Since the Arab summit conference in Amman concluded with a set of ineffective resolutions last March, Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza have been on the receiving end of Israeli bombardment. Houses, offices and hospitals are among the targets. The weaponry used includes bulldozers, machine-guns, tanks, artillery, gunboats and Apache helicopters. By also targeting the offices and headquarters of some Palestinian Authority (PA) security agencies, it is evident that the Israelis are desperate. Their punitive measures are aimed at forcing the PA to contain the situation in Palestinian towns, villages and camps in the West Bank and Gaza and to comply with Israeli conditions for the resumption of peace talks.
Perhaps the Israelis believe they can do to the PA what they did to the PLO previously in Lebanon. The Israeli invasion of Lebanon in the early 1980s led to a series of defeats suffered by the PLO all the way from the south of Lebanon to Beirut. The Israeli campaign eventually succeeded in the expulsion of the PLO from the whole of Lebanon. The brutal use of force against PA institutions in the West Bank and Gaza is probably aimed at warning the PA that it has no option but to comply. Obviously, the objective of the Israelis could not be the destruction of the PA altogether; it would be insane to do so without securing an alternative partner in the urgently needed ‘peace-making’ process. Such an alternative is clearly unavailable for no Palestinian today would want to be seen as doing Israel’s dirty work on its behalf. Today, even the PA is under enormous pressure from the Palestinian public as well as from its own Fatah cadres to no longer give in to the Israelis.
Having failed to quell the first intifada, which erupted in December 1987, ‘peace-making’ has, since the early 1990s, been an Israeli requirement. But the Israelis, thanks to unconditional U.S. support on the one hand and PA acquiescence on the other, have grown increasingly arrogant and choosy. They have been allowed, at least until the eruption of the second intifada last September, to dictate the terms of peace.
But the Israelis delude themselves if they think that the exit from their predicament lies in doing to the PA today what they did to the PLO in the past. The Palestinians who are being bombarded today in Gaza and the West Bank are not guests in somebody else’s land. They clearly have nowhere else to go and they definitely intend not to allow the Israelis to uproot them from their land. Had the PA been the source of Israeli discomfort, and had getting rid of it been a solution to today’s problem, the Israelis would have easily done away with it. The real confrontation is with the people who have been there all along and who were the promoters of both intifadas. Furthermore, the PA is not composed simply of the Tunisian PLOï¿½Arafat and his close associatesï¿½that came into the land as a result of ‘peace-making’. The local cadres of Fatah, who have been a principal element of both intifadas, constitute the backbone of the PA without whom it simply has no existence. Inasmuch as the PLO has contributed to the corruption of social, political and economic aspects of life in the West Bank and Gaza, the institutions it has set up for the purpose of ‘peace-making’ have gradually adopted domestic characters and dimensions and cannot thus be easily extricated from local life.
What the Israelis seem to need is more time to learn that no matter what oppressive measures they adopt against the Palestinians, terror only begets terror. In view of their experience in Lebanon, one would have expected the Israelis to grow wiser. But not only did Israelis find difficulty understanding this but also the Western world seems more confused than ever. And that is not because of lack of coverage of the events in Palestine, but because of lack of well-informed objective analysis of these events.
The Western media, which reflects Western concern that the peace process may have completely collapsed, cannot afford to ignore developments in Palestine. However, the media usually reports savagery in the Holy Land with little, if any, meaningful explanation. The merciless, sometimes indiscriminate, Israeli bombardment of the civilian Palestinian population under siege in their own land is alleged to be in response to Palestinian attacks on Israeli targets. Not only is little information given about the roots of the conflict, very little attention is paid to the fact that Israeli military occupation is what provokes the Palestinians in the very first place. No mention is made of the fact that despite seven years of ‘peace-making’, Palestinians have continued to be killed almost on a daily basis, their houses continued to be demolished and their land confiscated. No reference is made to the fact that Jewish settlers, who are a constant reminder to the Palestinians of the theft perpetrated against them, continue to violate Palestinian rights with impunity benefiting from a cover of blessing and protection rendered to them by Israeli politicians and effected on the ground by Israeli occupation troops.
