Israel’s policy of assassinating Palestinian activists and leaders has now escalated to touch the very highest tiers of Palestinian leadership, supposedly in response to the provocation of Palestinian suicide bombings. This change marks a new wider shift in the tenor and very nature of the longstanding Palestinian-Israeli conflict and confrontations.
While it is easy to view the killing of Sheikh Ahmad Yassin as part of the ongoing escalation of violence between the two sides, that view is also simplistic. One must explore the strategic roots of this ever-growing phenomenon, and that question must turn the focus on the Israeli government as the only variable that has changed since the breakdown in talks.
We now have a government in Israel that is responsible for transforming the nature of our struggle. Previously, Palestinians and Israelis were more or less in agreement over the guidelines to the solution–basically the two state solution as stipulated in the terms of reference of the peace process and international legality. The differences between the two sides were not minor, but they all were located in determining the details of this solution. For example, at the 2000 Camp David talks, agreement broke down over various details of how to implement two states: the percentage of Israel’s withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza, the borders that would be drawn between the two states, which settlements would be dismantled, how to solve the refugee issue, how to divide Jerusalem, and so on.
Since then, a revolution has taken place. The peace camp in Israel is entirely marginalized and those groups that opposed the peace process are now in power. That opposition has capitalized on this new reality and succeeded in transferring the conflict and confrontations from a discussion over the details of creating two neighboring states to an existential conflict. This Israeli government has spent most of its energies trying to negate the possibility of establishing a Palestinian state by reoccupying the territories of the Palestinian Authority and gradually emasculating the Palestinian Authority itself.
This new character of the conflict naturally brings new levels of confrontation. It is useful to remember that Israel tried the assassination policy on the Palestinian leadership in previous phases of the struggle, namely before the initiation of the peace process and at a time when the two sides had not yet decided to compromise, but were still trying to wipe each other out. The 1960s and 70s witnessed a great number of Israeli assassinations of leaders of the Palestine Liberation Organization.
But Israel did not learn its lesson. Those assassinations only succeeded in intensifying the confrontations and increasing determination among Palestinians to continue the fight. The same can be said for the current round of political eliminations. Assassinations strengthen Palestinian hostility, and consequently provide a backbone for the ongoing violence.
But let us make no mistakes. Those Israelis who understand Palestinian political structures and aspirations also knew in advance the likely outcome of this assassination for the Palestinian balance of power. Therefore, if they were trying to systematically tilt this balance further against the Palestinian Authority, the peace camp, and the secular camp, then they have made no mistakes.