"I know how at least 80 percent of the clashes there started. In my opinion, more than 80 percent, but let's talk about 80 percent. It went this way: We would send a tractor to plough someplace where it wasn't possible to do anything, in the demilitarized area, and knew in advance that the Syrians would start to shoot. If they didn't shoot, we would tell the tractor to advance farther, until in the end the Syrians would get annoyed and shoot. And then we would use artillery and later the air force also, and that's how it was."
-- Moshe Dayan, Israel's former Minister of Defence, describing how to provoke a military incident on the Golan Heights. From a 1976 interview with Yediot Ahronot newspaper, given on condition that it not be published till after his death. Cited in Ari Shavit's The Iron Wall, p.236-237.
The Israeli Labour Party's campaign manager, Motti Morel, really went off the reservation last month when he said out loud and unequivocally something that Israelis have generally only muttered under their breath during the last five years, if they have said it at all; namely, that their government directly influences the number of terror attacks Israelis face by deliberately escalating hostilities with the Palestinians when a heightening of tensions suits its own political needs (such as, for instance, during an election campaign):
Labor Party's campaign manager Motti Morel's comments insinuating that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon wished to cause a flare up in the territories on Thursday raised a political storm, as Kadima officials urged Labor Chairman Amir Peretz to fire Morel, to prove that he does not support Morels views.
Morel told Israel Radio on Thursday that the renewal of the targeted assassinations policy was intended to cause an escalation of the security situation on the eve of the elections, an escalation which would serve Sharon.
Morel said that Sharon was trying to divert public discourse from the social to the security arena, and intimated that Sharon has the power to influence the number of terror attacks which take place. According to Morel, several months ago, when targeted assassinations were not employed "there were no Qassams and no terror attacks."(Source)
Morel implied that that if the Israeli government really wants to stop the current firing of Qassams by Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) and the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades (AAMB) out of the Gaza Strip, it doesn’t have to resort to escalatory measures like air raids, artillery barrages on "no-go" zones, bombing residential areas to terrorize civilians into fleeing into the Sinai, cutting off electricity to the entire 1.4 million residents of the Gaza Strip or inflicting sonic booms that cause trauma and miscarriages as collective punishment on the entire population. He suggested that if Israel really wants the PIJ and AAMB to stop their current campaign of firing rockets at Israel from Gaza, perhaps Israel should stop its extra-judicial killings of Palestinian militants, a practice it recently resumed, despite the fact that firing of the Qassams has repeatedly over the past year been the militant organizations’ predictable and explicit response to the assassination of their members, e.g.:
The Popular Resistance Committee, a Gaza-based militant group comprised of multiple Palestinian factions, will continue to respond to Israeli assaults with the use of homemade rockets, a spokesman for the group said on Sunday. "While Israel continues to assassinate Palestinian activists we have no choice but to continue rocket fire," the spokesman explained. "We are going to respond to every Israeli attack in order to show them that while our means are simple, our resolve is strong." (Source)
The Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority made a commitment at the Sharm el-Sheikh summit of 8 February 2005 to enter into a mutual truce, halting “all acts of violence against Israelis and Palestinians wherever they exist”. As the Israeli General Security Service’s end-of-year statistics for 2005 showed, the truce that the Palestinian factions subsequently observed resulted in a 60% drop in the number of Israelis killed in the conflict last year, compared to 2004:
The Shin Bet's statistics on terror attacks confirm the public perception that terrorist activity in 2005 dropped considerably compared to the previous four and a half years. The main reason for the sharp decline is the truce in the territories, the security service said yesterday.
…[T]he main reason for the reduction in terrorist acts over the past year is the truce in the territories, as partial as it may be. The fact that Hamas, in general, stopped engaging in terror activities changed the picture. The Islamic Jihad network in the West Bank upgraded its capability and was responsible for the murder of 23 Israelis in 2005, but during that time, Hamas - the leading terror organization in recent years - has scaled back its engagement in terror. Its focus on the political arena and the preparations for the Palestinian parliamentary elections have limited its active involvement in terror to a large extent.
