Wednesday, January 12, 2005

The Unilateral Withdrawal: A Security Error of Historical Magnitude

Yaakov Amidror

The Aims of the Disengagement Plan

On April 18, 2004, the Israeli government issued a general outline of its proposed unilateral disengagement plan from Palestinian territories. The government announcement correctly played down any advantages to be expected from the plan. It was claimed that "a better security situation, at least in the long term" will be achieved - a meaningless, vague statement. The announcement did not mention the promises made by the former head of the prime minister's office regarding a freeze of the situation in Judea and Samaria following the execution of the plan. On the contrary, the announcement claimed that the plan was created because "the stalemate dictated by the current situation is harmful. In order to break out of this stalemate, Israel is required to initiate moves not dependent on Palestinian cooperation." Furthermore, "the relocation from the Gaza Strip and from Northern Samaria . . . will reduce friction with the Palestinian population, and carries with it the potential for improvement in the Palestinian economy and living conditions."

It is true that dismantling settlements and removing army units will reduce friction with the Palestinian population, an achievement that has great potential. Indeed, it is reasonable to assume that friction with the Palestinians would be mitigated in numerous areas between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River if Jews were evacuated from those sites. However, virtually all the experts agree that an expectation of improvement in the quality of Palestinian life is totally unfounded, since disengagement will prove disastrous to the Palestinian economy.

Furthermore, the claim that "the process of disengagement will serve to dispel claims regarding Israel's responsibility for the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip" is unfounded from both the legal and diplomatic aspects. Clearly, as long as Israel guards the external perimeter of the Gaza Strip, and no one is permitted to enter or leave without inspection and approval, it will continue to be regarded as responsible for the fate of the residents there. In addition, the pressure to open entry and exit doors for the Palestinians will be substantial, and it is reasonable to assume that Israel will compromise security needs in order to ease the pressure. It therefore seems that the Israeli government has not succeeded in producing a single serious argument that can refute objections and justify the grave step that it is taking.

At times when a diplomatic plan is proposed, it is difficult to estimate where it will lead from the security aspect, and even after some time has elapsed, the actual result may remain in dispute. There are also people who defend certain moves although reality differs entirely from what they envisioned. The correct approach to be adopted when analyzing diplomatic proposals, as in the case of the disengagement plan, is the analytical one that asks: What are the chances of improving the security situation after the disengagement, and what is the risk that this situation will deteriorate? This is not the place to present alternatives to the plan under discussion, but it is fitting to estimate the possible developments if the status quo were preserved, without execution of the plan.

Supporters of the unilateral withdrawal from the left of the political map assess the positive features along the lines of, "the disengagement plan offers an opportunity for the creation of a positive dynamic in Israeli-Palestinian relations." In other words, the disengagement plan may well be "the first stage of resolving the conflict with the Palestinians; the partner will be created if the Palestinians seize the opportunity and demonstrate a serious attitude to the first stage of the roadmap that must lead to the reduction of violence."

Although the roadmap demands more vigorous and clear steps than simple "reduction of violence," even those who are prepared to accept this minor gesture are called on to explain how it will be possible to persuade the Palestinians to reduce the violence after withdrawal from Gaza. Even after Arafat's departure from the stage, is there any realistic chance that his successors will agree to fight against Hamas? Will they take any active steps to prevent its operations, and how will they dismantle the terrorist infrastructure or prevent its reinforcement?

Arafat demonstrated that he did not wish to take the required steps in order to weaken Palestinian terrorism capabilities, although the Israeli leadership demanded and expected this from him in 1994, when he and his cohorts arrived on the scene. Why should the Palestinian leadership act differently when Israel is withdrawing under the pressure of the very same terror, now that the Palestinians have made no pledge of any kind to Israel, in contrast to their commitment after the Oslo Accords? Obviously many of the Palestinian residents of Gaza desire quiet that will permit them to live normal lives. Yet will a withdrawal from Gaza that is perceived as running away in fact strengthen their position in Palestinian society?

For a while it appeared there was a chance the Egyptians would enter the picture. However, this apparently was a false impression that resulted from lack of familiarity with Egyptian policy. It seems rather that Egypt would at most slightly increase its efforts, meager until now, to prevent the smuggling of arms into Gaza, and that it would aid in training the Palestinian security forces. Nor does the absence of the Egyptians from the picture permit an analogy with Lebanon. Syria is currently preserving the fragile equilibrium in southern Lebanon and preventing escalation on the part of Hizbollah - which some of us predicted would follow the IDF withdrawal - because it fears the price of a war in the north. Without Egypt, the Gaza theater does not appear to include a force that on the one hand would fear an Israeli threat, and on the other would be capable of forcing the Palestinians to halt the terror.

Consequently it is far from clear on what the supporters of the disengagement plan base their optimistic assumptions regarding the future.

The Operational and Tactical Significance Given this likely vacuum, an estimate must be made of what is liable to happen in the Gaza Strip itself, and what is the significance of transferring responsibility for the defense of the residents of Sderot, Ashkelon, and the western Negev to the Palestinians. At present, and as opposed to the stipulations of the Oslo Accords, no one on the Palestinian side has made any commitment to combat terror.

