Managing the latest intifada (NATIONAL POST) Jonathan Kay 12/04/02)
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Many observers outside Israel were shocked that Ariel Sharon won last
week´s Likud party elections so easily. Sharon came to power on the
promise that he´d make Israel safe. But since he took over two years
ago, the Jewish state has suffered about 55 suicide bombings. Former
PM Benjamin Netanyahu, Sharon´s Likud rival, ran advertisements
reminding people that during his three-year tenure between 1996 and
1999, the country suffered only four.
Israelis are tragically sophisticated in such matters, however. Likud
members know you can´t compare the late ´90s, when Oslo was still a
going concern, to the all-out terror campaign that began in 2000. In
any case, most voters think Sharon´s done a decent job. When dealing
with brainwashed martyrs, you can´t "win" the war on terrorism. All
you can do is manage it.
For Sharon, management means smashing terror cells, aggressively
developing intelligence networks and building a wall between pre-1967
Israel and the disputed territories. But it also means pitting the
terrorists against each other. As I argued in a Post column published
the day after Israel´s March 29 invasion, creating a full-blown
Palestinian civil war is probably Sharon´s number-one war objective.
This fall, there have been signs that Sharon´s plan is bearing fruit.
In Gaza, 20 Hamas members seized and assassinated a Palestinian
Authority colonel who´d killed two Hamas members while breaking up a
pro-Osama rally a year earlier. The next day brought Hamas-PA
firefights -- and four more deaths. "Collaborator" killings, which
are often connected to inter-clan blood feuds, have become common. In
Bethlehem, the murders have been particularly vicious. In one recent
case, the killers dragged their victim´s body behind a truck, and
then tried to dangle it from a building overlooking Manger Square.
Mr. Sharon, who´s lived his whole life alongside Palestinians, knew
this was what would eventually become of the al-Aqsa intifada. The PA
is an artifice imported from Tunis by Arafat´s thugs and run for
their benefit. It never commanded much loyalty from ordinary
Palestinians and was always seen strictly as a means to statehood. By
discrediting the PA militarily, and publishing seized documents that
highlight its corrupt and autocratic nature, Sharon destroyed
whatever legitimacy the PA once had. As a result, authority is now
being devolved to local terrorist leaders and clan patriarchs.
This is at least the third time this historical pattern has played
out. Beginning in 1936, Palestinians staged a series of escalating
attacks against the Jews and British. As in the modern age, the
initial effect was to galvanize Arab society. Soon, however, a rift
developed along clan lines between moderate and radical groups, and a
deadly civil war began. All of the horrible methods of the current
conflict could be observed: Young children were recruited to fight,
peace-seeking Arabs were intimidated by Islamist terror cells and
about 500 "collaborators" were killed. By 1939, Palestinian civil
society had been destroyed, and would not recover for a generation.
The same pattern took shape during the 1987-93 intifada. This was the
most effective of the three uprisings -- because it put non-
threatening, rock-throwing children on centre stage. But over time,
it also produced an "intrafada." According to one estimate,
Palestinians killed 800 of their own on accusations
of "collaboration" -- about one-third of total Arab deaths.
Palestinian civil society survived, but only because Oslo led to the
creation of the Palestinian Authority and an influx of Western aid.
Otherwise, the early ´90s might have been a reprise of the late ´30s.
(For a longer analysis of these two precursors, see Jonathan
Schanzer´s excellent article "Palestinian Uprisings Compared," in the
Summer, 2002 issue of Middle East Quarterly.)
Ariel Sharon, the wily veteran of Israeli independence and all its
major wars, has seen enough of the Palestinians to know they are
their own worst enemy. While the Palestinian campaign for statehood
is just in broad strokes, Arab society in the West Bank and Gaza is
pathological and self-destructive -- a horrible stew of anti-
Semitism, self-delusion, jihadi ideology, tribalism, Saddam-worship,
clan rivalries and Saudi cash. Sharon realizes that neither he nor
any other Israeli leader can prevent such a society from generating
killers. All he can do is set them amongst themselves and hope they
eventually become exhausted. (© Copyright 2002 National Post
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