Jewish World Review August 22, 2002 / 14 Elul, 5762

Alon Ben-Meir

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Lessons of Intifada II?


http://www.jewishworldreview.com | (UPI) No one can predict with certainty that the second intifada will soon be over, but one consequence has already emerged: An overwhelming majority of Palestinians, along with most of their leaders, have concluded that the intifada has been nothing less than a political and economic disaster and continuing it will have calamitous dimensions.

The Palestinians themselves must now find a way out of the morass, even if that means a direct and bloody confrontation with Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which still hold out against any accommodation with Israel, whose very existence they reject.

The Palestinian Authority led by President Yasser Arafat, has miscalculated the impact and the implications of the wanton violence against Israeli civilians, especially the suicide bombings of the past 22 months. As a result, not only have the Palestinians' cause been set back by five to 10 years, and their welfare and well-being deteriorated drastically, but the moral grounds on which their national aspirations for statehood were based have been severely shaken.

The Palestinian leadership was wrong in judging Israel's resolve by assuming that they could gain more through violence than negotiation. They were wrong in surmising that they could force Israel out of the West Bank, the way Israel was presumably forced out by Hezbollah's guns from southern Lebanon. They were willfully wrong in believing that they could demoralize Israel through the indiscriminate killing of Israeli men, women, and children. And they were dead wrong in their assessment of what outside powers, including the United States, would do on their behalf, or that these powers could compel Israel to modify its position.

To be sure, the Palestinian Authority had a strategy based on illusions and fanciful thinking, relying on such unruly partners as Hamas and Islamic Jihad and the support of some Arab States, whose contributions to the Palestinian misery are surpassed only by that of the Palestinian leadership itself.

For decades their own leaders left the Palestinian refugees to rot in refugee camps, promising repatriation and salvation when all they could deliver was more despicably sub-human conditions. Now, as the Palestinian Authority, or what is left of it, has began to take stock of the gains and losses, its leaders have come to the painful realization that there is nothing, not a single gain, to show for 22 months of bloody struggle. On the contrary, the Palestinian economy is devastated, its territory reoccupied, the internal security forces are in shambles, the infrastructure lies in ruin, poverty is rampant, and the public is totally disillusioned.

The prospect for any improvement is contingent, in the final analysis, on ending the violence and then depending on Israel to respond by doing what is needed to ease the dire conditions the Palestinians now endure.

But even while one might think that the Palestinian leaders have learned something constructive from this historic debacle, if history offers any insight, I'd have to say that they have learned nothing. As former Israeli foreign minister Aba Eban used to remark, "The Palestinians never lose an opportunity to lose an opportunity." That said, I hope that I am wrong in my assessment, for the sake of countless Palestinian children who have physically, emotionally, and psychologically borne the brunt of this misguided "revolution." And I devoutly hope that the Palestinian Authority will not miss the opportunity that now presents itself to build on the last agreement with Israel.

This agreement calls on Israel to withdraw its forces from Gaza and Bethlehem on the condition that the Palestinians take responsibility for reducing tensions in these territories and stem any violence against Israeli targets originating there. To expand this trial withdrawal to other Palestinian cities, will, in addition, require the acquiescence, if not the full support, of Hamas and Islamic Jihad. If they can be persuaded to join in these new security arrangements and put an end to the senseless violence that, of course, will be an ideal result for all concerned. But should Hamas and Islamic Jihad continue to resist and choose the confrontational path, then the Palestinian Authority must pull out all stops to rein in these fanatic Islamists and bring them to heel.

Israel too must do its part and exercise maximum restraint to avoid any provocation so the new security arrangements will have a chance to succeed.

The leadership of Hamas and IJ may send suicide bombers to die on the altar of "martyrdom," but they do not want to sacrifice themselves on any altar or for any cause. They can be very pragmatic, and if they must choose between life and death or even long-term incarceration, they will choose to live. In the end, if the Palestinian Authority shrinks from its responsibility and leaves itself exposed to the whims of fanatics, Israel will have no choice but to take matters into its own hands, as it has done many times, and deal a fatal blow to Hamas' and Islamic Jihad's leadership and the terrorist infrastructure. No one should have any illusion about this eventuality if the suicide bombings continue.

In sum, the violence set off by the second intifada has made one thing very clear. It has brought nothing but pain, agony, despair, and terrible material and human losses. For once, the Palestinian Authority should seize the opportunity and work constructively toward its lofty goal of a Palestinian state. It has only one partner that matters: Israel.

The Palestinian fate is entwined with Israel's fate. If Israel must continue to fight for its survival, the Palestinians will have to fight for theirs, and the odds are not in their favor. That is the ultimate lesson of the second intifada.



Alon Ben-Meir is Middle East Project Director at the World Policy Institute in New York, and a professor of International Relations at New York University. Comment by clicking here.

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