Just a few months ago, a number of observers were ready to pronounce the intifada “over” as it neared the end of its fifth and least violent year. Now it appears that a sixth year of some sort may be in the offing, with the relative quiet of recent months ascribed at least in part to the disengagement and to a temporary internal Palestinian political truce. In the latest spiral of violence, Hamas and Islamic Jihad took the lead in both the West Bank and Gaza, and Israel reacted with disproportionate counter-violence in the hope of weakening Hamas, sending a message that it did not leave Gaza out of weakness, and establishing a deterrent against further violence. Israel also now encounters a Hamas with political aspirations--a byproduct of that movement’s relative success (compared to Fateh) both militarily and in societal terms in the past five years.
This evolving situation only underlines the single positive achievement of the past five years: the unilateral disengagement from the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank. Disengagement is good news, but its advent merely reflects the fact that the roadmap, the sole international political initiative of the intifada years to which disengagement was in many ways a reaction, was stillborn. Indeed, from Camp David II via the roadmap to disengagement we have narrowed our horizons, in the course of these years, from a conflict resolution mode to little more than conflict management.
Five years of intifada appear to have persuaded a majority of Israelis to readjust their strategic outlook: to prefer demography to geography, unilateralism to negotiations, strategic consolidation to strategic depth. At the tactical military level, too, these five years have produced innovations. On the part of the Palestinian side these comprised waves of suicide bombings and of Qassam rockets. The suicide bombings, in turn, provided the impetus for Israeli security innovations: the fence that has been remarkably successful in curbing the bombings, and targeted assassinations, a collection of highly sophisticated techniques that have been improved so as to radically reduce bystander casualties, and that succeeded, albeit temporarily, in decapitating the terrorist leadership. Both Israeli tactics, however necessary and successful, can do little more than contain the conflict, and have proven problematic from the moral and humanitarian standpoints. Moreover, Israel still has no effective defensive measure against the Qassams, and has now opted to reply in kind, with artillery--an escalatory measure.
The causal link is not only between Palestinian terrorism and Israeli military innovation, but between terror and political innovation, too--between the suicide bombings and Israel’s newfound reliance on the unilateral measures of both the fence and disengagement. Coupled with the Israeli public’s disillusion after the collapse of the peace process, the suicide bombings appear to have persuaded a majority of Israelis that, first, the Palestinians are not a viable peace partner, and second, Israel has to create a physical distance between itself and them without a peace process, i.e., by unilateral means. This dynamic evolved in the course of the past five years in a totally unscripted way: Palestinian beliefs to the contrary, there was no conspiracy, and the prime minister was dragged into it unwillingly by an anxious and insistent Israeli public.
How can a sixth year of intifada (some may call it a “third intifada”) be prevented or mitigated? By leaving more Palestinian land where we should not have stayed so long in the first place: the West Bank mountain heartland and Arab East Jerusalem. If a negotiated process is impossible--and at this juncture it appears that none of the necessary leaders, Sharon, Abbas and Bush, is a strong and viable candidate for negotiations--then more unilateral disengagement is called for. Completion of the security fence along a rational path that largely follows the green line and the settlement blocs will in any case reduce the profile of Palestinian violence. But if we don’t remove the remaining settlements, there is no chance that this conflict will ever end.- Published 3/10/2005 © bitterlemons.org
Yossi Alpher is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications. He is former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University, and a former senior adviser to PM Ehud Barak.
A PALESTINIAN VIEW
A way of life
by Ghassan Khatib
There are different opinions, among Palestinians as well as others, as to what has been the nature of the intifada--now just over five years old--and as to its duration and objectives.
This second intifada took its name from the famous non-violent popular Palestinian uprising against the Israeli occupation that started at the end of 1987. That uprising was characterized by civil disobedience and “disengagement” from the occupation by avoiding paying taxes, registering cars and applying for permits, as well as general strikes and the massive popular and peaceful demonstrations that attracted the attention and admiration of the outside world.
When the current intifada started, Palestinians had in mind a repetition of the first, i.e., a popular, non-violent means of protesting the occupation. Two factors contributed to changing it, in time, into an armed confrontation. The first and most important was the excessively violent Israeli response. The iconic incident was the killing of the boy Muhammad Al Dura as he was cowering behind his father, but notable examples include the killing of 13 Palestinian citizens of Israel, and the tens of Palestinian civilians killed in and around the Aqsa Mosque. In the first ten days of this intifada, an average of ten Palestinian civilians were killed daily, with no casualties on the other side.
Several theories have been expounded to explain this excessive reaction by Israel to what were, initially, unarmed Palestinian demonstrations. Some Israeli analysts have suggested that Barak did not want to allow a repeat of the first intifada, which cost Israel dearly, both politically and ethically. Others suggest that Barak was trying to avoid a repeat of the so-called tunnel confrontations of September 1996 when clashes between the two sides following the opening by Israel of a tunnel alongside the Aqsa Mosque ended up costing 20 Israeli and 80 Palestinian lives.