Contrary to the argument sometimes aired in the Israeli press that Hamas prefers that Israel remain in Gaza, the aim of the organization is in fact to liberate the Gaza Strip and Judea and Samaria from any Israeli presence, and subsequently continue the long, hard struggle on the other side of the Green Line. Consequently it may be estimated that:

a.. The departure of IDF forces from Gaza may be disastrous at the tactical level. It may bring today's Qassam rockets to the heart of Ashkelon, whose fate will become that of Sderot. If the range of the rockets increases, other towns will become additional targets. b.. It is impossible to predict the ramifications of evacuating northern Samaria and whether a threat of rocket attacks against the center of the State of Israel will result. This will depend on the extent of the freedom of action given to the IDF in the region. c.. The disengagement will cause a significant reduction in Israel's ability to respond locally - both in Gaza and northern Samaria - to developments such as rocket attacks. This reduction will inevitably result from the expected deterioration of the level of intelligence and even more from the restricted freedom of action of the operational forces. The IDF will lose its capability of combating the chain of production and firing of the Qaasam rockets. d.. It will be more difficult to defend the line of the Gaza fence when on the other side there is no Israeli force capable of creating a real buffer zone. e.. If over the course of time Israeli control of the Philadelphi route becomes more tenuous, or if a sea port is constructed in Gaza or the Gaza airport becomes operational again, as promised in the Oslo agreements, then rockets that can reach Kiryat Gat and the southern outskirts of Ashdod can be smuggled in. Furthermore, surface-to-air missiles will also likely be smuggled in, curtailing the Israeli Air Force's freedom of action above Gaza or even in Israeli skies near the fence.

Thus, Israel is about to establish a state in Gaza, a state in which Hamas will have freedom of action and be joined by the umbilical cord to Hizbollah. When Israel no longer has the capability of closely supervising the sea and air borders of the Gaza Strip, the Lebanese model of the northern border recurs in the southwest, whereby rockets that boast a range of dozens of kilometers are perched on the dividing line and threaten Israeli towns. Israel will lose its capability of retaliating against terror originating in Gaza, just as it currently does not fight against terror coming from Lebanon: 80 percent of the terrorist attacks originating in Judea and Samaria are perpetrated by organizations receiving Hizbollah aid and financing, and Israel is doing nothing because of its fear of retaliatory rockets by Hizbollah.

It is impossible to know if the situation will deteriorate immediately and we will see the results in Ashkelon in a few days, or if the threat will be realized at a later date, after international pressure has been applied to Israel to present the next program for withdrawal. It is reasonable to assume that Palestinian offensive capability will be built up under the umbrella of its control in the field, and the threat will be displayed in accordance with Palestinian needs. Israel will lack the capability of preventing or influencing the realization of this threat.

The escalation of terror since 1994, when Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip, until the present gives a clear indication of what is likely to happen in the future, when the Strip will be an area off limits to critical Israel activity. Indeed, those who think that it will be possible to act on intelligence in the Gaza Strip with the same ease that the IDF enjoys today ignore the political constraints. After the withdrawal the IDF will be unable to operate in Gaza. Only if murderous terrorist activities originate from there over a long period of time will Israel slowly, and after paying a bloody price, acquire the legitimacy to act again in the Gaza Strip. The terror that will be encountered by Israel in the future, if the Palestinians decide to employ it, will be far more sophisticated and less vulnerable.

The War against Terror and Disengagement The critical situation described above is all but certain, yet does not represent the gravest damage to be sustained. Even more serious is the likely possibility that the unilateral withdrawal will harm the deterrent concept that Israel (and the democratic world) is laboring to build in the face of the waves of global terror. By its action Israel will declare publicly that terror is a winning formula, and will thus spur the continuation of terror both at home and abroad.

The Palestinian war of terror erupted four years ago, at a time when Israel and the US president were prepared to hand over to the Palestinians the entire Gaza Strip including the Philadelphi route, the Temple Mount and most of the Old City of Jerusalem, and more than 90 percent of Judea and Samaria. Yossi Beilin's personal proposal was also on the agenda, in which Israel would absorb a significant number of refugees as part of an overall settlement. At no stage were the Palestinians prepared to avow that the agreement would form the end of the conflict and that they would not raise further demands.

Partly in an analogy with the IDF withdrawal from Lebanon several months earlier, the Palestinians assumed they could overcome Israel by means of terror. Arafat was prepared to go to war even though in the negotiations with Ehud Barak he had scored tremendous achievements. The Palestinian state was about to be established with the blessing of the US and with the agreement of Israel; its capital would be East Jerusalem with its center in Haram al-Sharif - the Temple Mount. However, Arafat refused to accept the proposal, apparently since he was not ready to be the leader who ended the conflict, and he therefore did not agree to make a commitment that the Palestinians would have no additional demands in the future. In his view, as with many of his supporters who had seen the "salami technique" in action, the agreement was to be merely another stage in the struggle to destroy the State of Israel. It is therefore also clear why he could not consent to the generous quota of refugees that Beilin suggested would be allowed to return to Israel. Arafat contended that no restrictions should be placed on the number of refugees eligible to return, just as in effect no restrictions should be placed on the efforts to destroy Israel at a later stage. (Ironically, Abu Mazen declared recently that in the Camp David talks of 2000 Arafat was prepared to make greater concessions than he himself was.)

The tool employed to subdue Israel and force it to accept greater Palestinian demands was terror, which after the years of drawn-out fighting in Lebanon seemed an unbeatable tactic. Palestinians saw the IDF as having fled from the Lebanese battlefield in disgrace, and Hizbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah urged the Palestinians to emulate his successes. Technical examination of the data reveals that the concept of Hizbollah success was unfounded. In the last seventeen months of its presence in Lebanon the IDF suffered twenty-one fatalities, all of them military personnel. From the perspective of a war against terrorist and guerilla organizations, the number is not "intolerable." For its own part, Hizbollah did not chalk up great achievements during that period. However, Israeli public opinion did not withstand the mounting domestic pressure to withdraw, and some regional leaders saw therein the beginning of a broader rift in Israeli society that would, under the same logic, play into the hands of the Palestinians. Although the withdrawal from Lebanon seems to be an Israeli success judged by the relative quiet in the north, the long term strategic message that emerged from the withdrawal caused great damage to Israel, especially in the Palestinian context.