-- Shin Bet: Palestinian truce main cause for reduced terror; Ha'aretz, 2 Jan 2006.
Israel, in contrast, has consistently ignored its Sharm el-Sheikh ceasefire commitment, as Tanya Reinhart, Professor of Linguistics and Media Studies at Tel Aviv University, observed in Yediot Ahronot, on 24 May: [T]he fact still remains that the Sharm al-Sheikh understandings determine that Israel will stop all military actions against Palestinians. Nothing of this was realized. The Israeli army continues to arrest, to assassinate, to enter villages and to kill even children..
The Israeli government’s defence for continuing its military operations in the Occupied Territories is that they are essentially defensive measures, necessary for saving Israeli lives. On the specific issue of “targetted killings”, it assures us that it is forced to continue this policy because the people it assassinates are “ticking bombs”, an imminent and immediate threat to civilian life that can be prevented by immediate assassination (1). But this is simply not true. Apart from the fact that it is very improbable that all those assassinated militants were really an imminent threat as they died in their cars, in their homes or behind their desks, we know it’s not true because the Israeli security sources said so in August 2003, shortly after the IDF assassinated Ismael abu Shanab.
Unlike most of the targets of IDF assassinations, it was impossible to simply write off abu Shanab as a “ticking bomb”: he was too well known as a moderate political leader of Hamas, who openly criticized the movement’s rhetoric about destroying Israel and spoke in support of a two state solution. In the wake of his killing, Uri Avnery noted that: [O]n August 21, the army assassinated Isma'il Abu-Shanab, the fourth ranking leader of Hamas. This time it was not even possible even to pin on the victim the appellation "ticking bomb", as is usual in such cases. The man was a well-known political leader. Why was he of all people chosen for assassination? A military correspondent on Israeli TV made a slip of the tongue: Abu-Shanab was killed, he said, because he was "available". And the Washington Post expanded on the rationale behind his killing, reporting that:
On 21 August 2003, Ismail Abu Shanab was assassinated by an Israeli helicopter missile strike while travelling by car in Gaza. Government press releases termed him "terrorist", "operative".
But veering off-message, an Israeli security source told the Washington Post after his killing, "To what extent that person was involved [in terrorism] or not is not important. What is important is that this man... is one of the people who makes decisions about what kind of policies Hamas should adopt."
So you don’t actually have to be a “ticking bomb” to be assassinated by the IDF. It’s not even so important whether you’re actually involved in terrorism or not. You just have to have the misfortune to be a leading member of a militant organisation who is “available” when the Israeli government chooses to launch an assassination.
Motti Morel is not the first person to suggest that the Israeli government chooses to use assassination not as a last resort against an imminent threat, but for political motives when it thinks it will benefit from an upsurge in violence. In 2001 and 2002, when Ariel Sharon argued that he could not sit down in talks with the PA unless it could first deliver “seven days of calm”, members of the Palestinian leadership wryly noted that whenever a period of calm threatened to extend to seven days, they could always count on a “targetted killing” and an immediate violent response to dispel the threat of talks. Similarly, when the IDF attempted on 10 June 2003 to assassinate Dr. Abdulaziz Rantisi (the leading Hamas spokesman in the Gaza Strip), just days after the launch of the U.S.-backed road map for Middle East peace, a significant minority of Israelis came to the same conclusion as the PA leadership i.e. that assassination was being used not for their security, but as a political manoeuvre to remove the threat of negotiations from the Likud government:
Israelis have begun to wonder about the intentions of the prime minister and his defence minister, General Shaul Mofaz, after the failed attempt to kill Dr Rantissi. In an opinion poll 40% said the attack, which set off a week of killing that led to nearly 70 deaths on both sides, had been aimed at derailing the road map.
Some Palestinian leaders privately say that Mr Sharon's intention, in league with the army, is to force a conflict between Mr Dahlan's forces and Hamas.
