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As Killing Mounts, Who'll Blink First?

April 03, 2002|GRAHAM E. FULLER

Events of recent weeks make absolutely clear that there will be no peace in the Middle East until the cost reaches truly massive proportions for either the Palestinians, Israel or the U.S. We are not there yet. The question is: Who will break first?

Palestinians now have nothing left to lose. They are willingly dying in suicide operations and being killed in the streets by tanks, but the national rage against the 35-year-old occupation generates an ever-deepening pool of candidates to fight and die. The Ariel Sharon blueprint of escalating military repression to stop terror has in fact multiplied terrorist attacks. Israeli intelligence officers regularly point out that massive repression will not work.

Tell Yasser Arafat to end the terror? The terror is now totally decentralized as the Palestinian government infrastructure is destroyed. Daily humiliation of Arafat spells deepened humiliation of all Palestinians, whatever criticisms they have of their elected leader. Endless humiliation is more dangerous than rage.

Without Arafat, there will be no central command. No Palestinian leader can unilaterally abandon guerrilla war and terrorism, the only weapons he has, for continuation of endless uncertain negotiations with an Israeli government whose stated goals exclude an acceptable solution.

Sharon also has nowhere to go. He is determined to keep the settlements, to refuse a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem, and he will not grant genuine sovereign rights to a Palestine state. If he wavers from this, his coalition is over. Benjamin Netanyahu waits in the wings to terminate the Palestinian Authority entirely and reject any Palestinian state.

Israelis are victims of horrendous daily terrorism as understandable existential anxieties crowd out any liberal response. The mantra is "stop the terror" rather than attending to the root cause--"end the occupation."

Bush has bought Sharon's argument that the basic problem is terror. The president is "standing firm" and has effectively granted Israel an open license to eliminate terrorism in its midst. It will not happen.

Meanwhile, anger at the U.S. is growing exponentially; it will be only a matter of time before terror is visited against Americans abroad, by people who have nothing to do with Osama bin Ladin and his ideology.

Will terrorism against Israel end when Israel withdraws from the occupied territories?

Any honest analysis must acknowledge it will not, at least overnight. Anger runs deep and fanatics who want to destroy Israel remain. But only when the Palestinians have a genuine stake in the new state and its sovereign freedom--something to lose--will the atmosphere of society change. Only then will radicals be perceived as damaging to their state, society and future. Only then can a Palestinian government start its own crackdown internally on the remaining radicals, as the value of violence fades under new conditions.

So putting aside all moral judgments, who will break first?

A prosperous, independent Israel has the most to lose as the terror continues unabated--as it surely will--and the occupation becomes untenable. The Palestinians will not break further because they are already broken as a government; terrorist acts become local, individualized acts of patriotism.

The U.S. also has a great deal to lose, but the Bush administration seemingly believes that resolute toughness will prevail. For the administration, the Palestinian struggle is basically a nuisance that complicates the road to war in Iraq.

Washington further rejects the Palestinian leadership because it may have sought support from Iran and Iraq. If that is so, does that change the above equation of Palestinian aspirations and Israeli rejection? Do counter-terrorism and military force become the sum total, the sole prism, of our global foreign policy?

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Graham E. Fuller is a former vice chairman of the National Intelligence Council at the CIA.

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