There is no military solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. So says -- to take an almost random sample -- The Post (March 26), Sandy Berger (March 29), George Mitchell (April 1), Colin Powell and Kofi Annan (April 10), Colin Powell again (April 21).
This conventional wisdom is universally accepted, but odd. Historically, most conflicts are either settled, or decisively altered, by test of arms. I would not be writing from a city called Washington had this not been true for these United States. Moreover, Yasser Arafat would not have been conducting this 20-month guerrilla war if he thought it could not decisively alter the balance of forces on the ground and allow him to dictate terms to the Israelis.
The Israelis, in particular, are repeatedly advised about the futility of fighting terrorism by military means. This is again odd coming from the United States, which is doing precisely that in Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Philippines, Yemen and other places we have yet to learn about. Nonetheless, regarding Israel, it is a staple of received opinion.
It is wrong.
After the Passover massacre, Israel launched its offensive into Palestinian territory. The most dramatic effect has been a reduction in terrorism. It is no accident that while Israel suffered seven suicide bombings in the seven days of Passover, there has been but one successful suicide bombing in the past month. There will surely be others. But the frenzied wave of terror that pushed Israel over the edge has been stopped.
Why is the level of terror down? Because terror does have an infrastructure, and attacking and degrading it makes it harder for terrorists to operate, as the United States proved in Afghanistan. During Israel's offensive, hundreds of bomb makers, gunmen and trainers were captured. Others are on the run. Huge caches of illegal weapons and explosives were seized or destroyed. Can they be replaced? Perhaps, but it will take time. It took Arafat eight years to build this arsenal. He will not be able to replace it in a day.
More important, Arafat's forces were everywhere defeated. As the only functioning military authority on the West Bank today, the Israeli army can now make lightning raids, relatively unmolested, to prevent terrorist operations. For eight years, Palestinian terrorism had the protection (and, in many cases, the active assistance) of Arafat's Palestinian Authority. That sanctuary is no longer.
The change on the ground has led to a change in psychology. Some Palestinians are beginning to ask where Arafat's war is leading them. This is new. Fueling this war for the past 20 months has been Palestinian triumphalism. They were winning. War was working. They saw Israel succumbing to fear, demoralization and paralysis. They assumed they could fight without serious challenge until economic ruin, emigration and sheer despair led Israel to capitulate to maximal Palestinian demands.
Arafat assumed that Israel was losing the will to fight back with anything more than pinpricks -- and more important, that even if Israel did strike back, the world (i.e., the United States) would stop it.
He was wrong. He has now suffered a serious defeat.
Just days ago, it was conventional wisdom that the Israeli operation had backfired because it had dramatically boosted Arafat's popularity. This was nonsense from the beginning, the usual mistaking of victimhood for power. In fact, Arafat was practically scorned by his people when he ventured out for what he thought would be his triumphal post-Ramallah tour. The crowds were sparse, the people indifferent and he did not even venture into the Jenin camp, knowing that he would be heckled, jeered and possibly worse.
Why? Because he lost. His security services have been shattered. He can no longer protect the terrorist shock troops. He is shorn and he knows it.
Why do you think the United States is now talking about "reforming" Arafat out of the leadership of the Palestinian Authority? Why are Arab leaders privately endorsing such reform? A sudden conversion to constitutionalism? Operation Defensive Shield left Arafat gravely weakened. Arab leaders are not sentimental.
The fire will cease in the Middle East not when a piece of parchment is signed (remember Oslo?) but when the Palestinians conclude that they are no longer winning, that the Israelis are not going to give up and go away, as they did from Lebanon. Israel's offensive has begun to restore the deterrent that Israel forfeited with its unceasing concessions under Oslo and its precipitous withdrawal from Lebanon.
Palestinians will now have to recalibrate their thinking about Israeli will, rethink the impunity they imagined the "international community" would provide them, recalculate the efficacy of terror. Looking at the ruin -- moral and material -- that terror has brought them, some Palestinians might begin thinking that the road to Palestine lies through an option they rejected at Camp David 22 months ago: peace.