"No one will force us into a conflict with Hamas," Mr Dahlan said. "Those who do not want a truce are Sharon and the Israeli army, and some leaders in Hamas. What do they want? They want to maintain the status quo because they have an interest in maintaining the status quo. "I told Sharon this: 'Convince me you want peace. I understand that Hamas does not need a truce, assuming they don't want peace. And you?' He was silent. He didn't like the comparison."
-- 'The real obstacle to peace is not terror...'; The Guardian, 20 June 2003.
Steve Niva, a professor of International Politics at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, who has researched the history of Palestinian suicide bombings since 1994, studied the pattern of suicide bombings during the current intifada to ascertain whether there really was a correlation between Palestinian truces and Israeli assassinations, as the PA leadership claimed. And he found that there was indeed evidence that the successive Likud governments practiced the apparently systematic use of assassinations and assaults on Palestinians during openly declared cease-fires on Israeli civilians.... He concluded that:
It is difficult to imagine that Sharon... or his intelligence advisers do not understand the consequences of these policies. In fact, the only conclusion one can draw is that either Sharon thought it so important to kill these militant leaders despite the bloody consequences for Israeli civilians, or that he took these actions precisely because he expected these consequences and cynically sought to reap the political gains...
-- A Predictable Cycle Of Violence; al-Ahram Weekly, 27 Feb 2003.
Three months after those conclusions were published, then-Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas succeeded in drawing the Palestinian militant factions into a comprehensive ceasefire (hudna). Abbas staked the credibility of his government on the continuation of the ceasefire, and on the hoped-for resumption of peace talks with Israel. The hudna lasted for six weeks, during which time Israeli civilians enjoyed a period of calm unprecedented since the beginning of the second intifada. When Hamas and PIJ withdrew from the hudna and returned to suicide bombings in the second week of August 2003, Mahmoud Abbas was rendered a lame duck PM, whose premiership shuffled on barely two more months before collapsing.
Shortly after the collapse of the hudna, Professor Niva revisited the subject of Palestinian suicide bombings, and analysed the specific course of events that brought the ceasefire to an end. He observed that, having respected the truce for six weeks, Hamas returned to suicide bombings with a series of attacks in Ariel and Tel Aviv on 12 August… four days after the IDF had assassinated Fayez al Sadr, the head of Hamas' Qassem Brigades in the Askar refugee camp in Nablus. The attacks of 12 August were carried out by two Hamas members also from Askar refugee camp, explicitly in retaliation for the assassination of al Sadr.
Similarly, having respected the truce for six weeks, PIJ resumed suicide bombings on 19 August… four days after the IDF assassinated Muhammed Sidr, the Hebron commander of Islamic Jihad. That killing prompted PIJ to warn that it would no longer maintain a ceasefire while Israel reserved the right to assassinate its leaders, and that it would respond quickly with a devastating strike inside Israel. With the suicide bombings of 12 and 19 August, the two leading Palestinian militant groups abandoned the ceasefire, which then collapsed. Considering that course of events, Steve Niva concluded:
[A] nearly certain predictor for a suicide bombing is when Israel assassinates a senior commander or political leader of a militant group, especially when it does so during, or in the negotiations for, a truce by these groups. Examples from the past few years include:* Israel's assassination of the two leading Hamas commanders in Nablus on July 31 2001 that put an end to a nearly two-month Hamas cease-fire on Israeli civilians, leading to the August 9 Hamas suicide bombing in a Jerusalem Sbarro pizzeria.
* Israel's assassination of the senior Hamas militant Mahmud Abu Hanoud on November 23, 2001 while Hamas was upholding an agreement with Arafat not to attack targets inside of Israel..., leading to the Jerusalem and Haifa Hamas suicide bombings on December 1 and 2.
* Israel's assassination of leading Fatah militant Raed Karmi on January 14, 2002 during a cease-fire declared by all the militant groups in late December, leading to the Fatah linked Al-Aqsa Martyr's Brigade first suicide bombing on January 27.
