Sunday, January 13, 2002

What to Do, What to Do

The biggest news story last week by far was Israel's spectacular seizure of the "Karine A." The vessel was a cargo ship loaded with 50 tons of weapons including anti-tank, anti-aircraft, and long-range Katyushka rockets with long enough range to be capable of hitting any city in Israel, plus C4 explosives for suicide bombers and more accurate mortars to assist the Palestinian militias in targeting Israeli towns and villages. The vessel was loaded in Yemen with arms shipped from Iran. It then proceeded up the Red Sea along the Saudi coast and was to dock in Cairo. In Cairo, the cargo was to be transferred to three smaller "fishing" vessels and transported to waters bordering the Palestinian Authority areas of Gaza and the Egyptian controlled Sinai Desert. The weapons were all wrapped in a watertight plastic seal. They were to have been dropped in the water near the coastline, later to be picked up by fishing vessels originating from the Palestinian Authority. The weapons delivered to Egyptian Sinai were to be smuggled into Gaza by means of underground tunnels to bypass Israeli border control.

The skillfully planned operation unraveled when Israeli commandos boarded the vessel at 4:00 AM while it was en route in the Red Sea, 500 Kilometers from Israel, capturing the entire crew by surprise in "Operation Noah's Ark." The captain said he woke up in his bunk to find a gun in his face. The ship was then detoured to Israel's southern port of Eilat where the weapons were put on display for all to see, and the politicians and big-shots all said this proved Yassir Arafat had no intention of keeping the cease-fire, wants a war, etc., etc. Critics said that the government could have waited until the vessel came to Israel and was cynically timed to coincide with General Zinni's visit to Israel, as well as to provide a morale boost, but it seems clear that it was much easier to seize all the weapons at once than wait for them to be transferred to three different ships, forcing the military to waste lives and time digging up tunnels and chasing fishing boats around.

The seizure provided both a major morale boost and a major political victory. The capture was probably the first "clean" victory in the last 15 months, which did not skirt into gray areas of international law, did not involve injury to any civilians, and most importantly did not result in casualties for either the good guys or the bad guys.

Politically, it has been a godsend. Israel was just inches from coming under pressure for freezing settlement construction, a move which would "spark a further escalation in the cycle of violence," as the papers like to put it, by providing a concrete and material victory for terrorism as a means of political advancement. The sheer magnitude, as well as the offensive nature, of the weapons makes it clear that the Palestinian leadership is planning for some sort of "final showdown" against Israel.

Of course most of the world tried to shrug its shoulders. There were calls of, "Maybe it's supposed to go to Hizbullah in Lebanon," or, "Nobody can be sure that it came from Iran," or, "Arafat probably just didn't know," all of which would have been deniable if the military had followed the decision of its critics and decided not to seize the vessel early but waited until it approached Israeli waters. By capturing the vessel intact and the crew alive, there was no shortage of evidence to parade around. Take, for instance, the captain of the vessel, Omar Akawi, who, being a total idiot, agreed to be interviewed with reporters and openly spoke of receiving his orders to proceed with the mission after the September 11th attacks and even after Arafat had declared his cease-fire last month, and receiving those orders directly from the highest levels of the Palestinian Authority. Also, by having captured all the weapons intact, the government was able to make fools out of those trying to pretend the weapons didn't come from Iran by pointing out that the writing on the weapons themselves was in Farsi. After initial hesitation, even the United States State Department, whose talent for selective amnesia is legendary, came out and announced that they concurred, the weapons came from Iran and were ordered by Arafat, and Arafat had better do some explaining. Arafat agreed to launch an investigation, which is as credible as Al Capone launching an internal probe of his organization to determine who was behind all those tax fraud allegations.

Of course, Islamic Jihad and Hamas disavowed their earlier cease-fire declarations and Hamas launched an attack which killed four Bedouin Israeli soldiers on the Israel side of the border. Israel then retaliated by destroying several structures near the location of the attack. The Palestinians claim they were homes, Israel says that they were being used by the Palestinian Authority. It seems that they were actually both, and that the families who owned the homes had used them to dig tunnels under the border to Egypt to assist with weapons smuggling. The navy then sank a vessel belonging to the captain of the arms ship, and the army re-destroyed the rebuilt runway of the Gaza airport.

