Tell The Palestinians The Truth
Intifadah II has been nothing but a disaster for the Palestinian people and their national goal. Its extreme militancy and timing (in the wake of Camp David) made it seem to be not only a protest against the Israeli occupation, but a challenge to Israel's very existence. As a result the political and military rules of engagement between Israel and the Palestinians were dramatically altered.
It is only in this context that it becomes possible to understand why Palestinian Chairman Arafat rejected former Prime Minister Barak's offer at Camp David, which granted the Palestinians a state encompassing virtually the entire West Bank and Gaza as well as a share of Jerusalem. That the goal was the destruction of Israel itself also makes clear why members of el-Fatah, Arafat's political and security power-base were in the forefront of Intifadah II. And it explains too why the Intifadah became militarized and Arafat was so reluctant to end the violence, and why when he presumably did, the violence did stop. In addition, it illuminates why Arafat insisted on the repatriation of the Palestinian refugees at Camp David, for he knew that that his demand would be rejected outright by the Israelis who would then terminate the negotiation. Finally, only in this context can we understand why the Palestinian Authority attempted to smuggle fifty tons of deadly weapons when efforts were underway by the United States¹ special envoy General Zinni to arrange for the resumption of peace talks.
For fifteen months every Palestinian leader spoke solely of ending the occupation as if it were the only obstacle to peace. They were offered 97% of the occupied territories and refused it. Arafat and most of his lieutenants believed that under fire Israel could be made to withdraw from the West Bank and Gaza the way it was supposedly made to withdraw from Southern Lebanon under Hizbullah's guns. According to this scenario, the Palestinians would regain the West Bank without having to disavow any future claims against Israel and then be free to make new demands at their own convenience. The Israelis, however, had no illusion about the Palestinians ultimate intentions. They understood that ending the occupation was only the first stage of the Palestinian grand design to control all of Palestine, including Israel. The actions, words and deeds of the Palestinian leadership unmistakably pointed in that direction.
The Israelis toppled Barak not because of what he offered the Palestinians, but because he misread Arafat's intentions. They elected Ariel Sharon because they began to view the conflict with the Palestinians as a matter of their own survival. Only in this context can we understand why the Israeli Prime Minister demands concrete actions –not words– and a non-violent atmosphere as a prerequisite for resuming negotiations. And it is why Mr. Sharon feels compelled to respond to violent provocations with measures unmistakably designed to undermine the Palestinian Authority and to send the message that (1) Israel's existence is not subject to negotiation, (2) the well-being of the Palestinians is in Israel¹s hands perhaps more so than those of their own Authority, and (3) Arafat is the number one enemy of Israel and as such is no longer relevant to the solution of Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Because of these conclusions, Sharon was forced to change the dynamic of the negotiations and is exerting all the pressure he commands on the Palestinian public to force them to recognize that they were tragically misled by Mr. Arafat and, consequently, that it is time for a change in leadership.
Arafat negotiated in bad faith. He was dishonest from the outset with both Israel and his own people. In a deadlocked negotiation, the introduction of a dramatically new element often changes the equation and permits negotiation to resume in earnest. To that end only a new Palestinian leader can create such an atmosphere to re-engage the Israelis constructively. It took sixteen months of bloody conflict, the loss of billions of dollars and the death of thousands of Israelis and Palestinians for the Palestinian leadership (with the exception of Arafat) to painfully realize that the militarization of the Intifadah was a tragic error and must now end. But will the leadership and the people recognize the extent of the damage that Arafat has inflicted on them? He let them believe that they could force Israel¹s hand and then force Israel out of the region itself. He failed them, betraying their cause beyond recognition. He must go.
Intifadah II has inflicted a tragic damage to the Palestinian cause. The dehumanization of the conflict has left deep emotional scars and imprinted searing images of horror on the psyche of all parties that only time can heal. It will take years to build up to the same level of trust that existed prior to Camp David. The Palestinian leadership must undertake a new public relations offensive to change the mindsets of both Israelis and Palestinians. The Israelis must be persuaded that the Palestinians have no design against Israel beyond the establishment of a Palestinian state that will peacefully coexist side-by-side with Israel in an atmosphere of dignity and mutual respect. And the Palestinians must finally be told the truth that the new political realities and fate have made it impossible for them to return to their homes and vineyards and coexistence is the only viable option.
The time has come to end the bloodshed and accept what fate had decreed. Any peace agreement mutually achieved must be the end point, the final chapter of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Otherwise, the Palestinians will destroy themselves bit by bit as they try hopelessly to destroy Israel.