Truth be told, given the irreversible nature of the ongoing Israeli military operation and given the nature of the United States administration’s position, it is very difficult to see any way out of the current bloodshed. This Israeli reoccupation of Palestinian-controlled land is creating its own dynamic that will be very difficult to reverse, in particular because the Israeli government seems not only to be applying pressure or weakening the Palestinian Authority, but entirely eliminating Palestinian security capabilities.
In addition, by officially declaring President Yasser Arafat and the Authority as enemies of Israel, the government led by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has eliminated any political negotiations role for the Palestinian Authority. The goal clearly seems to be to leave the Palestinian Authority with no other role but that of administrator.
The Palestinian side refused the Zinni amendments to the Tenet and Mitchell papers precisely because they included clauses that legalized, in effect, what Israel is doing right now. In other words, Israel had a plan to downgrade the Authority, which it pursued first through security negotiations, and then when this failed, through force.
In this, the Israeli government has two main motives–first, Sharon’s strategic objective of reversing the peace process, its achievements and its agreements, due to his ideological objections to territorial compromise and his desire to maintain Israeli control over all of historical Palestine, and second (and more immediate), the goal of forcing the Palestinian Authority to accept Israel’s ceasefire terms, which permit Israel to play a security role in the Palestinian territories.
There is no doubt that Israel has won the media and public relations aspect of this ongoing battle, particularly in the United States, simply by deluding the public and officials to believe that all this onslaught is simply a reaction to Palestinian suicide bombings. It is little noted that when Israel entered Palestinian refugee camps for one week, killing an average of 15 Palestinians, largely civilians, on a daily basis, Palestinian, Israeli and foreign analysts all said that Israel was inviting a violent Palestinian reaction.
As such, Palestinians sometimes wonder about the specific nature of the American concern over suicide bombings. Is that concern so strong because these terrible attacks are suicidal and therefore seemingly irrational and unstoppable, or is that concern intensified because these attacks result in extensive civilian casualties? If the concern is over civilian casualties, then it is only fair that Americans should be equally concerned over Palestinian civilian casualties from Israeli army actions, seen here as a form of state terrorism of an entire populace.
There is one difference between Palestinian suicide attacks against Israeli civilians and Israeli army attacks against Palestinian civilians. That difference is that Palestinian suicide bombings take place in the context of the aggressive military occupation of Palestinians and are a response to both that occupation and the Israeli army attacks that occur in implementing that occupation through force and humiliation.
But despite this, Palestinians and the Arab states have done their part in pointing to a way out. They did so by adopting the Saudi peace initiative, which offered Israel not only Palestinian, but Arab willingness to bring about a comprehensive final peace and normalization in return for an Israeli withdrawal to United Nations-sanctioned borders in Resolution 242, as well as a solution to the refugee problem, according to United Nations Security Council Resolution 194.
In return, not only did Israel respond officially that this was unacceptable, but also timed its reoccupation of the Palestinian territories for the very same day of the Arab summit’s approval of its peace initiative.
A further immense hurdle to finding a way out is Washington’s complete adoption of changing Israeli positions. In light of Israeli unwillingness to adhere to signed agreements, international legality and bridging proposals such as the Tenet and Mitchell plans, the US remains the only power that can influence the Israeli position. It appears then that the Middle East conflict is mired in internal American politics, which are preventing, if not paralyzing, decisive action on the part of the US administration at the very least to have Israel respect US-sponsored papers and initiatives. The only influencing factor on the official American position seems to be the growing anger on the Arab street, and then only because that anger threatens the stability of American allies in the region. No matter that those friendly regimes are among the least democratic and most repressive in the region.
This latest Israeli operation is one more permanent step towards the reoccupation of all of the Palestinian territories, and one that introduces a new dynamic towards further replacing peace negotiations with confrontational relations. The logic of force, as recent and ancient history has taught us, is that it only brings about further forceful reactions. When any neutral observer views the nature of the carnage inflicted on Palestinian civilians–whether they be the demolition of homes on top of entire families or the blocking of ambulances or the prevention of the International Committee of the Red Cross from evacuating bodies and the injured or the restriction of journalists from witnessing ongoing events–they will understand that it is perfectly natural now to expect all kinds of violent Palestinian retaliation and revenge. Ultimately, Israeli attempts to achieve the legitimate goals of peace and security through the illegitimate means of inflicting pain will fail, just as they have failed since Sharon’s rise to power.
Thus, the only conclusion we can draw is that there will only be a way out when the Israeli public and government are ready to end the Israeli occupation. Because even in this dire state, the Palestinians who are resisting the Israeli occupation are still insisting that they want no more than its removal. They will not take less– but they aspire to no more.
Mr. Ghassan Khatib is a Palestinian political analyst and director of the Jerusalem Media and Communications Center.