When the intifada broke out while negotiations were continuing, the IDF and Israeli leaders failed to understand that Israel was facing a long confrontation. The prevailing theory was that Arafat resorted to violence in order to enable himself to display flexibility a short period thereafter. According to this approach, the war was a symbolic move to allow Arafat to point at independence achieved by force.

In contrast to the political misinterpretation, the preparations at the tactical level proved adequate, and at the beginning of the intifada the IDF succeeded in foiling the Palestinian hopes of achieving victory by the masses over the "army of occupation." Yet when the fighting, which had seemed at first to be a more violent version of the previous intifada, evolved into a long, hard war, the situation became far more complex. Apparently Arafat was not seeking a better diplomatic agreement or a pretext for concessions, but was rather attempting to defeat Israel. Every civilian target was legitimate for terrorism purposes, and the terrorist infrastructure blossomed in the regions in which the IDF had lost control following the Oslo Accords.

As the terror evolved and escalated, the slogan "let the IDF win" emerged, even though there were those who argued that since there was no real terrorist infrastructure it was impossible to fight it using regular military forces. In fact, over the first eighteen months of the intifada, until April 2002, the IDF's hands were tied. The army learned the hard way that it could not fight against terror without controlling the area. Commanders began to realize that from the outside it was impossible to prevent terror without sparking serious friction with a civilian population that spawned, nurtured, and launched the terror. Following the 2002 Passover massacre at the Park Hotel in Netanya, Operation Defensive Shield was launched, driven by the principle that the IDF was returning to the heart of the populated areas in Judea and Samaria in order to regain military control of them. This complicated move did not bear immediate fruits. On the contrary, for a considerable time many people criticized the army for failing to produce results, since in practice the terror continued and the IDF seemed far from achieving a victory of any kind. Ultimately, however, the difficult lesson became clear, namely, that a war against terror is not for the impatient, and positive results emerge only after prolonged fighting - in the case of the intifada, over the course of about two years. This period saw construction of the separation fence, which proved of considerable benefit in the areas where it was erected. At the same time, it is clear that this alone is not a comprehensive solution, and even regions without a fence experienced a decrease in terror. IDF presence and the extensive use of targeted assassinations of terrorist leaders and activists led to a reduction in the number of attempted attacks. There was also a significant drop in the number of suicide bombings perpetrated inside the Green Line, with the General Security Services (GSS) and IDF proving quite successful in thwarting such attacks. The powerful combination of fewer attempts to execute terrorist attacks and the increased success in foiling such attempts created a new situation in which the scope of the terror declined significantly.

Israel was on the verge of an historic achievement. For the first time after many years a democratic country succeeded in demonstrating clearly that it was possible to combat terror, without systematic decimation of the population of the kind perpetrated in Assad's 1982 massacre of the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria, and that it was possible to repel and defeat determined and cruel Islamic organizations that target civilians. In a world in which so many countries are engaged, albeit generally unsuccessfully, in a war against terror, Israel represented a leading, professional, and moral example. The IDF proved that when it was given the essential conditions, mainly to gain control of the area and eliminate the terrorist leadership, with the aid of excellent GSS intelligence it knew how to damage the terrorist capabilities greatly. It was again possible to show that there was no basis to the myth that emerged after World War II that an army cannot defeat terrorist and guerilla movements.

Israel was very close to victory. A military force can never eliminate the cause of a conflict between nations or societies, nor destroy the will of the opposing side. However, it was demonstrated that military action may drastically reduce the capability of a terrorist organization to execute its plans. At the heart of terrorist infrastructures are the leaders, the commanders in the field, the operatives, and the laboratories, and they can be attacked. Israel successfully adopted the method of targeted assassinations to destroy the core infrastructure of the terror, i.e., terrorists having the greatest operational experience. Two years elapsed from the beginning of the Defensive Shield campaign until its results became apparent, because control is acquired over time when the area is occupied, and not by magic solutions. The army can only gain real control by a long, sometimes arduous process, while displaying determination and persistence.

The option of regaining control also applied to the Gaza Strip, but was rejected on the assumption that such an operation would be very difficult and would involve numerous casualties, both among IDF soldiers and among the local population. As long as firing continued at Sderot and its surroundings only, many people thought that the operations of Judea and Samaria should not be implemented in Gaza, even though on the eve of Defensive Shield there was considerable opposition to it in Judea and Samaria for the same reasons. Yet what will be the response when the firing from Gaza reaches additional cities in Israel? The difference is now apparent between areas in which the IDF regained control after fighting (Judea and Samaria), and those in which it remained outside and did not regain control (the Gaza Strip). Sderot, located near an area beyond IDF control since the implementation of the Oslo agreements but in which there is a fence, has become a border town suffering Qassam rocket attacks and paying for the lack of control with its blood. In contrast, in Judea and Samaria, with or without the fence, there is no high trajectory fire, and the other forms of terror are also slowly being eliminated by the IDF. Their potency is far less than in the past, and will decrease further after completion of the fence.