A third line of thought, current in the Israeli media and some official Israeli circles, holds that in some of the areas that witnessed the largest demonstrations, East Jerusalem and the Galilee, the Israeli police were simply not equipped with anti-riot equipment and ended up using live ammunition, thus causing the many fatalities.
The second reason why popular non-violent protests were abandoned was the existence of weapons on the Palestinian side as a result of the existence of the Palestinian Authority and its security forces. The combination of the continued and unforgiving Israeli killings of civilians and the existence of arms on the Palestinian side, led, roughly after the first half of the first year of the intifada, to it becoming a semi-militarized struggle against the Israeli occupation.
Added to the violent confrontations were a wide range of Israeli measures of collective punishment that included stopping Palestinian workers from reaching their work places in Israel and restricting movement inside the Palestinian territories. This led to a halving of the value of the Palestinian economy and national income, and an increase in unemployment by half of the labor force and in poverty by half of the population.
Thus were created the internal dynamics whereby the violent confrontations and collective punishments reinforced each other and the Palestinian side was caught in a vicious cycle of violence.
In addition, two later factors led to the deterioration of the image of the Palestinian struggle against occupation. The first was the tendency, within first Hamas and later other factions, to also target Israeli civilians inside Israel. The other was September 11, which Israel exploited successfully to frame the armed Palestinian uprising in the context of the international war on terror, thus impacting the Palestinian side in a negative way.
If we interpret the initifada as ongoing violent confrontations between Israelis and Palestinians, then it would seem to have gradually ground to a halt. But if we mean an insistence and willingness on behalf of Palestinians to reject the occupation, struggle against it and for their liberation and independence according to the borders of 1967, then the intifada is a way of life for the Palestinian people.
There are many lessons to be learned from this intifada. No matter who achieves what in which round of confrontations, the conflict and the struggle will continue for as long as the occupation exists. There is only one way to bring peace, security and economic prosperity. That is to allow Palestinians to live normal lives in an independent state in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank with its capital in East Jerusalem.- Published 3/10/2005 © bitterlemons.org
Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications. He is the Palestinian Authority minister of planning and has been a political analyst and media contact for many years.
AN ISRAELI VIEW|
Normalizing the abnormal
by Tamar Hermann
Five years after the outbreak of the intifada, the Israeli Jewish public appears to be “living at peace” with an ambiguous situation: not war, but certainly not peace. It is obvious why large sectors of the public are less troubled today than three or four years ago, when traveling in a bus was akin to a game of Russian roulette. Yet paradoxically, many appear to be less concerned now than when it looked like peace was about to break out, and they would have had to undergo the kind of serious mental switch that becomes necessary when your enemy suddenly becomes your partner.
In fact, the thesis presented here holds that, in a familiar pattern, the outbreak of the intifada was almost a “corrective experience” for many in Israel, insofar as in their perspective the world once again behaved as expected--the Palestinians were attacking and the Jews were fighting back.
The Israeli Jewish public has a complete, tried-and-true repertoire of practical and emotional tools for dealing with such circumstances. But not for dealing with a situation in which the external threat has disappeared. When the Oslo process was proceeding apace, many Israelis experienced a troublesome sense of distress, as if the sun had begun to set in the morning and rise at night. The public, which had not been prepared at all by the leadership for the strategic departure of 1993, was powerless to deal with the change. Memories of the first intifada were still fresh, along with images of the blows from the Gulf war and Palestinians dancing on the roofs in support of Saddam Hussein. Participation at the Madrid Conference in late 1991 was understood as bowing to American pressure, and the ensuing Washington talks did not look particularly promising.
Then one fine morning, the public was informed that a declaration of principles was about to be signed with the Palestinians, “cooked” by figures whom many did not trust, with “Mr. Security”, Yitzhak Rabin, signaling with his body language on the White House lawn that he had seemingly been dragged into the deal against his will. Not only did most opponents of the process not believe in its chances of success; even its most dedicated supporters were not thoroughly convinced.
The brutal terrorist events of April 1994 and early 1996 cast further doubt on the logic of continued “peace talks”. The Netanyahu years, managed under the slogan “if they produce [security], they’ll receive [concessions]; if they don’t produce, they won’t receive”, were easier for the public to digest, since they demonstrated a tough and “unfriendly” approach, to the extent that even the Hebron agreement was “swallowed” relatively smoothly.
The election in 1999 of Ehud Barak--whose campaign appeals, we recall, included photos of him as commander of the operation to retake the hijacked Sabena aircraft, his foot planted on the head of a dead Palestinian terrorist--presaged a readiness on the part of the public to “give peace a chance”, while maintaining the broadest possible margin of security. The public’s faith in the process began to erode within months after Barak’s election, so that the “there is no partner” spin following his return empty-handed from Camp David in the summer of 2000, having “offered everything and been turned down”, struck a familiar note. So, too, did the explanation for the intifada that erupted shortly thereafter: that this was the Palestinian leadership’s clever way of obtaining what it had failed to gain through negotiations.