As seen by Western eyes, this is a vicious cycle of violence and counter-violence. Indeed, this is what it exactly is. Especially since the end of September, Israelis and Palestinians have been engaged in one of the most unconventional battles in the history of the region. Provoked by occupation, humiliation and oppression, Palestinians fight back throwing stones at first but eventually resorting to the only truly lethal weapon available to them, human bombs. Israeli politicians, under pressure from a confused and panicking public that has been promised security and peace of mind, retaliate by ordering the unleashing of a barrage of lethal weapons from amongst the most advanced U.S.-made death and destruction-causing technology made unconditionally available to them.
In a pathetic response to Palestinian suffering and Israeli savagery, the Arab summit conference in Amman had nothing to offer save a few words of sympathy and a decision to pay the PA a few million dollars a month to enable it to pay the salaries of its employees, who have not been paid for months as a result of Israel’s withholding of tax receipts due to the PA as stipulated by previous agreements. In fact, not much more could be expected from the Arab leaders who, as usual, came to the summit carrying with them the bitter experiences of the past decades. Perhaps only those who have only recently joined the political club in the Arab region, namely King Abdullah II of Jordan and President Bashar of Syria, were not burdened by the past. As for the others, they were so divided over so many issues that apart from speaking one language (literally speaking), there seemed to be nothing else in common among them. Arabs may hope for a better Arab summit meeting when more new faces occupy the front seats in the conference hall. This is not likely to take long since most of the current occupants are so archaic and have been waiting to take the next train out of their station.
No better example explains the impact of the burden of the past, which today translates into personal incompatibility and conflict-on-sight, than the impasse over the question of sanctions imposed on Iraq.
However, over the issue of Palestine, it is not this burden of bitterness and hatred that is standing in the way of meaningful action. Arab governments continue to live in a state of utter fear from Israel and the United States of America. The ruling elite in every one of these countries has grown to be so modernist that faith plays no role in their thinking. They are so captivated by the power of the prevailing world order that nothing else contributes to their vision of the future. Thus, the increasingly widening gap between the masses and those who govern them in the Arab region.
In spite of a century of modernization (a combination of both secularization and Westernization), the Muslim peoples of the world do not share the fears of their rulers. They look up to examples of history, both ancient and recent, where truth and justice won the battle against falsehood and oppression despite the seeming inequality of opportunity and apparent imbalance of power. In a nutshell, the masses are eager to fight while the rulers hate to hear the word ‘jihad’.
The plight of the Palestinians is augmented by the lack of official Arab action in their support. Arab rulers, in their summit conferences as well as in various political manoeuvrings, are primarily concerned with preventing a spill-over that may lead to an escalation, which may in turn end up in a regional conflict. They are so defeated, morally, that they do not doubt for a minute that Israel has the power to win any war against the Arabs even if they were to stand united against it. It is no wonder that many Israelis feel reassured that the Arabs outside Palestine post no real threat to them.
The Israeli attack on a Syrian radar station in Lebanon, with the clear intention of forcing Syria to emasculate Hizbullah, could not have taken place had the Arabs been sending nothing but conciliatory gestures to the Israelis. There is hardly much Syria can do on its own and the Israelis know this all too well. Other Arabs may join the Americans and Europeans in calling on all parties to exercise self-restraint, but no more. The Israelis could easily be deterred only if the Arab countries bordering Palestine were to relax their border control. Millions of Arabs and Muslims would be willing to offer themselves for what they consider to be the noblest of all causes. Experience has proven beyond doubt that Israeli military might is rendered ineffective in the face of guerrilla warfare. If Arab armies are not ready to deter Israel yet, opening the borders for those longing for martyrdom will turn the lives of Israelis into hell. Then and only then may Israeli leaders think twice, and perhaps more than twice, before they attack Palestinian or Arab targets.
Dr. Azzam Tamimi is director of of the London-based Institute of the Islamic Political Thought.