The IDF has reached a success rate of 80 percent in thwarting terrorist attacks originating in Judea and Samaria, and the terrorist leaders replacing those who have been arrested or killed are inexperienced youngsters who spend more time protecting their own lives than in perpetrating terrorist attacks. Of its own volition, Israel is about to surrender all these achievements and receive nothing in return.

The Significance for the Future After the unilateral withdrawal, which will be heralded by the Palestinians as flight (even if Israel proclaims that the decision was not caused by terror but by other reasons), it will be difficult to persuade anyone in the world in general and in the Middle East in particular that terrorism did not defeat the State of Israel. The victory of terror will become a myth that will influence the future, even if Palestinian diplomatic or tactical considerations dictate a lull in the terror after the IDF withdrawal. There will perhaps be a large internal struggle among the Palestinians for domination and booty, but it will be clear who fled and who left the booty behind.

Today, even before the withdrawal is implemented, three quarters of the Palestinians in the territories believe that the decision regarding unilateral withdrawal reflects the victory of the terror imposed by the Palestinians. Hizbollah's Nasrallah will justifiably declare that after four years of warfare the Palestinians succeeded in realizing half of their dream, and there is no reason to think that in the coming years they won't achieve the other half, on condition that they continue to wage a protracted terrorist war against Israel. The Palestinian strategy will be clear: the creation of a threat against Israel's home front, while waging a terrorist and guerilla war under the protection of their umbrella that prevents Israel from retaliation.

Rather than standing at the threshold of a significant strategic achievement, where it is clear to the Arab side that Israel makes no diplomatic concessions to terror but continues to combat it successfully to the bitter end, the unilateral withdrawal will place us on the verge of a protracted confrontation, under far worse conditions, facing an enemy gaining momentum and strength because of its success. This is the nature of the missed historic opportunity. It was interesting to listen to American officials who explained that the US was opposed in principle to the unilateral withdrawal because it contradicts its strategic concept not to surrender to terror. In the end Jerusalem succeeded in persuading Washington to support the move in return for adding northern Samaria to the withdrawal and restricting construction in the settlements.

After giving up its achievements in the battle against terror and displaying its fear of international pressure, Israel has lost its status. The US was the first to realize this and it has increased the package of concessions to the Palestinians that Israel will have to pay as part of the plan. Even the Republican administration has made it clear that Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and northern Samaria is only the first stage in the process. The explanations of the former head of the prime minister's office that attempt to justify the withdrawal from a Rightist stance, as if by virtue of the withdrawal future pressure on Israel will be averted, are totally unfounded. The day after completion of the unilateral withdrawal the international pressure for continuation of withdrawal will begin, but this time the pressure will be even greater, because there will be a precedent of the evacuation of settlements and areas without receiving anything in return from the Palestinians. That which Israel volunteered to do in Gaza will form the basis for a demand to do the same in Judea and Samaria. US Secretary of State Colin Powell and the Europeans have said this explicitly.

On the other side we find the Left, which in the face of the unilateral concession justifiably fears the possible results. Those who for years conducted negotiations and still believe that there is a partner for talks with Israel are opposed to the government's decision. It is clear to them that the chances that someone on the Palestinian side will agree to negotiate with Israel are now rapidly declining. If the Palestinians receive their demands by the force of terror without giving anything in return, not even a declaration, why should they agree to negotiations in which they will be expected to make concessions? Even if today there is no serious partner on the Palestinian side, the unilateral move is likely to delay the creation of one for many years.

However, the Israeli Left can claim one more victory for itself in its efforts to return Israel to the 1967 borders and dismantle the settlements in Judea and Samaria. For the first time in the history of Zionism the Israeli government has shattered a taboo and is uprooting settlements without external pressure and without receiving anything in return. The dam has been burst by the Right, and the Left will certainly widen the hole. Without doubt this precedent will serve Israel's enemies and "friends" in the future, whenever they will wish to extract concessions of this kind without demanding flexibility on the part of the other side. If the prime minister thought that his concessions would prevent pressure in the future, he is mistaken. On the contrary, an Israeli withdrawal without receiving anything in exchange will form the desired modus operandi for the Palestinians and their supporters in the Western world, and from now on their task will be far easier.

Conclusion The proposed unilateral withdrawal contains a strategic, diplomatic, and military risk that has been described concisely by senior defense officials as "backing for terror." This expression has not merely a literal meaning, i.e., rockets being fired against Ashkelon, but also a broader, deeper one, of historic surrender to the wave of Islamic terror and words of encouragement to the terrorists in the vein of "continue on your successful path." Spain fled from Iraq because of terror in Madrid, and the Israelis will be regarded as fleeing from Gaza for the same reason.

That which we found easy to analyze and condemn regarding Spain, we prefer not to understand in the Palestinian context. Flight from terror, even if it is called "unilateral withdrawal," remains flight, and its results will be disastrous. Israel must remain where it is and make difficult, courageous decisions regarding regaining control of additional areas in the Gaza Strip in order to remove the capability of firing at Sderot. This is part of the IDF mandate.

If and when there will be someone to talk to on the other side, removal of settlements and the IDF presence can form bargaining chips in negotiations. The Israeli government, however, has played its cards without receiving anything in return, and therefore can only expect to experience more terror. This was explained better than anyone else by Prime Minister Sharon years ago when as an ordinary Knesset member he appeared at the Likud Central Committee and said, "Labor wants to hand over the Gaza Strip, and even among us there are people who voice similar opinions . . . The Jews have apparently forgotten why we liberated it twice, in 1956 and 1967, from the Egyptian occupier (which followed a previous attempt to do so at the end of the War of Independence that nearly succeeded). Why did we pay the price three times? Because the Gaza Strip threatened us when it was not in our hands. What is proposed is to abandon the security of Ashkelon, Kiryat Gat, Sderot, Netivot, and dozens of kibbutzim and cooperative communities."