* Israel's July 23, 2002 air attack on a crowded apartment block in Gaza City that assassinated the senior Hamas military leader, Salah Shehada..., hours before a widely reported unilateral cease-fire declaration by the Fatah-linked Tanzim and Hamas, leading to the Hamas suicide bombing on August 4.
* Israel's assassination on December 26, 2002 of three prominent members from Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Al-Aqsa Martyr's Brigade while representatives from Fatah, Hamas and other factions were meeting in Cairo to formulate a cease-fire on Israeli civilians..., leading to the Al-Aqsa Martyr's Brigade suicide bombing on January 5, 2003 that killed twenty-two Israelis.
Given this striking pattern, it was no surprise that four out of the five recent suicide bombings came within a week of Israel's recent assassinations or attempted assassination of such high level militant commanders. All of them came during or in the process of negotiating the three-month truce against attacks on Israeli civilians that was implemented on June 29. Palestinian militant groups had very clearly stated that they would consider Israeli assassinations to be a violation of the truce and that they reserved the right to respond accordingly...
The only conclusion one can draw is that either Sharon thought it so important to kill these high level militant leaders at this time despite the bloody consequences for Israeli civilians, or that he took these actions precisely because he sought a violent Palestinian response. It appears that the only thing more threatening for Ariel Sharon's government than Palestinian terrorism is a Palestinian cease-fire.
-- Israel's Assassination Policy, Counterpunch, 27 August 2003
If Motti Morel would like to cast his eyes northward, he might be interested to find that there is a similar dynamic on the Israeli-Lebanese border to the one he describes in relation to the Palestinians.
From time to time we hear about a flare-up of violence between Hizbullah and the Israeli Army/Air Force on Israel’s northern border. Here in the U.S., the situation is generally portrayed in our mass media as terrorist Hizbullah launching unprovoked and often indiscriminate attacks on Israel; there is never any doubt that responsibility for the violence lies with the "terrorists", rather than with the long-suffering Israeli victims who attack Lebanese targets only as a reluctant last resort in the face of mindless terrorism, e.g.:
US Secretary of State Colin Powell blamed Hizbollah for forcing Israel to bomb the Shiite Muslim militia’s bases in southern Lebanon and called on Syria to cease all support for the group. “I think it’s unfortunate that Hizbollah once again has caused this need for a response,” Powell said. (Source)
Israel considers Lebanon's government responsible for the latest round of explosions in the Har Dov area on the Israel-Lebanon border, probably caused by rockets, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz told Israel Radio Friday morning. "But we will not be dragged toward an escalation" in the situation, Mofaz said. (Source)
If you can be bothered to unentangle each incident, and follow the thread back to the origin of every flare-up, it becomes apparent that the situation really isn’t that simple. For example, the Powell quote I cited above describes air raids that Israel carried out on Hizbullah targets after the Lebanese organization fired a missile over the border and killed an Israeli soldier in Israel in January 2004. At least that was the original rationale for them. But U.N. observers in South Lebanon witnessed the killing that sparked that flare-up, and reported that although Hizbullah had indeed fired a rocket that killed an Israeli soldier, they had actually fired it because the armored vehicle in which he was riding had crossed the border and was operating inside sovereign Lebanese territory. (Maybe it was one of Moshe Dayan's tractors from the Golan Heights). The IDF acknowledged that this was in fact the correct sequence of events, but only after the spiral of retaliatory violence had escalated far enough to make the killing a useful stick for beating Syria and Hizbullah “terrorism” at the UN Security Council, and well beyond the point at which anyone might usefully ask: Why did the IDF send that armored vehicle into Lebanon in the first place?
