Stopping the Violence Against Israel
October 10, 2000
by Max Singer
Whatever was the occasion for its start, the current Palestinian violence is a purposeful attack on Israel. It will stop when those who initiated the attack see either that they have gained enough victory or that their violence is hurting their cause. And the more benefit the Palestinians get from this attack the more future attacks there will be; the more costly this attack turns out to be to the Palestinian cause the less will be the danger of another attack.
The Palestinians and the Arab world understand they are attacking Israel. Finally today the front page of a leading American daily described how Marwan Barghouti, a top Arafat political representative, was directing one of the Palestinian attacks. The Arabs will judge whether Israel still has sufficient will to survive, and how much they can get from Israel, by how Israel reacts to their attack.
The key to making Arafat’s attack harmful to him is to make sure that the attack unites Israelis. The world will not believe these “demonstrations” are an attack on Israel if Israel doesn’t treat it as an attack. Most of the world assumes that if Israel is attacked it will be united and will respond strongly. If Israel is divided, and pretends that the violence is merely popular Palestinian reaction to Israeli actions, that is what the rest of the world will believe – although the Arabs will understand what happened.
Israelis who still think that the current “peace process” is alive, worth saving, and endangered by an effective response to the violence, can join in recognizing the attack on their country and in the determination to defeat that attack, because, even if it wants to, Israel cannot afford to try to protect what is left of the “peace process” by an accommodating response to the violence.
When the world recognizes that the violence is Arafat’s responsibility, and that the prospects for peace depend on demonstrating that the violence won’t be rewarded, the violence will begin to be bad for Arafat. But if the US and the world continue to headline what the Israeli army does to defend against the Palestinian attack, and to describe those who are slingshotting, shooting, and burning as “demonstrators” and “protestors,” the violence will continue. “Evenhandedness” between attacker and defender rewards the aggressor. The attack will stop if it is called by its right name.
A second way to induce Arafat to stop the violence is for Israel to go on the offensive by using the violence as the occasion for doing things that hurt Arafat and/or the Palestinian cause. One result of the Oslo process is that it has given the Palestinians much more to lose than they had before – if Israel has the will to take things away as well as to give. For example, Israel could take back some of the roads and empty hilltops it has turned over to the Palestinian Authority, or even small Arab villages surrounded by Israelis.
Israel can go on the offensive by using security needs as the basis for actions against Palestinian interests. Or it can use offensive actions that are relatively inconspicuous compared to the drama of the violence, which is a matter of detail and cleverness. Or Israel can act boldly, saying that it is being attacked and the best defense is a good offense.
The fear that an offensive response by Israel will make the violence worse assumes that Arafat is holding back out of consideration for Israel. More likely he thinks that more violence will work against his interests. If Israel is afraid that Arafat will increase the violence because there is nothing it can do in return, then Arafat will increase the violence – whether or not Israel goes on the offensive. Israel has to be ready to make sure that the Palestinians lose at whatever level of violence they choose.
Prime Minister Ehud Barak can turn Arafat’s attack into an opportunity to save his position by moving promptly to lead Israel in a counteroffensive against the violence – whether or not he wishes to keep alive the hope that his peace process can yet lead to an agreement. Israel will be much more able to defeat the attack if Barak and Labor are in the center of the fight against it. Most of those who believed that Israel could get peace by making generous offers to the Palestinians recognize that Barak has tried their policy and that it hasn’t worked. Barak can now lead them to join with other Israelis in following a different policy. The current state of Israeli opinion makes a new broad consensus about basic security policy possible if Barak is willing to recognize Arafat’s answer to his peace efforts as most Israelis have – some as sad disillusion, some as vindication.
Max Singer is a Senior Fellow and Trustee Emeritus at Hudson Institute. He founded Hudson with Herman Kahn in 1961.