At the time Sharon made an excellent analysis of the tactical danger resulting from the disengagement. The current strategic danger is even greater.

A World Without Israel

By Josef Joffe

January/February 2005 Imagine that Israel never existed. Would the economic malaise and politicalrepression that drive angry young men to become suicide bombers vanish? Would thePalestinians have an independent state? Would the United States, freed of itsburdensome ally, suddenly find itself beloved throughout the Muslim world? Wishfulthinking. Far from creating tensions, Israel actually contains more antagonisms thanit causes. Since World War II, no state has suffered so cruel a reversal of fortunes as Israel.Admired all the way into the 1970s as the state of “those plucky Jews” who survivedagainst all odds and made democracy and the desert bloom in a climate hostile toboth liberty and greenery, Israel has become the target of creepingdelegitimization. The denigration comes in two guises. The first, the soft version,blames Israel first and most for whatever ails the Middle East, and for havingcorrupted U.S. foreign policy. It is the standard fare of editorials around theworld, not to mention the sheer venom oozing from the pages of the Arab-Islamicpress. The more recent hard version zeroes in on Israel’s very existence. Accordingto this dispensation, it is Israel as such, and not its behavior, that lies at theroot of troubles in the Middle East. Hence the “statocidal” conclusion that Israel’sbirth, midwifed by both the United States and the Soviet Union in 1948, was agrievous mistake, grandiose and worthy as it may have been at the time.

The soft version is familiar enough. One motif is the “wagging the dog” theory.Thus, in the United States, the “Jewish lobby” and a cabal of neoconservatives havebamboozled the Bush administration into a mindless pro-Israel policy inimical to thenational interest. This view attributes, as has happened so often in history, toomuch clout to the Jews. And behind this charge lurks a more general one—that it issomehow antidemocratic for subnational groups to throw themselves into thehurly-burly of politics when it comes to foreign policy. But let us count the waysin which subnational entities battle over the national interest: unions andcorporations clamor for tariffs and tax loopholes; nongovernmental organizationsagitate for humanitarian intervention; and Cuban Americans keep us from smokingcheroots from the Vuelta Abajo. In previous years, Poles militated in favor ofSolidarity, African Americans against Apartheid South Africa, and Latvians againstthe Soviet Union. In other words, the democratic melee has never stopped at thewater’s edge.

Another soft version is the “root-cause” theory in its many variations. Because the“obstinate” and “recalcitrant” Israelis are the main culprits, they must be punishedand pushed back for the sake of peace. “Put pressure on Israel”; “cut economic andmilitary aid”; “serve them notice that we will not condone their brutalities”—thesehave been the boilerplate homilies, indeed the obsessions, of the chattering classesand the foreign-office establishment for decades. Yet, as Sigmund Freud reminded us,obsessions tend to spread. And so there are ever more creative addenda to thewell-wrought root-cause theory. Anatol Lieven of the Carnegie Endowment forInternational Peace argues that what is happening between Israelis and Palestiniansis a “tremendous obstacle to democratization because it inflames all the worst, mostregressive aspects of Arab nationalism and Arab culture.” In other words, theconflict drives the pathology, and not the other way around—which is like thestreetfighter explaining to the police: “It all started when this guy hit back.”

The problem with this root-cause argument is threefold: It blurs, if not reverses,cause and effect. It ignores a myriad of conflicts unrelated to Israel. And itabsolves the Arabs of culpability, shifting the blame to you know whom. If onebelieves former U.N. weapons inspector Scott Ritter, the Arab-Islamic quest forweapons of mass destruction, and by extension the war against Iraq, are also Made inIsrael. “[A]s long as Israel has nuclear weapons,” Ritter opines, “it has chosen totake a path that is inherently confrontational.…Now the Arab countries, the Muslimworld, is not about to sit back and let this happen, so they will seek their owndeterrent. We saw this in Iraq, not only with a nuclear deterrent but also with abiological weapons deterrent…that the Iraqis were developing to offset the Israelinuclear superiority.”

This theory would be engaging if it did not collide with some inconvenient facts.Iraqis didn’t use their weapons of mass destruction against the Israeli usurper butagainst fellow Muslims during the Iran-Iraq War, and against fellow Iraqis in thepoison-gas attack against Kurds in Halabja in 1988—neither of whom were brandishingany nuclear weapons. As for the Iraqi nuclear program, we now have the “DuelferReport,” based on the debriefing of Iraqi regime loyalists, which concluded: “Iranwas the pre-eminent motivator of this policy. All senior-level Iraqi officialsconsidered Iran to be Iraq’s principal enemy in the region. The wish to balanceIsrael and acquire status and influence in the Arab world were also considerations,but secondary.”

Now to the hard version. Ever so subtly, a more baleful tone slips into thisnarrative: Israel is not merely an unruly neighbor but an unwelcome intruder. Stilltimidly uttered outside the Arab world, this version’s proponents in the Westbestride the stage as truth-sayers who dare to defy taboo. Thus, the British writerA.N. Wilson declares that he has reluctantly come to the conclusion that Israel,through its own actions, has proven it does not have the right to exist. And,following Sept. 11, 2001, Brazilian scholar Jose Arthur Giannotti said: “Let usagree that the history of the Middle East would be entirely different without theState of Israel, which opened a wound between Islam and the West. Can you get rid ofMuslim terrorism without getting rid of this wound which is the source of thefrustration of potential terrorists?”