Similarly, the Mofaz quote I cited arose out of a flare-up that began when Hizbullah and Israeli troops shelled each other across the border in "a week of cross-border firing" (as the BBC put it) in May 2005, culminating in an Israeli bombing raid on four Hizbullah facilities in south Lebanon. Except that the cross-border exchanges didn’t just arise out of nowhere, as the BBC suggests, but began on 9 May 2005 when the IDF announced it had “accidentally” fired a shell into a deserted area of south Lebanon. (I’m not even going to waste a paragraph here wondering how much credence anyone would give to Hizbullah if that movement launched an attack on Israel and had no better explanation for it than “oops, accident”). And then that one errant shell turned out to be eight Israeli shells, and the supposed patch of wasteland they landed on turned out to be the outskirts of the Lebanese village of Kfarshouba, opposite the hotly-contested Shebaa Farms. And then, ten days after the shelling, Israel’s leading daily paper Yediot Ahronot reported from Israeli security sources that the escalating hostilities were not really accidental at all, but reflected a conscious decision by the Israeli government “… to test how high Hizbullah was willing to raise the flame this time…” (Alex Fishman, Yediot Aharonot Saturday Supplement, May 20, 2005; cited by Tanya Reinhart, According to Security Sources, Yediot Aharonot, 24 May 2005 [link]).
So while it was all very well for Shaul Mofaz to proclaim that Israel would “not be dragged toward an escalation", perhaps someone could have pointed out to him that there would have been no hostilities to escalate in the first place, if the Israeli government hadn’t lobbed its shells into Lebanon, “… to test how high Hizbullah was willing to raise the flame this time…”.
If you’re beginning to detect a pattern here, well, you should. Because Daniel Sobelman of Tel Aviv University's Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies conducted a detailed study of Hizbullah’s missile attacks on Israeli targets during the first four years since the IDF’s withdrawal from Lebanon in May 2000, and found that there really is a pattern to the flare-ups on Israel’s northern border. And it is precisely the opposite to the one that we are spoon-fed. It turns out that Hizbullah, far from instigating the violence through terror attacks on Israel’s northern border, in practice respects the 1967 border with Israel; while Israel, far from “retaliating” to Hizbullah attacks, persistently violates Lebanese sovereignty by carrying out “targetted assassinations” and military incursions inside Lebanon, and above all by repeatedly overflying Lebanese airspace, often in ways designed to terrorize the civilian population, e.g. by practising mock air raids on their villages and inflicting sonic booms over major population centers including Nabatiyah, Zahrani, Sidon, Baalbek and Beirut.
[A] new study showed that the firing of the antiaircraft missiles was not random, but came as a response to the IAF's violation of Lebanese airspace. "A comparison of IAF flight data with the data on the firing of the antiaircraft missiles shows a direct relationship between the violations and the firing," wrote Daniel Sobelman of Tel Aviv University's Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies.
Sobelman studied Hezbollah activities over the past four years and concluded that the Shi'ite organization actually wants to preserve the status quo created in the north after the IDF's departure from Lebanon. He found a clear contradiction between Hezbollah's declared ideology, which calls for the destruction of Israel, and the restrained policy that it actually implements, which is based on rules of behavior that have crystalized between it and Israel.
These rules are the name of the game, according to Sobelman, and Hezbollah follows them. The most important rule is "action-reaction," that is, Hezbollah responds to Israel's "aggressive acts." Among these are overflights of Lebanese territory, border crossings into Lebanon by IDF troops or targeted killings of the organization's members in Beirut. Thus, the firing last month at the two IDF soldiers who climbed the antenna of a fortification in the north came as a response to the killing of Hezbollah operative Ghaleb Awali. Two other incidents in which IDF soldiers were killed by Hezbollah occurred after IDF soldiers crossed the border fence….
-- Hezbollah plays by the rules; by Reuven Pedatzur, Ha'aretz, 16 Aug 2004.
So, how about that? It turns out that Hizbullah isn't so much "pushing the Jews into the sea" as responding in kind to an Israeli neighbour who seems unable to internalise the fact that if you cannot stop flaunting your military might in your neighbours' backyard, then you may well find that your neighbours insist on their right to lob anti-aircraft missiles into yours.
I think there are a variety of reasons why Israel tends to opt for military action as a first resort, even though it has been trying “just one more” military operation, one more invasion, one more wave of arrests, one more round of assassinations for years, and ended up with a "security" situation that is more precarious than it has ever been.