Accordingly, the outbreak of the intifada five years ago was hardly an “earthquake”; rather, it confirmed the most deeply-held concepts and beliefs of the Israeli public regarding the murderous nature of the other side, with the ensuing suicide bombings merely strengthening this image. For many who, during the Oslo years, had been torn between support for the idea and ongoing skepticism regarding Palestinian intentions, the intifada resolved a cognitive dissonance and pushed them to the hawkish right.
True, even in the darkest days of the intifada about half the public--more at certain times--supported a return to the negotiating table. But all surveys also showed a majority conditioning such a move on an end to terrorism. This effectively neutralized support for negotiations, insofar as it created a circular chicken-and-egg process. Add to this the free hand the public gave its leaders and the IDF to act against the Palestinians as they saw fit (the exception being public opposition to assassinating Yasser Arafat, though only because of practical considerations regarding the consequences for Israel’s international image) and its sustained strong support for building the separation fence, and it looks like the intifada was well suited to the public’s fundamental cognitive mindset.
The intifada did not cause a majority of Israeli Jews to ponder whether Israel itself had contributed in any way to the gathering Palestinian anger that led to its eruption, or to consider whether the strong steps it took in the course of the uprising might have led the Palestinians to adopt more extreme tactics. Appeals in this regard by the Israeli peace camp, which in any case shrunk with the passage of time, were not heeded. When the worst waves of terrorism passed--due, according to the conventional wisdom, to Israel’s heavy hand and to no other factor--Israeli public opinion once again presented a sense of “normalcy” despite the substantive abnormality of the situation: the mythological enemy was again an enemy, the people were again united in struggle against an external threat, and the blood, still being spilled, became part of a routine, no more and no less than traffic accidents.- Published 3/10/2005 © bitterlemons.org
Tamar Hermann is a political scientist. She is affiliated with the Open University of Israel and Tel Aviv University. She is currently a senior research fellow at the Politics and Government Department, Queen’s University, Belfast.
A PALESTINIAN VIEW
by Mahdi Abdul Hadi
Five years ago, this present intifada was sparked by a highly provocative intrusion by Ariel Sharon, then Israeli opposition leader, into the Aqsa Mosque. That Jerusalem should have been the source of five years of heavy fighting seems almost impossible to comprehend now that the city has fallen in a way I have never witnessed before.
Physically, psychologically, socio-economically and demographically, Jerusalem has been divided and subjugated in a way that even its actual occupation in 1967 did not achieve. Settlements in and around Jerusalem are expanding at pace; the wall has separated the city from its West Bank hinterland and some of its own communities; and city planning within the Israeli-defined municipal borders is separating the remaining communities from each other.
What is happening in Jerusalem today is, in fact, more similar to what happened in 1948. The city is being cleansed of its population, and the remaining population is being relieved of its rights. The Absentee Property Law is being invoked again, and those who find themselves outside the wall, but with property in Jerusalem, stand to lose that property to the Jewish state, just as those who fled or were forced to flee the fighting in 1948 saw their property confiscated according to this law, which barred them any recourse to law.
On the ground, Jerusalem is being strangled in several ways. Quite literally, the eastern part of the city, denied any semblance of equality in the dispersal of municipal services, is crumbling. Meanwhile, the withy the city cut off from its main economic hinterland in the West Bank unemployment and poverty are rising along with taxation, leaving more and more people completely dependant on social security from Israel.
Emasculated and isolated, Palestinian Jerusalemites, especially after the death of Faisal Husseini and the closure of Orient House, find themselves powerless and without leadership to confront the Israeli occupation and assert their identity. And, to make matters worse, the Palestinian Authority has provided neither an example nor leadership for Jerusalem. In such a position, it is little wonder that Jerusalem was long ago subdued and has remained quiet.
There is only one thing that gathers people and which might draw them out into the street, and that is religion. Islam has become a new focal point, and this is true in general of this intifada. The role of Islam, both rhetorically and politically, has increased in power and allure even as the focal point of the last intifada, nationalism, has seen its star wane.
In the case of Jerusalem, the role of Islam resonates far and wide. Even though the Muslim world is itself divided and conflict-torn, Jerusalem will always remain Islam’s third-holiest site. That will never be taken away, and as the national and secular leaders fail again and again to provide inspiring leadership, not only on Jerusalem, but in the West Bank and Gaza, it is only natural that the constants in life will be sought. People will turn to Islam.
But it is a turn in desperation. There is little vision in this intifada outside anger. People are no longer sure what they are fighting for--a secular Palestine; an Islamic state; one or two states; Jerusalem, Gaza and the West Bank including the right of return--but they are sure what they are fighting against. They are fighting against oppression and occupation and a solution that is being imposed on them. They are fighting against a world unwilling or unable to uphold their rights. They are fighting against an Israel determined to not only to safeguard the Jewishness of Israel and establish it unalterably in Jerusalem, but to subjugate any possible future Palestinian state, either to itself or to Jordan, in a modification of the Jordan option that Sharon has never given up on.
In Jerusalem, Palestinians are unable to fight but equally unable to accept any imposed solution. Five years down the line, I’m afraid the situation will be exactly the same.- Published 3/10/2005 © bitterlemons.org
Mahdi Abdul Hadi is head of the Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs, PASSIA.
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