November 30, 2005
JERUSALEM – In an attack on Israeli naval forces, Palestinian militants disguised as fishermen blew up an Israeli patrol boat off the coast of Gaza yesterday. The militants and five Israeli sailors were killed in the blast. Hamas and Fatah claimed joint responsibility for the attack which the groups claimed came as revenge for the navy's sinking of a Palestinian weapons ship off the coast of Gaza last week.
UN Secretary General Kofi Anan and EU Foreign Policy chief Chris Patten issued separate statements yesterday condemning the attack. Yet both men maintained that the Israeli navy's control of the waters off the Gaza Coast represents an illegal occupation of Palestinian territorial waters and urged Israeli compliance with the recent UN General Assembly resolution calling for an Israeli naval withdrawal from the Gaza coast and the so-called Philadelphia corridor that separates southern Gaza from Egypt.
The Bush administration issued a statement condemning the attack but urged Israel to exercise restraint. A State Department spokesman said Israel "should consider the consequences of its actions."
In Israel, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres referred to the attack a "murderous provocation by the enemies of peace" and called for Israeli adherence to the UN resolution regarding Gaza.
A spokesman for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon reacted to the violence by stating that "Israel would choose the time and place to respond to the attacks." The Sharon government is currently debating a proposal by the Labor and Shinui parties calling for the evacuation of some 100 Israeli settlements in the West Bank located on the Palestinian side of the security barrier. The spokesman seemed to rule out a large Israeli military incursion into Gaza claiming that such an operation "would be a victory for Arafat."
Palestinian Authority minister Saeb Erekat reacted to the attack by condemning what he referred to as "Israel's suffocation of the Palestinian people by land and sea."
Israel's ultra-nationalist factions led by renegade Likud Knesset members who bolted Sharon's governing coalition after Israel's withdrawal from Gaza six months ago reacted to the naval attack by arguing the attack could have been foreseen and that Israel must dismantle Arafat's government and reoccupy Gaza.
"The latest attack, like the artillery attacks on our Southern towns, show that we must win the war before we can sue for peace," hawkish MK Uzi Landau said.
This news report is fictional. But if Arafat continues to behave like Arafat, and if Sharon continues to behave like Yitzhak Rabin, there is little reason to doubt the above scenario could transpire.
Since the Rabin-Peres government implemented the withdrawal of IDF troops from Gaza and Jericho in May 1994, Arafat has advanced a policy aimed at bringing about precisely the scenario I outlined. After Israel ceded the first pieces of territory, Arafat worked on several fronts to ensure that the withdrawals would continue as Palestinian terror escalated.
In November 1994, Arafat reached an agreement with Hamas in Cairo that attacks on Israel would be staged in areas not under PA security control. In so doing, Arafat bought himself implausible, but accepted deniability regarding his support and indeed sponsorship of the attacks that led to the murder of some 183 Israelis before he launched his all-out terror war in September 2000.
In the meantime, Arafat and his deputies used the areas under their control to raise and train his militias to fight Israel. Gaza and Jericho were also used as safe havens for terror chiefs. So it was that during the Oslo years Hamas masterminds Yahya Ayash and Muhammed Deif operated openly in Gaza while other terrorists wanted for murder were enlisted into Jibril Rajoub's Preventive Security Service in Jericho.
In the economic arena, by diverting billions of dollars in international aid into secret bank accounts and by intimidating and blackmailing Palestinian businessmen and farmers, the PA impoverished its people. In so doing, Arafat secured for himself an angry, frustrated population that could be easily manipulated into turning its hatred toward Israel.
For his part, Rabin found himself in a bind. He had run for office in 1992 pledging not to negotiate with the PLO. When he reneged on that promise and embraced Arafat as a partner, he staked his reputation on the continuation of Oslo.
Before he oversaw the retreats from Gaza and Jericho, Rabin repeatedly declared that if the Palestinians reverted to terrorism, the IDF would reenter the areas and throw out the PA. Yet when in the aftermath of the withdrawals Israel was victimized by the worst terror it had seen since the 1950s, Rabin did not change course. Indeed, Rabin claimed that stopping negotiations would be a victory for the terrorists whom he referred to as "enemies of peace."
In reacting to the terror, Rabin repeatedly said "Israel will fight terror as if there is no peace process and fight for peace as if there is no terror." While the statement made for good propaganda, it made no practical sense and was impossible to follow. Arafat responded to each Israeli concession by strengthening the forces of terror and hatred within Palestinian society. Waging peace with Arafat was tantamount to surrendering to terrorism.
Sharon today is behaving in a similar fashion.
Over the past week, he has excoriated as "extremists" opponents of his plan. Just as Rabin said that ending Oslo would be a victory for Hamas, Sharon said Thursday that not moving ahead with his plan of retreat would be a victory for Arafat and Hamas.
Also like Rabin, Sharon argues "Israel's responses [to Palestinian violence] would be much harsher" after his retreat plan is implemented than they are today. Yet if Kofi Annan makes good on his promise this week to give the UN a role in post-withdrawal Gaza, as its role in post-withdrawal Lebanon make clear, it won't be easy to turn back the clock.
Indeed, what the last 42 months of Palestinian terror have shown is that regardless of the provocation, Israel will never garner international support for offensives against Palestinian terrorism.
Sharon has promised that after the withdrawal, Israel will be able to sit in its truncated form for years. Yet this cannot be true. Arafat will continue causing chaos to prevent that from happening. As Arafat's foreign minister Farouk Kaddumi said this week "Let the Gaza Strip be North Vietnam. We will use all available methods to liberate South Vietnam."
Arafat will not declare Palestinian statehood for Gaza. Doing so would bring diplomatic closure and enable a consensus in Israel to form. And the continuation of the war will bring pressure for further withdrawals emanating both from the Left (including Shinui and Olmert), as well as from abroad, as Israel will continue to be perceived as provoking the Palestinians by protecting itself.
Thursday's polls confirmed earlier ones that indicated a steep downward trend in support of Sharon's plan among Likud members. In reacting to this turn of the tide, Sharon declared repeatedly that a rejection of his plan will be a gift to Arafat and Hamas.
Why? Arafat and his minions in Hamas and the PA have stated countless times that their aim in the war is to cause a repeat in Judea, Samaria and Gaza of the unilateral withdrawal of IDF forces from Lebanon. And they have made clear that they view withdraw from Gaza and parts of Samaria as a victory for their side. Why doesn't Sharon listen to them?
Sharon's plan differs from Oslo in that it overtly calls for the destruction of Israeli communities. In so doing, it poses a danger to the vitality of Israeli society as a whole. Far from making Israel stronger, transferring Jews from their homes will traumatize the country. How will we be able to trust in our future in the face of the destruction of communities that millions of Israelis consider to be part of Israel?
In pushing his plan forward regardless of the Sunday's result, Sharon has weakened Likud. The governing party is liable to split apart in its aftermath irrespective of the decision of the voters. Yet this does not mitigate the importance of the poll. If a majority of Likud voters reject Sharon's plan, they will be working to save Israel from disaster. In spite of Sharon's statements to the contrary, those who oppose the plan on its merits are not extremists. They are merely people who have learned from the past.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.