Probably the most important reason, and the one that underlies all the others, is that Israel suffers from the curse of overwhelming military superiority over its adversaries. Unfortunately, it enjoys that advantage at a time and in a context where overwhelming military superiority doesn’t count for very much. When the IDF evacuated south Lebanon in May 2000, Israeli Military Intelligence assessed the armed strength of Hizbullah to be about 325 men. Not only did that small group force the strongest army in the Middle East out of south Lebanon, but it now has the ability to hold Israel accountable for every violation of the border. If Israel wants to have peace on its northern border, it is going to have to reciprocate the respect for the 1967 border that Hizbullah effectively observes. And that is a bitter pill because reciprocity implies that you recognise the other side as in some sense your equal.
It is the same mindset that makes it difficult for Israel to treat Palestinian ceasefires as an opportunity for confidence-building, rather than an opportunity to continue incursions, assassinations, arrests and demolitions, but now without fear of reprisal. The alternative is to reciprocate the calm that the Palestinian factions are offering you, but in doing that you are acknowledging that the “terrorists” have the power of deterrence over you. And the fact that a people characterised by some of your own leaders and officials as “vermin”, “worms”, “dirty Arabs” and “genetic defects” “from another galaxy” etc., etc., whose missiles are milled in backstreet foundries and whose bombs are built on kitchen tables and held together with saran wrap, can force you to accept that there are limits to your military might is - as Gen, Shlomo Gazit has written - a difficult one for an occupying power to come to terms with. As long as Israel has leaders like Chief of Staff Moshe Ya’alon, who still cling to the belief that if you can just hit them a little bit harder for a little bit longer, it will be possible to “sear into the Palestinian consciousness that they are a defeated people”, it will continue to fight and win battle after battle, while the war gets less and less winnable:
"Do you know how many times we've celebrated the death of the last terrorist?" said Nahman Tal, a former senior Shin Bet operative… "We always raised our glasses for a toast, but all of a sudden there was another one. Sometimes the break lasted a year, sometimes a few years. But eventually it all returns."
For more than 40 years Tal pursued the Palestinians. After joining the service in January 1955 he worked the villages, after the Six Day War he moved to Gaza and Lebanon. There's nothing he hasn't seen, nothing was hidden from him. "Stupidity" is how he describes what he saw.
He rose through the ranks and survived all the wars and watched everything that transpired in Beirut and in the Balata refugee camp. "You will never subdue a group in the midst of a nationalist rebellion," he told me. "You know how many victory parties I've attended to celebrate our victory over terrorism?"
Secondly, there are also what you might call "seasonal factors". And right now, as Motti Morel pointed out, it’s Israeli election season. To be more precise, it’s election season and the Labour Party is running on an economic and social platform against a government that is running on a security platform. And the one thing that a government running with a message of “vote for us because only we can keep you safe” really needs, is for the electorate to remember to be afraid. Not horrifically – buses blowing up on a weekly basis – afraid (that just plays into Netanyahu's hands); just the kind of afraid that keeps your mind focussed on the security issues, and that you get from the lower impact terrorism of Qassams fired at Sderot or the occasional Katyusha landing on Kiryat Shmona. Anybody who rejects a negotiated, compromise peace has an advantage in an Israeli election campaign because just a single suicide bomb, extra-judicial assassination or Qassam rocket immediately focusses the debate away from “I can provide better education, housing and jobs” to “Those people you’re scared of? I can kill more of them than my opponent”, which suits you much better. And that is why an election campaign in which an Israeli government runs on a security platform is likely to end up being accompanied by a flare up of violence with Hizbullah on the northern border, and/or escalating military operations against Palestinians in the Occupied Territories.