The very idea of a Jewish state is an “anachronism,” argues Tony Judt, a professorand director of the Remarque Institute at New York University. It resembles a“late-nineteenth-century separatist project” that has “no place” in this wondrousnew world moving toward the teleological perfection of multiethnic and multiculturaltogetherness bound together by international law. The time has come to “think theunthinkable,” hence, to ditch this Jewish state for a binational one, guaranteed, ofcourse, by international force.

So let us assume that Israel is an anachronism and a historical mistake withoutwhich the Arab-Islamic world stretching from Algeria to Egypt, from Syria toPakistan, would be a far happier place, above all because the original sin, theestablishment of Israel, never would have been committed. Then let’s move from thepast to the present, pretending that we could wave a mighty magic wand, and “poof,”Israel disappears from the map.

Civilization of ClashesLet us start the what-if procession in 1948, when Israel was born in war. Wouldstillbirth have nipped the Palestinian problem in the bud? Not quite. Egypt,Transjordan (now Jordan), Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon marched on Haifa and Tel Aviv notto liberate Palestine, but to grab it. The invasion was a textbook competitive powerplay by neighboring states intent on acquiring territory for themselves. If they hadbeen victorious, a Palestinian state would not have emerged, and there still wouldhave been plenty of refugees. (Recall that half the population of Kuwait fled Iraqidictator Saddam Hussein’s “liberation” of that country in 1990.) Indeed, assumingthat Palestinian nationalism had awakened when it did in the late 1960s and 1970s,the Palestinians might now be dispatching suicide bombers to Egypt, Syria, andelsewhere.

Let us imagine Israel had disappeared in 1967, instead of occupying the West Bankand the Gaza Strip, which were held, respectively, by Jordan’s King Hussein andEgypt’s President Gamal Abdel Nasser. Would they have relinquished their possessionsto Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat and thrown in Haifa and Tel Aviv for goodmeasure? Not likely. The two potentates, enemies in all but name, were united onlyby their common hatred and fear of Arafat, the founder of Fatah (the PalestineNational Liberation Movement) and rightly suspected of plotting against Arabregimes. In short, the “root cause” of Palestinian statelessness would havepersisted, even in Israel’s absence.

Let us finally assume, through a thought experiment, that Israel goes “poof” today.How would this development affect the political pathologies of the Middle East? Onlythose who think the Palestinian issue is at the core of the Middle East conflictwould lightly predict a happy career for this most dysfunctional region once Israelvanishes. For there is no such thing as “the” conflict. A quick count reveals fiveways in which the region’s fortunes would remain stunted—or worse:

States vs. States: Israel’s elimination from the regional balance would hardlybolster intra-Arab amity. The retraction of the colonial powers, Britain and France,in the mid-20th century left behind a bunch of young Arab states seeking to redrawthe map of the region. From the very beginning, Syria laid claim to Lebanon. In1970, only the Israeli military deterred Damascus from invading Jordan under thepretext of supporting a Palestinian uprising. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s,Nasser’s Egypt proclaimed itself the avatar of pan-Arabism, intervening in Yemenduring the 1960s. Nasser’s successor, President Anwar Sadat, was embroiled inon-and-off clashes with Libya throughout the late 1970s. Syria marched into Lebanonin 1976 and then effectively annexed the country 15 years later, and Iraq launchedtwo wars against fellow Muslim states: Iran in 1980, Kuwait in 1990. The war againstIran was the longest conventional war of the 20th century. None of these conflictsis related to the Israeli-Palestinian one. Indeed, Israel’s disappearance would onlyliberate military assets for use in such internal rivalries.

Believers vs. Believers: Those who think that the Middle East conflict is a“Muslim-Jewish thing” had better take a closer look at the score card: 14 years ofsectarian bloodshed in Lebanon; Saddam’s campaign of extinction against the Shia inthe aftermath of the first Gulf War; Syria’s massacre of 20,000 people in the MuslimBrotherhood stronghold of Hama in 1982; and terrorist violence against EgyptianChristians in the 1990s. Add to this tally intraconfessional oppression, such as inSaudi Arabia, where the fundamentalist Wahhabi sect wields the truncheon of statepower to inflict its dour lifestyle on the less devout.

Ideologies vs. Ideologies: Zionism is not the only “ism” in the region, which isrife with competing ideologies. Even though the Baathist parties in Syria and Iraqsprang from the same fascist European roots, both have vied for precedence in theMiddle East. Nasser wielded pan-Arabism-cum-socialism against the Arab nation-state.And both Baathists and Nasserites have opposed the monarchies, such as in Jordan.Khomeinist Iran and Wahhabite Saudi Arabia remain mortal enemies. What is theconnection to the Arab-Israeli conflict? Nil, with the exception of Hamas, a terrorarmy of the faithful once supported by Israel as a rival to the Palestine LiberationOrganization and now responsible for many suicide bombings in Israel. But will Hamasdisband once Israel is gone? Hardly. Hamas has bigger ambitions than eliminating the“Zionist entity.” The organization seeks nothing less than a unified Arab stateunder a regime of God.

Reactionary Utopia vs. Modernity: A common enmity toward Israel is the only thingthat prevents Arab modernizers and traditionalists from tearing their societiesapart. Fundamentalists vie against secularists and reformist Muslims for the fusionof mosque and state under the green flag of the Prophet. And a barely concealedclass struggle pits a minuscule bourgeoisie and millions of unemployed young menagainst the power structure, usually a form of statist cronyism that controls themeans of production. Far from creating tensions, Israel actually contains theantagonisms in the world around it.

