Official declarations and many reports in the Israeli media indicate that the Israeli military and political leadership are aiming, eventually, at a total destruction of the Palestinian authority, and, with it, the process of Oslo, which is now dominantly considered by them a ‘historical mistake’. What can they be after? – Let us trace some of the background for this development.
Ever since the 1967 occupation, the military and political elites (which have been always closely intertwined in Israel) deliberated over the question of how to keep maximum land with minimum Palestinian population. The leaders of the ‘1948 generation’ – Alon, Sharon, Dayan, Rabin and Peres – were raised on the myth of redemption of land. But a simple solution of annexation of the occupied territories would have turned the occupied Palestinians into Israeli citizens, and this would have caused what has been labeled the “demographic problem” – the fear that the Jewish majority could not be preserved. Therefore, two basic conceptions were developed.
The Alon plan consisted of annexation of 35-40% of the territories to Israel, and self-rule or partnership in a confederation of the rest, the land on which the Palestinians actually live. In the eyes of its proponents, this plan represented a necessary compromise, because they believed it is impossible to repeat the 1948 ‘solution’ of mass expulsion, either for moral considerations, or because world public opinion would not allow this to happen again.
The second conception, whose primary spokesman was Sharon, assumed that it is possible to find more acceptable and sophisticated ways to achieve a 1948 style ‘solution’ – it is only necessary to find another state for the Palestinians. -“Jordan is Palestine” – was the phrase that Sharon coined. So future arrangements should guarantee that as many as possible of the Palestinians in the occupied territories will move there. For Sharon, this was part of a more global world view, by which Israel can establish “new orders” in the region – a view which he experimented with in the Lebanon war of 1982.
In Oslo, the Alon plan route triumphed, where gradually it became apparent that it is even possible to extend the “Arab-free” areas. In practice, the Palestinians have already been dispossessed of half of their lands, which are now state lands, security zones and “land reserves for the settlements”. However, it appeared that Israel will be satisfied with that, and will allow the PA to run the enclaves in which the Palestinians still reside, in some form of self-rule which may even be called a Palestinian ‘state’. The security establishment expressed full confidence in the ability of the Palestinian security forces – which were created and trained in cooperation with the Israeli ones – to control the frustration of the Palestinians and protect the security of the settlers and the Israeli home front.
But the victory of the Alon plan wasn’t complete. Even the little that the Palestinians did get, seemed too much to some in the military circles, whose most vocal spokesman in the early years of Oslo was then chief of staff, Ehud Barak. Another consistent voice which has emerged is that of Brigadier Moshe (Bugi) Ya’alon, who is also known for his connections with the settlers. As head of the military intelligence -Ama”n- (1995-1998), Ya’alon confronted the subsequent chief of staff, Amnon Shahak, an Oslo supporter, and has consolidated the anti-Oslo line which now dominates the military intelligence view. Contradicting the position of the security services’ (‘Shin Bet’) and the many media reports which praised the security cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian authority, Ya’alon claimed in a cabinet meeting in September 1997, and later, that “Arafat is giving a green light to terror”.
The objection to the Oslo conception in the military circles was based on the view that it will be impossible to maintain such an arrangement in the long term. If the Palestinians have a political infrastructure and armed forces, they will eventually try to rebel. Therefore, the only way is to overthrow the Palestinian authority, and the whole Oslo conception. The first step on this route is to convince the public that Arafat is still a terrorist and is personally responsible for the acts of all groups from the Islamic Jihad to Hizbollah.
During Barak’s days in office, Ya’alon became one of his closets confidants in the restricted military team which Barak has assembled to work with (Amir Oren, Ha’aretz, Nov 17, 2000). The same team was prepared already at the beginning of the Intifada for a total attack on the Palestinian authority, on both the military and the propaganda levels. On the latter, this included the “White book” on the crimes of Arafat and the PA. This is the same team which is now briefing the political level, as well as US representatives, and is responsible for the dominance of the call for toppling the PA.
But what can they have in mind as a replacement of the Oslo arrangements? One wave of rumors (reported e.g. in March 9 in ‘yediot’) is that the IDF plans to reinstall the Israeli military rule. But this does not make any sense as a long term plan. The Oslo agreements were conceived precisely because that system could no longer work. The burden of policing the territories was much too heavy on the army, the reserves and the Israeli society, and the IDF’s success in preventing terror was, in fact, much lower than that of the PA in later years. After the Lebanon experience, and after the seven years of Oslo, during which the Israeli society got used to the idea that the occupation comes for free, with the PA taking care of the settlers’ security, it is hard to imagine that anyone believes a pre-Oslo arrangement can be reinstalled.
It is hard to avoid the conclusion that after 30 years of occupation, the two options competing in the Israeli power system are precisely the same as those set by the generation of 1948: Apartheid (the Alon – Oslo) plan), or transfer – mass evacuation of the Palestinian residents, as happened in 1948 (the Sharon plan). Those pushing for the destruction of the Oslo infra-structure may still believe that under the appropriate conditions of regional escalation, the transfer plan would become feasible.
In modern times, wars aren’t openly started over land and water. In order to attack, you first need to prove that the enemy isn’t willing to live in peace and is threatening our mere existence. Barak managed to do that. Now conditions are ripe for executing Sharon’s plan, or as Ya’alon put it in November 2000, for “the second half of 1948”.
Before we reach that dark line, there is one option which was never tried before: Get out of the occupied territories immediately.
A shorter version of this article was published on June 10 in Hebrew in ‘Yediot Aharonot’.
Tanya Reinhart is a professor in Tel Aviv University.