The third reason the Israeli government chooses, and will continue to choose, military action over diplomacy is that the policy it has developed over the past five years vis-a-vis the Palestinians actually depends on there being no calm, no negotiations and no “partner for peace”. As former Meretz chief Yossi Sarid pointed out a year ago, nothing has scared Israeli governments during this intifada as much as the ugly threat of easing tensions and renewed negotiations:
In the Jan. 3 Ha'aretz, Yossi Sarid, chairman of the Meretz party, wrote, "What does frighten Sharon ... is any prospect or sign of calm or moderation. If the situation were to calm down and stabilize, Sharon would have to return to the negotiating table and, in the wake of pressure from within and without, he would have to raise serious proposals for an agreement. This moment terrifies Sharon and he wants to put it off for as long as he possibly can." In contrast, Sarid said that Sharon understands "that the terrorists and those who give them asylum are not the real enemies. Instead, the real enemies are the moderates.... You fight terrorists—a pretty simple operation—but you must talk with moderates, and this is a very tricky, if not dangerous, business."
This is especially true now, when the Gaza disengagement is over, and thoughts are turning to what comes next. The Israelis got an huge amount of leeway to do whatever they wanted in the run-up to the disengagement: reneging on promised prisoner releases, reneging on promises to ease restrictions on movement, reneging on the commitment to end violence against Palestinians that it made at Sharm el-Sheikh, creating facts on the ground by annexing Palestinian land through the construction of the wall, cutting off the Palestinians of East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank, adding 30,000 new housing units in the remaining illegal settlements, etc., etc. And the only people who could have stopped this, namely the U.S. Administration, said nothing, on the grounds that the disengagement was such an important “first step” for peace that no pressure could be brought upon the Israelis for fear of derailing it. As long as the Israeli government could point to a future withdrawal from Gaza, it could avoid any discussion of the future of the West Bank, the refugees, Jerusalem, etc. - all those final status issues that it is absolutely unwilling to deal with.
Meanwhile, the Palestinians rolled their eyes, and wondered if we were complicit in what Israel was doing, or whether we were just stupid enough to believe our own rhetoric about the disengagment being a “painful concession” for peace. Because they could see perfectly well that the disengagement from Gaza was actually a unilateral reorganisation of the Israeli occupation, that gave up about 20 small and hard to defend Gaza settlements in order to buy time for the unilateral annexation of a large chunk of the West Bank, especially East Jerusalem:
The Palestinians aren't counting on Sharon. Nazmi Jubeh, one of the Palestinian signatories on the Geneva understandings and close to the PA leadership, was in a Netanya living room meeting on Sunday with Yossi Beilin, and explained what the prime minister looks like as seen from Ramallah. In fluent Hebrew, Jubeh said that "under cover of the disengagement from Gaza, Sharon will complete the separation fence and expand settlement construction in the West Bank, west of the fence. He will say that Israel is only taking 8 percent of the West Bank and that we should establish our state in temporary borders on the remaining land, without East Jerusalem and without a solution to the refugee problem."
Jubeh says that he does not know a single Palestinian leader who would buy that merchandise, and warns that if Israel doesn't reach a deal with Abu Mazen in the next four years on the basis of the Geneva accords, the Israelis won't have anyone to talk to about a two-state arrangement.
-- Apres disengagement, le deluge; Ha'aretz, 24 March 2005.
Well, now the disengagement is over and surprise, surprise, the Palestinians were right. On 2 January 2006, the Israeli newspaper Maariv reported that Israel had no plans to renew the peace process or reach a diplomatic solution in cooperation with the Palestinians, but planned instead to ditch the road map altogether, and unilaterally annex the parts of the West Bank and East Jerusalem that it particularly covets.
Who could have seen that coming?
Well, to be honest, anyone could. Because for at least twenty years, Sharon’s goal for the Palestinians has been not a two state solution but confinement instead inside a series of South African-style “tribal homelands” in the Gaza Strip and on the 45% or so of the West Bank where they are most concentrated. This is what the Israeli government has been frenetically creating over the past four years with its wall-building and house demolitions, the settlement of the Jordan Valley and the construction of the “Jewish-only” bypass roads with their accompanying “sterile” zones that Palestinians may not enter; so that today the only land left to the Palestinians is this (map left, click to enlarge). [Footnote 2].