Regimes vs. Peoples: The existence of Israel cannot explain the breadth and depth ofthe Mukhabarat states (secret police states) throughout the Middle East. With theexceptions of Jordan, Morocco, and the Gulf sheikdoms, which gingerly practice anenlightened monarchism, all Arab countries (plus Iran and Pakistan) are butvariations of despotism—from the dynastic dictatorship of Syria to theauthoritarianism of Egypt. Intranational strife in Algeria has killed nearly100,000, with no letup in sight. Saddam’s victims are said to number 300,000. Afterthe Khomeinists took power in 1979, Iran was embroiled not only in the Iran-Iraq Warbut also in barely contained civil unrest into the 1980s. Pakistan is an explosionwaiting to happen. Ruthless suppression is the price of stability in this region.

Again, it would take a florid imagination to surmise that factoring Israel out ofthe Middle East equation would produce liberal democracy in the region. It might beplausible to argue that the dialectic of enmity somehow favors dictatorship in“frontline states” such as Egypt and Syria—governments that invoke the proximity ofthe “Zionist threat” as a pretext to suppress dissent. But how then to explain themayhem in faraway Algeria, the bizarre cult-of-personality regime in Libya, thepious kleptocracy of Saudi Arabia, the clerical despotism of Iran, or democracy’senduring failure to take root in Pakistan? Did Israel somehow cause the variousputsches that produced the republic of fear in Iraq? If Jordan, the state sharingthe longest border with Israel, can experiment with constitutional monarchy, why notSyria?

It won’t do to lay the democracy and development deficits of the Arab world on thedoorstep of the Jewish state. Israel is a pretext, not a cause, and therefore itsdispatch will not heal the self-inflicted wounds of the Arab-Islamic world. Nor willthe mild version of “statocide,” a binational state, do the trick—not in view of the“civilization of clashes” (to borrow a term from British historian Niall Ferguson)that is the hallmark of Arab political culture. The mortal struggle between Israelisand Palestinians would simply shift from the outside to the inside.

My Enemy, MyselfCan anybody proclaim in good conscience that these dysfunctionalities of the Arabworld would vanish along with Israel? Two U.N. “Arab Human Development Reports,”written by Arab authors, say no. The calamities are homemade. Stagnation andhopelessness have three root causes. The first is lack of freedom. The UnitedNations cites the persistence of absolute autocracies, bogus elections, judiciariesbeholden to executives, and constraints on civil society. Freedom of expression andassociation are also sharply limited. The second root cause is lack of knowledge:Sixty-five million adults are illiterate, and some 10 million children have noschooling at all. As such, the Arab world is dropping ever further behind inscientific research and the development of information technology. Third, femaleparticipation in political and economic life is the lowest in the world. Economicgrowth will continue to lag as long as the potential of half the population remainslargely untapped.

Will all of this right itself when that Judeo-Western insult to Arab pride finallyvanishes? Will the millions of unemployed and bored young men, cannon fodder for theterrorists, vanish as well—along with one-party rule, corruption, and closedeconomies? This notion makes sense only if one cherishes single-cause explanationsor, worse, harbors a particular animus against the Jewish state and its refusal tobehave like Sweden. (Come to think of it, Sweden would not be Sweden either if itlived in the Hobbesian world of the Middle East.)

Finally, the most popular what-if issue of them all: Would the Islamic world hatethe United States less if Israel vanished? Like all what-if queries, this one, too,admits only suggestive evidence. To begin, the notion that 5 million Jews are solelyresponsible for the rage of 1 billion or so Muslims cannot carry the weight assignedto it. Second, Arab-Islamic hatreds of the United States preceded the conquest ofthe West Bank and Gaza. Recall the loathing left behind by the U.S.-managed coupthat restored the shah’s rule in Tehran in 1953, or the U.S. intervention in Lebanonin 1958. As soon as Britain and France left the Middle East, the United Statesbecame the dominant power and the No. 1 target. Another bit of suggestive evidenceis that the fiercest (unofficial) anti-Americanism emanates from Washington’sself-styled allies in the Arab Middle East, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Is thissituation because of Israel—or because it is so convenient for these regimes to“busy giddy minds with foreign quarrels” (as Shakespeare’s Henry IV put it) todistract their populations from their dependence on the “Great Satan”?

Take the Cairo Declaration against “U.S. hegemony,” endorsed by 400 delegates fromacross the Middle East and the West in December 2002. The lengthy indictmentmentions Palestine only peripherally. The central condemnation, uttered in profusevariation, targets the United States for monopolizing power “within the framework ofcapitalist globalization,” for reinstating “colonialism,” and for blocking the“emergence of forces that would shift the balance of power toward multi-polarity.”In short, Global America is responsible for all the afflictions of the Arab world,with Israel coming in a distant second.

This familiar tale has an ironic twist: One of the key signers is Nader Fergany,lead author of the 2002 U.N. Arab Human Development Report. So even those whoconfess to the internal failures of the Arab world end up blaming “the Other.” Giventhe enormity of the indictment, ditching Israel will not absolve the United States.Iran’s Khomeinists have it right, so to speak, when they denounce America as the“Great Satan” and Israel only as the “Little Satan,” a handmaiden of U.S. power.What really riles America-haters in the Middle East is Washington’s intrusion intotheir affairs, be it for reasons of oil, terrorism, or weapons of mass destruction.This fact is why Osama bin Laden, having attached himself to the Palestinian causeonly as an afterthought, calls the Americans the new crusaders, and the Jews theirimperialist stand-ins.

