The Prerequisite for Negotiations

Speculations are rife about the possibility of negotiations with the Palestinians after the impending American operation in Iraq. Presumably, Israel will be presented with a road map by the Bush administration.


(A version of this column appeared in Haaretz on March 4, 2003.)

Speculations are rife about the possibility of negotiations with the Palestinians after the impending American operation in Iraq. Presumably, Israel will be presented with a road map by the Bush administration and asked to begin its implementation. But one is likely to forget the major lesson drawn from the Al-Qaida attack on the United States on September 11, 2001. Negotiations are possible only with an opponent who has limited objectives – objectives that can be met, or regarding which he is prepared to compromise. An enemy who has unlimited objectives can only be fought and defeated – there is nothing to negotiate. That was the conclusion drawn by President George Bush when he decided to launch a worldwide war against terrorism after the Al-Qaida attack on the Twin Towers in Manhattan and on the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.

Israel at this time is also facing an enemy with unlimited objectives – Hamas, the Islamic Jihad, the terrorist groups associated with Arafat, and the Hezbollah aim for the destruction of the State of Israel. There is no room for negotiations with them. The Oslo process was based on two mistaken assumptions. First, that Yasser Arafat was prepared to abandon the Palestine Liberation Organization’s announced goal of the destruction of Israel. And second, that Arafat after signing the Oslo Accords would suppress the terrorist groups operating in the areas that came under his control. The late Yitzhak Rabin was convinced that Arafat, unencumbered by civil rights organizations and court orders, would be more successful in carrying out this task than the Israel Defense Forces. For this purpose, he was handed 20,000 assault rifles to equip his “police force.” It turned out to be an illusion. Arafat did not abandon the original goal of the PLO and showed that he had no desire to do away with the terrorist groups that operated in the areas under the control of the Palestinian Authority. On the contrary, he encouraged them to carry out acts of terrorism against Israeli civilians in the hope of breaking Israel’s will to resist. Despite the heavy losses sustained by Israel during the past two-and-a-half years, Israel continues to pursue the war against Palestinian terror relentlessly. If the Palestinians cannot or will not suppress the network of terrorism, then the IDF has to do the job.

Some who contest this conclusion insist that the motivation of Palestinians to carry out acts of terror is a function of Israel’s readiness to compromise on some of the Palestinian claims. Give them a “political horizon” (whatever that means) and the motivation will lessen. Go after the terrorists and the motivation will grow. This is a specious argument with little relevance to the facts on the ground. Nobody could have painted a brighter horizon for the Palestinians than former prime minister Ehud Barak at the Camp David summit with Yasser Arafat and Bill Clinton. It seems that it was just this “horizon” that brought the suicide bombers into our streets, buses, and family celebrations. Does anybody really think that we can sweet-talk Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and his gang of assassins, or the terrorists of the Islamic Jihad? And are the chances any better with the members of the Al Aqsa Brigades? They are all motivated by goals with which no compromise is possible. As a matter of fact, as the period after Camp David so clearly demonstrated, a readiness to compromise is seen by them as a sign of weakness and serves to increase rather than decrease their motivation to carry out acts of terror against Israelis. This is why there is nothing to be gained and much to be lost when Israel’s leaders hold out the promise of a Palestinian state at this time.

The fence presently being built will in some places make it more difficult for suicide bombers to enter Israel’s towns and villages. But let there be no mistake about it, the fence by itself is not going to keep us safe from Palestinian terrorism. It is a delusion to visualize us sitting safely behind the fence while terrorists run rampant on their side. Unless terrorism is stamped out, Israel will not live at peace.

A successful American campaign in Iraq has a good chance of triggering some beneficial changes in the Arab world. If they come, they will probably come slowly. So don’t hold your breath. It is the IDF and the security services that have to put an end to terrorism. The past few months are a good indication of their capability to suppress Palestinian terror. They must continue with the job relentlessly. This is the instruction that the new Israeli government should hand down to them.

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