Wednesday, July 05, 2006


An Arrow, Not A Cycle

An interesting commentary in The Volokh Conspiracy (a legal blog that I really should read more often), pointing to a recent Charles Krauthammer column in Time Magazine.

David Bernstein, of The Conspiracy, expresses his frustration; he'd expected, after the complete Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza strip last August, that the Palestinians would seize this opportunity -- land of their very own, free from foreign interference -- to build the independent state they said they'd always wanted.

They seized the opportunity, all right... to renew the war against Israel with extra vigor, all the while trumpeting Israel's unilateral withdrawal as a victory for terror. So much for the readiness of the Palestinians to be responsible neighbors... and so much for the high hopes of the eternal optimists.

After all, Ehud Barak was elected Prime Minister of Israel in the late nineties, precisely on the premise that Israel's enemies should be given what they said they wanted, and they'd cease the violence as promised. So Israel withdrew all forces from Lebanon; Barak even went the extra mile to get the UN's approval that, indeed, all Lebanese territory have been evacuated. This was what Hizbullah had said, all along, was their sole reason for fighting Israel -- the occupation of southern Lebanon. And did Hizbullah then cease their fighting, once they had gotten what they said they wanted? No, they did not. They grasped a legal fiction (the supposed status of the Sheba Farms, a meaningless sliver of land that even the UN said had never been part of Lebanon) and used it as an excuse to keep attacking Israel, all the while cheering their own "victory" through terror. Hizbullah remains a threat to Israel's northern border to this day.

(Ehud Barak also offered Yasser Arafat just about everything he claimed to want, in the Camp David talks of 2000. In that case, the mere offer was seen as a sign of weakness; more on that in a minute.)

And hopeful optimists, David Bernstein among them, loyally believed their Ha'aretz columnists when they assured us that, indeed, the Israeli occupation was the only reason for Palestinian terror against Israel. Remove the occupation, and the terror would cease.

So Israel withdrew from the Gaza strip, completely -- albeit for rather different reasons than the withdrawal from Lebanon -- and, again, Palestinian terror organizations claimed this as a victory, and an excuse to rain down rocket attacks on Israel. Now the Biblical port city of Ashkelon has come under rocket fire, via rockets the Palestinians enhanced for that specific purpose -- and the border town of Sderot has been under a steady barrage for the past year.

(This will hopefully give pause to those who claim, with similar sincerity, that the if the United States only withdrew from Iraq, the terrorist attacks against American targets would cease. The enemy may be different -- although not too different, many of the foreign "insurgency" fighters in Iraq have been Palestinians -- but the principle is the same: hand the terrorists a victory, or even a perceived victory, and it will be treated as proof that terror works.)

Krauthammer, in a glimpse of Middle East realism very unusual for Time, summarizes the point thus:
Of all the conflicts in the world, the one that seems the most tediously and hopelessly endless is the Arab-Israeli dispute, which has been going on in much the same way, it seems, for 60 years. Just about every story you'll see will characterize Israel's invasion of Gaza as a continuation of the cycle of violence.
. . .
What is so remarkable about the current wave of violence in Gaza is that the event at the origin of the "cycle" is not at all historical, but very contemporary. The event is not buried in the mists of history. It occurred less than one year ago. Before the eyes of the whole world, Israel left Gaza. Every Jew, every soldier, every military installation, every remnant of Israeli occupation was uprooted and taken away.

How do the Palestinians respond? What have they done with Gaza, the first Palestinian territory in history to be independent, something neither the Ottomans nor the British nor the Egyptians nor the Jordanians, all of whom ruled Palestinians before the Israelis, ever permitted? On the very day of Israel's final pullout, the Palestinians began firing rockets out of Gaza into Israeli towns on the other side of the border. And remember: those are attacks not on settlers but on civilians in Israel proper, the pre-1967 Israel that the international community recognizes as legitimately part of sovereign Israel, a member state of the U.N. A thousand rockets have fallen since.

For what possible reason? Before the withdrawal, attacks across the border could have been rationalized with the usual Palestinian mantra of occupation, settlements and so on. But what can one say after the withdrawal?
. . .
That is no cycle. That is an arrow. That is action with a purpose.
. . .
Gaza is free of occupation, yet Gaza wages war. Why? Because this war is not about occupation, but about Israel's very existence. The so-called cycle will continue until the arrow is abandoned and the Palestinians accept a compromise--or until the arrow finds its mark and Israel dies.
Please read the whole thing.

UPDATE: Courtesy of IRIS, similar sentiments from Larry Derfner of The Jerusalem Post:
If the Palestinians had taken last summer's disengagement as a confidence-building measure and responded in kind by suspending attacks, instead of taking it as a sign of weakness that vindicated those attacks, things could have been different. [. . .] But by the time Israel left Gaza, I realized the Palestinians - as a whole, not Mahmoud Abbas and the other powerless moderates - would conclude from this that terror works, and go out to do more.
. . .
I still believe that Israel has no right to rule the Palestinians, that ruling them is bad, not good, for Israeli security. However, the belief I've lost is that the Palestinians are a basically rational, reasonable nation, that they can be talked into putting down their weapons and making peace with Israel. What I believe now is that only Israeli military deterrence, which will no doubt require the periodic use of force, can get the Palestinians to stop fighting.
Read the whole thing. It's a more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger piece, by someone who seems genuinely to have believed -- and have wanted to believe -- that Israeli confidence-building measures would work.

Unfortunately, while I can think of a great many Israeli "confidence-building measures" (a polite term for unilateral concessions) -- either on its own initiative, or because the United States pressured Israel to try yet another one -- I cannot think of a single one that has worked. When Israel withdrew of its own accord from Lebanon in 2000, it was seen as a sign of weakness to be exploited. When Israel allowed the Palestinians control over Joseph's Tomb -- again, as a "confidence-building measure", which the Palestinians pleaded for -- that Biblical holy site was overrun and converted into a mosque. When Ehud Barak offered the Palestinians 97% of the West Bank and Gaza for a sovereign Palestinian State, including parts of East Jerusalem that they've coveted for so long, this was seen as a weakness to be exploited -- and a new Intifada was launched over it.

The "confidence-building measures" that have worked, I'm sorry to say, have been a different sort -- the ones that gave the Palestinians confidence in Israeli deterrent ability. When Palestinians were confident that a terrorist's house would be destroyed, leaving his family homeless, that actually worked. When Palestinian terror leaders were confident that Israel was trying to assassinate them, that worked too.

But measures designed around the assumption that the Palestinians want peace as desperately as Israel does -- that they'll abandon terror in a moment if they're only given the opportunity -- have failed, every single time.

The Palestinians can live as mature adults in the world community, acting as responsible neighbors. Or they can be eternally rebellious teenagers, forever screaming "look what you made me do!", never taking responsibility for their own actions and failures, but nevertheless expecting sovereignty to be handed them on a silver platter. So far they have chosen the latter path, which has brought endless pain and misery to themselves and to others.

Unfortunately, they do not seem willing to abandon that path. As Mr. Derfner indicates, the world is full of people ready to embrace them with open arms, the very moment that they decide to grow up. But the choice is theirs.

UPDATE II: Cox and Forkum write quite movingly on the subject... with a cartoon to match.


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