledgling (allegedly-demilitarized) Palestinian entity would not only bring international censure and sanction; it would also constitute a pretext for the dispatch of forces from the Arab and Moslem countries to aid their assailed and beleaguered brethren. With the Palestinian areas serving as a staging point for regular military forces, Israel would find itself in a desperate situation, both diplomatically and militarily.

This is the inexorable logic of the SAD syndrome. At the root of the mentality behind it seems a stubborn reluctance to face up to the harsh reality that, under prevailing regional geopolitical conditions, the Israeli-Arab conflict cannot be resolved, only managed. SAD embodies a fundamental unwillingness to acknowledge that far-reaching Israeli concessions will not defuse inherent Arab enmity; that they serve only to diminish, even eliminate, Israel's ability to contain the conflict. And for Israel, the consequences of an unmanageable and uncontainable conflict are very dire.

(c) Jerusalem Post 1997

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Martin Sherman lectures in political science at Tel Aviv University.


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