While the capture of the Karine A was a major victory for Israel, it doesn't signify any major shift in the overall struggle, but is part of a gradual trend. During the previous elections, the debate between the left and the right was between continuing with negotiations and making concessions during war versus unleashing Israel's military might. Of course, the vast majority voted for the latter, but what they got was a toned down version. Sharon's strategy seems to be closer to a gradual escalation and slow burn than the "final showdown" that Arafat wants. The reasons for this are simple. In the early 1990's, Arafat was given diplomatic legitimacy by the United States and Israel. This means that he can kiss cheeks with the leaders of not only backward totalitarian states like China and Iran, but also the United States and the free world, without incident. If, at the beginning of his term, Sharon had simply "sent in the troops" and brought the level of the conflict up to what it is now in one blow, destroying the Gaza airport, closing the borders, setting up a long-term presence in Palestinian-controlled "area A," destroying Palestinian Authority governmental institutions, and keeping Yassir Arafat caged in Ramallah, the United Nations would have easily passed a resolution to send "peacekeepers" to the territories and the United States would have been too shocked and embarrassed to stop it with a veto. Arafat's dream has always been to provoke a Tienamen-square style massacre of his people which would generate the necessary sympathy for him to internationalize the conflict, and might land Ariel Sharon in the defendant's chair next to Slobodan Milosevich for war crimes to boot. The credibility and intentions Palestinian Authority and Yassir Arafat had not yet been delegitimized in the eyes of the Bush administration as they had been in the eyes of Israelis. The conclusion was therefore drawn that the United States must realize that Arafat is not a legitimate leader on its own. This process started when Powell came to the region to try to calm tensions, only to be discredited by the continuation of the violence. Then came by far the biggest knock to the Palestinian Authority, the September 11th attacks. While this did not completely delegitimize the Palestinian Authority, it definitely brought about the realization that more often than not, the roots of terrorism are not legitimate political demands and grievances but just blind hatred. Later, Bush announced that he still favored a "Palestinian State." which was echoed by everybody down the American diplomatic chain of command. It was expected that this major endorsement, the first by an American President, would be met with some sort of Palestinian answer in the form of scaling down the conflict, but instead Arafat launched a wave of suicide attacks, which further embarrassed the United States. After that came Zinni's first mission to Israel in December to try to secure a cease-fire, which was met by the worst wave of suicide attacks on Israeli civilians yet, infuriating and making a fool of Zinni. "Operation Noah's Ark" is just one more nail in the coffin of the Palestinian Authority's legitimacy, proving that even when Arafat has a cease-fire on, he is also planning a major escalation and cannot be taken seriously.

While the left wing is still understandably moaping about with their heads in their hands sobbing about the failure of the Oslo process, I am disappointed that nobody among the right wing seems to be asking themselves, "How can Israel get out of this mess?" Every action that the government takes is simply a reaction to an Arab action. Israel, with its massive military superiority and the full backing of the United States, is still playing defense against a few bands of loosely confederated low-tech terrorists. The right wing of the government, having had a much more realistic picture of the true nature of Palestinian intentions, is finally in a position of overwhelming public support and is capable of achieving a solution which would guarantee Israel's future. Sharon is the first prime minister since Rabin who is able to dedicate resources to more than just his own day-to-day political survival. The propaganda posters all over Israel today read "Zeh Byadayim Shelanu!" (It's in our hands!) yet there do not seem to be any initiatives or new ideas coming forth from the best and the brightest of Likkud on how to get out of this political tar pit. If they don't start talking about a long-term solution, then they are going to lose public support.

What would be required to reach a solution? Before a solution can be reached, Israel must come to several conclusions.

First and foremost, the conclusion must be reached that there will never be a true peace. There may someday be a Pax Israela, a peace based on the fear of what Israel is going to do if attacked, but never a mutual agreement of coexistence. The Arabs deem Israel to be illegitimate, the Jews to be alien foreigners, and all of Israel to be their rightful property. The Palestinian leadership has publicly announced that they are modeling the current intifada on Hizbullah’s fight against Israel in southern Lebanon. That war went on for twenty years, and I expect that the Palestinians are prepared to go on for at least that long, considering they have nothing to lose. There is nothing Israel can say or do to change their opinion. "From the (Jordan) river to the (Mediterranean) sea" is the usual Palestinian refrain when asked what boundaries they expect to encompass their future state, which doesn't leave anything for the Jews.
Secondly, negotiations are not the way. Israel has learned the hard way that negotiating with Palestinians is a catch-22. If Israel gives nothing, then it is perceived by the Palestinians as an oppressor and the enemy. When Israel makes concessions, it is regarded as weak. After all, if the Israelis are making concessions, the logic goes, then they must be frightened of us Palestinians! Any concessions of land, guns, and money which were made in negotiations during the last decade are now being used to attack Israel. It must be assumed that this trend will continue. There is no diplomatic solution to the conflict, and no agreement will be reached.
Third, Israel cannot continue to hold all of the territories because that would necessitate absorbing enough Arabs that they would soon become a majority, forcing Israel to either give up on being a Jewish democracy or set up a minority-rule system which spells endless internal conflict plus total diplomatic illegitimacy. “Shipping them out” is not an option because Israel, a country without natural resources, would probably be slapped with debilitating economic sanctions. Therefore, by process of elimination, the only option that remains is ceding territory. Both Likkud and Labor prime ministers have done exactly that, but that was with a partner whose declared goal, at least in English, was to coexist with Israel. Today, there is no partner for coexistence, and withdrawing from territory will definitely be perceived as caving in to terrorism and is bound to encourage more of the same. Israel’s situation today is often compared to France’s situation in Algeria, in which a colonial power, France, was forced to withdraw from a colonized people, the Algerians, due to terrorism. In the end, the move brought peace to France and freedom (and chaos) to Algeria. However, the two cases are not analogous in that Algeria had no claims on France, France had no historical claim to Algeria, and France had the Mediterranean Sea to protect it from further attacks from Algeria. None of these are true with Israel and the Palestinians.

