April 2, 2002 -- At this time of war between Israel and the Palestinians, half-baked suggestions for a speedy resolution are whizzing by almost as fast as bullets.
Let's review some of the more prominent schemes.
- A new Palestinian leadership: Israel's defense minister believes that pushing Yasser Arafat out of power will bring a more pragmatic and flexible leadership to office.
- Unilateral Israeli withdrawal: Peace Now, a powerful Israeli organization, promotes the slogan, "Leave the Settlements, Return to Ourselves" -- meaning a complete withdrawal to the 1967 border lines. (This is somewhat along the lines of the plan promoted by Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and just passed by the Arab League.)
- A territorial swap: Israel's transportation minister suggests trading some Arab-majority areas within Israel to the Palestinian Authority in return for the latter giving up its claims to some Jewish-majority areas on the West Bank.
- A wall: "A Protective Fence, the Only Way" is a newly popular bumper sticker on Israeli cars calling for an electric fence to go up along the 192-mile border between Israel and the West Bank.
- Buffer zones: Prime Minister Ariel Sharon favors a beefed-up version of the fence option with trenches and minefields, saying this "will lead to security separation and contribute to the security of all Israeli citizens."
- U.S. soldiers: Thomas Friedman of The New York Times envisions that "Israel gradually withdraw from the West Bank and Gaza Strip, to be replaced by a joint American-Palestinian security force." He then wants Washington "to station American troops on the ground, indefinitely, around . . . Israel."
These ideas all share the profoundly faulty presumption that a century of Palestinian aggression against Israelis can be stopped either by Israeli concessions or by some clever initiative.
Not one of these suggestions addresses the real problem: the Palestinians' conviction that, by continuing to hammer away at Israel, they can defeat and destroy it.
Although Arafat adheres to this ugly ambition, he is not its source and his removal will not eliminate it. An Israeli pullback from the West Bank will signal weakness and thus further inflame Palestinian demands. Fences and no-man's-lands are nearly useless. (Just a few days ago, four terrorists from Jordan breached a border fence by digging under it.) Placing foreign soldiers in a hot zone is a non-starter -- Americans and Europeans will not accept fatalities in someone else's war.
These faulty notions derive in good part from the Israeli government having made a subtle but large mistake in approaching the Palestinians. This was, as Efraim Karsh of the University of London recently notes, narrowly to define its enemy as the Palestinian Authority, not the Palestinian body politic as a whole. In this, it emulated the U.S. approach to Iraq in 1991 and to Afghanistan in 2001.
One can argue that the Iraqi and Afghan populations are not parties to the aggression of Saddam Hussein and the Taliban, and so are not America's enemies, but that's plainly wrong when it comes to the Palestinians versus Israel. Every piece of evidence suggests and every opinion poll confirms that the Palestinian assault on Israel is a wildly popular undertaking. Indeed, there is reason to believe that the "street" is more anti-Zionist than the leadership.
This battle, in other words, is a conventional clash between peoples. In such cases, Karsh explains, the outcome is "decisively dependent on the vicissitudes of national morale with victory or defeat often determined less by battlefield strength than by national cohesion and resilience."
The implication is clear: if Israel is to protect itself, it must achieve a comprehensive military victory over the Palestinians, so that the latter give up their goal of obliterating it. Ending the Palestinian assault will be achieved not through some negotiated breakthrough but by Palestinians (and Arabic-speakers more generally) concluding that their effort to destroy the Jewish state will fail, and so give up this ambition.
There is a war under way, but nearly all observers prefer to ignore this unpleasant reality, preferring instead to suggest meaningless quick fixes.
The time has come for them to face facts, which means finding ways to put a stop to Palestinian aggression.
For the U.S. government, this means halting counterproductive efforts at brokering a cease-fire and focusing on getting Israel's neighbors to finally accept its existence.