The Israelis know perfectly well that that there isn't a Palestinian anywhere who will sign on for peace with Israel based on that rorshach-test of a state, and that the only hope of carrying out such a policy lies in avoiding talks and relying on unilateralism. Of course no wants to be seen as unreasonable or unwilling to sit down and talk, so for the last five years it has been important for Israel to find an excuse that puts the blame for the absence of negotiations on the PA. For the longest time, the excuse was Arafat, but then – proving that you really can't rely on the Arabs for anything – the awkward old bugger expired. Since then, the Israeli government has fallen back on its esoteric reinterpretation of the road map, inserting a "pre-Stage One phase" in which the PA must first "dismantle the infrastructure of terror". Many Israelis understand this is just a stalling manoeuvre to preempt the danger of diplomatic progress but, as Zvi Bar'el pointed out, it works like a charm on a U.S. Administration that treats anything containing the word "terror" with the same clear-headed logic as a baby contemplating a shiny object:
According to the road map peace plan issued in Israel in April 2003, the Palestinians must "commence" confiscation of illegal weapons and not, as Israel claims, complete the collection process. In any case, this is only one of two conditions that are cited as part of the war against the infrastructure of terror. The main condition is an unequivocal cease-fire declaration and consolidation of security authority in the PA. The first condition has been fulfilled and the latter is in the process of being implemented.
The parallel condition demanded of Israel is stopping attacks against civilians and demolition of homes and, in particular, freezing all construction in the settlements. Israel is not fulfilling these conditions, nor its commitments from the agreements reached at the Sharm el-Sheikh summit. Settlement construction continues unabated, and the Israel Defense Forces are still targeting wanted Palestinians in the territories.
Okay, in such a "critical period," when Israel is about to implement the disengagement, everything is forgiven. In fact, "everything is forgiven" also held true before Israel faced the disengagement plan. But now, when we've just begun to stop panicking every time a vehicle's engine backfires, and when it is possible to travel behind a bus without hurrying to pass it, when more people are killed in nightclubs than on the roads of Gaza or Ramallah, and when Hamas is busy counting municipal council seats and with the parliamentary elections looming in another two months - Israel is again pushing the button that blocks the peace process.
The condition this time, of course, is to "first confiscate the weapons and then we'll transfer control of the cities to you.".
Therefore, it is preferable to wait, delay and block - even at the expense of a few terror attacks, or perhaps the collapse of the cease-fire or the fall of Abu Mazen - as long as the road map remains a mute map. The tactic used for this end is to demand the confiscation of weapons. It is interesting that the Americans, who granted broad authority to the Iraqi government without precondition and who took such pride in the formation of an independent government in Afghanistan (which also did not succeed in confiscating weapons) have failed to see through this maneuver.
-- The pretext behind 'confiscating weapons', Ha'aretz, 8 May 2005.
After the Palestinian elections on 25 January, the pretext will probably be “but Hamas is in government, and we can’t negotiate with terrorists”. Or perhaps Israel will go back to the “first they must deliver seven days of calm”, safe in the knowledge that it knows how to disrupt any extended calm that threatens to descend on it. You can’t be sure what the reason will be, but you can be sure that there will be one, because a government whose policy depends on the absence of dialogue has to avoid substantive talks at all cost. And that is why Motti Morel is unlikely to see the end of targetted killings any time soon: they are simply too useful to a government that needs just a little bit of terror. They are the 21st century equivalent of Moshe Dayan’s tractors: you wheel them out whenever you want to raise the temperature, because you never know when you'll need an excuse to keep opting for unilateralism over cooperation.
(1) Danny Rubinstein noted the symbiotic relationship between the IDF and Palestinian Islamic Jihad in a recent round of targetted assassination and suicide bombing. He pointed out how both sides exaggerated the importance and threat of assassinated activist Luay Saadi: the IDF, so it could justify killing him on 22 Ocotber 2005; and the PIJ, so that it could justify a retaliatory suicide bombing in Hadera on 26 October. (Justification for a terror attack; 27 Oct 2005).
(2) The map is adapted from the PLO NAD's "Israel’s Walls and Settlements, August 2005", online here.