None of this is to argue in favor of Israel’s continued occupation of the West Bankand Gaza, nor to excuse the cruel hardship it imposes on the Palestinians, which ispernicious, even for Israel’s own soul. But as this analysis suggests, the realsource of Arab angst is the West as a palpable symbol of misery and an irresistibletarget of what noted Middle East scholar Fouad Ajami has called “Arab rage.” Thepuzzle is why so many Westerners, like those who signed the Cairo Declaration,believe otherwise.

Is this anti-Semitism, as so many Jews are quick to suspect? No, but denyingIsrael’s legitimacy bears an uncanny resemblance to some central features of thisdarkest of creeds. Accordingly, the Jews are omnipotent, ubiquitous, and thusresponsible for the evils of the world. Today, Israel finds itself in an analogousposition, either as handmaiden or manipulator of U.S. might. The soft version sighs:“If only Israel were more reasonable…” The semihard version demands that “the UnitedStates pull the rug out from under Israel” to impose the pliancy that comes fromimpotence. And the hard-hard version dreams about salvation springing from Israel’sdisappearance.

Why, sure—if it weren’t for that old joke from Israel’s War of Independence: Whilethe bullets were whistling overhead and the two Jews in their foxhole were runningout of rounds, one griped, “If the Brits had to give us a country not their own, whycouldn’t they have given us Switzerland?” Alas, Israel is just a strip of land inthe world’s most noxious neighborhood, and the cleanup hasn’t even begun.

Monday, January 10, 2005

The 'Zionist enemy' -- and her supporters -- is in denial yet again

By Charles Krauthammer Has no one learned anything?

On Sept. 13, 1993, I was on the White House lawn watching the signing of the Oslo accords. I also watched the intellectual collapse of the entire Middle East intelligentsia ?€” journalists, politicians, "experts" ?€” as they swooned at the famous handshake between Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin and refused, that day and for years to come, to recognize what was obvious: that Arafat was embarking not on peace but on the next stage of his perpetual war against Israel, this one to be launched far more advantageously from a base of Palestinian territory that Israel had just suicidally granted him.

Why was this so obvious? Because Arafat said so ?€” that very night (in an Arabic broadcast to his own people on Jordanian television) and many times afterward. The Middle East experts refused to believe it. They did not want to hear it. Then came the intifada. Thousands of dead later, they now believe it. The more honest ones among them even admit they were wrong.

Now Arafat is dead, Mahmoud Abbas is poised to succeed him and the world is swooning again. Abbas, we are told, is the great hope, the moderate, the opponent of violence, the man who has said the intifada was counterproductive.

The peacemaker cometh. Once again, euphoria is in the air. Once again, no one wants to listen to what is being said.

Elections for the new Palestinian leader are on Sunday. Conveniently, this being a Palestinian election, we already know the winner. How has President-to-be Abbas been campaigning?

Dec. 30: Abbas, appearing in Jenin, is hoisted on the shoulders of Zakaria Zbeida, a notorious and wanted al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades terrorist. Abbas declares that he will protect all terrorists from Israel.

Dec. 31: Abbas reiterates his undying loyalty to Arafat's maximalist demands: complete Israeli withdrawal to the 1949 armistice lines, Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital and ?€” the red-flag deal-breaker ?€” the "right of return," which would send the millions of Palestinians abroad not to their own country of Palestine but to Israel in order to destroy it demographically.

Jan. 1: Abbas declares that he will never crack down on Palestinian terrorism.

Jan. 4: Abbas calls Israel "the Zionist enemy." That phrase is so odious that only Hezbollah and Iran and others openly dedicated to the extermination of Israel use it.

What of Abbas's vaunted opposition to violence? On Jan. 2 he tells Hamas terrorists firing rockets that maim and kill Jewish villagers within Israel, "This is not the time for this kind of act." This is an interesting "renunciation" of terrorism: Not today, boys; perhaps later, when the time is right. Which was exactly Arafat's utilitarian approach to terrorism throughout the Oslo decade.

Some of the American and Israeli responses to Abbas are enough to make you weep. Spokesman at the U.S. Embassy in Israel: "We don't think it is useful to focus on every statement by every official; what's important is the process." Official in Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's office: "Words don't count in the Middle East; what counts are actions."

Have we learned nothing? In the Middle East, words are actions. Never more so than in an election campaign in which your words define your platform and establish your mandate. Abbas is running practically unopposed, and yet, on the question of both ends and means, he chooses to run as Yasser Arafat.

During the decade of Oslo, Arafat's every statement of hatred, incitement and glorification of violence was similarly waved away. Then bombs began going off in cafes and buses, and the Middle East wise men realized he meant it all along. Now once again they are telling us to ignore the words. Abbas does not really mean it, they assure us. This is just electioneering. We know his true moderate heart. Believe us.

Why? On the basis of their track record? And even more important, you do not conduct foreign policy as a branch of psychiatry. Does Abbas mean the things he says about Israel now? I do not know, and no matter what you hear from the experts ?€” the same people who assured you that Arafat wanted peace ?€” neither do they.

But we do know this: In Abbas's first moment of real leadership, his long-anticipated emergence from the shadow of Arafat, he chooses to literally hoist the flag of the terrorist al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades.

Can Abbas turn into a Sadat, who also emerged from the shadow of a charismatic leader, reversed policy and made peace with Israel? I'll believe it when I see it. And hear it.