In my opinion, Israel should redraw its own borders without regard to any previous borders, be they those of Area A,B, and C from the Oslo accords, the 1967 cease-fire lines, or the 1947 partition resolution from the UN, all three of which are now null and void due to Arab military attacks. It must do so in concert with the Bush II administration, which will provide diplomatic legitimacy to the moves. The Bush II administration is currently very sympathetic towards Israel’s dilemma and this sympathy and understanding, which is not guaranteed indefinitely, must be taken advantage of. Israel should draw clean, straight, short borders or make use of natural boundaries that would provide Israel with a defensive edge. These borders should also include some Arab villages in pre-1967 Israel which are close to the territories, thus allowing Israel to jettison much of its Arab population. During negotiations with the Palestinians at Taba, Barak offered to give up territory inside pre-1967 Israel in exchange for the Palestinians’ relinquishing territory inside post-1967 Israel. The right and left both reacted with horror, the right because this could later be used to justify further territorial demands inside pre-1967 Israel, the left because many kibbutzim and towns, which they had assumed to be immune from the “painful sacrifices” they were asking the settlers to make, were suddenly on the chopping block. I believe that in the context of a unilateral solution, such a withdrawal would give the diplomatic initiative to Israel. The Palestinians are now claiming that they want 100% of the land up to the June 4th 1967 border. However, they have also claimed that they will take any land vacated by Israel. Israel, by withdrawing from a very small area of land packed with Arabs on the Israeli side of the border, will force the Palestinians to change their demands, because demanding a Palestinian state on all of the land occupied in 1967 would necessitate a voluntary Palestinian withdrawal from land in pre-1967, something which they can never do. Such a move would effectively eliminate the June 4th, 1967 border.

The Israeli Army, being out-manned and out-gunned, has always despised fortifications and relied more heavily on the combination of offense, intelligence, and chutzpah (nerve), such as the capture of the Karine A last week, than defense. However, a withdrawal from some of the territories need not necessitate that Israel stop entering them militarily for targeted interceptions, destroying weapons factories, or to make arrests. It is better to focus on both offense and defense. Israel can also mount a stronger defense today than it could in 1967 because technology, from satellite scanning to electronic motion-sensing security fences, is at a much higher level now.

At the same time, areas with religious or strategic significance should be maintained and built up. Perhaps a massive settlement construction campaign in Hebron, the second holiest city of Judaism, should commence to strengthen the Jewish hold on that city. Any settlers in settlements which are in the territory which is to be ceded to the Palestinians could then be offered free housing in Hebron instead, an offer which is sure to attract many of the idealists and dreamers. Any settlers who wish to remain in their settlements should be allowed to do so, and these settlements should be defended as Islands, with armored convoys taking them to and from “Contiguous Israel” as was the situation with the Hebrew University campus in East Jerusalem before 1967. No Jew should ever be driven from his home in Eretz Israel, ever. Meanwhile, measures should be taken with Arabs living in “Contiguous Israel” to ensure some sort of reciprocity in the relationship between the Israeli Arabs and the Israeli government. Anyone even remotely associated with the Palestinian Authority or preaching the destruction of the State of Israel should have his or her citizenship revoked, as is already permitted by a law passed in the Knesset. Don’t make them move, but don’t let them vote. Meanwhile, those Arab villages and cities that express a desire to coexist, such as Abu Ghosh near Jerusalem, should receive the lion’s share of the money and resources from the state to help them better themselves.

It can be expected that any military withdrawal from areas to be handed over to the Arabs will be accompanied by an increase in violence. This was the case with Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon. Hizbullah, which knew that the withdrawal was coming because Barak had announced it in advance, stepped up their military campaign against the Israeli Army in anticipation of the move in order to be able to claim victory. Under a barrage of mortars and rockets, the Israeli Army raced out a full month early! The politicians declared victory, “No soldiers lost!” they proudly announced, not realizing that the Palestinians were watching and, based on Hizbullah’s victory, planning an intifada which has now taken hundreds of Israeli lives. Therefore, the Israeli must always respond to fire with even more fire, especially during a withdrawal. No mortar or missile attacks can go unanswered; no building from which gunfire emanates can be left standing. Nixon had to bomb Hanoi to get America out of Vietnam.

In the long run, I really believe that this is the only way. Most right wing Israelis have come to the realization that Israel can’t hold all the land, and most left wing Israelis have come to the realization that there will never be peace. Israel finally has a stable and trustworthy prime minister, and I think it is only a matter of time before some sort of unilateral option is exercised.

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