The government is right to build Har Homa in Jerusalem, for the simple reason that Israel wants to keep Jerusalem united under Israel sovereignty. This is a case where Israel has full, formal freedom of action, and where a large majority of Israelis can easily be mobilized in favor of construction within the municipal area of their capital.
The government needs to show it is undeterred in the face of Palestinian threats. More than that, it must declare that violence organized by the Palestinian Authority is simply unacceptable after Oslo. Har Homa could become a turning point in Israeli-Palestinian relations by projecting Israeli determination and reversing the trend of Palestinian gains without much reciprocity. If building goes ahead without significant opposition, it will be a clear victory for Israel in Jerusalem.
But if Israel's warnings go unheeded and the building at Har Homa elicits a violent response - similar to what happened in September 1996, when Palestinian security forces shot at Israeli soldiers - then it will become an opportunity for a strong military riposte, regaining deterrence and teaching the Palestinians about Israeli red lines it could be costly to cross.
Following a violent Palestinian breach of Oslo, Israel should not hesitate to attack important Palestinian targets, like Dahaniya airport in Gaza. Built in violation of Oslo and against our wishes, the airport could be destroyed from the air without the lives of Israeli soldiers being endangered.
Provoked, Israel could also decide to retake a slice of territory in Area A, which is fully under
Yasser Arafat's control. This would transmit the clear signal that certain provocations could make
withdrawal reversible. The area north of Jericho, sparsely populated by Arabs but threatening
Israeli control over the Jordan Rift, is very suitable for Israeli appropriation, with little risk.
Israel is good at special operations, and the PA offers a large number of vulnerable targets. The
lessons of September need to be implemented in preparing an imaginative, daring menu of
possible strong military responses. Such reaction to any outbreak of Palestinian violence
following building at Har Homa would make sense not only strategically, but also politically.
Recent research into Israeli public opinion shows that it would significantly support military action in reaction to Palestinian violence, even more so than to other challenges.Public backing is certain should the government opt for measured force in reaction to Palestinian attempts to obstruct Israeli efforts to exercise their legitimate rights in Jerusalem.
For the time being, the Palestinians have managed to ignore the costs incurred by their
misbehavior.The price Arafat paid for Palestinian violence in September was perceived as low, set
against what he achieved. It is high time Israel upped the price.
It is an unfortunate fact of life that weakness invites aggression and additional violations of agreements.Concessions whet Palestinian appetites, while strong Israeli responses educate the Palestinians to lower their expectations in the peace process to more realistic levels. In the past, only a measure of realism could induce the Palestinians to move along the road of reconciliation with the Jewish state. Our fostering a realistic approach - even if it requires measured force - is critical for the future of Israeli-Palestinian relations.
(c) Jerusalem Post 1997
Efraim Inbar is associate professor of political studies at Bar-Ilan University and director of the
university's Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies.