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Jewish World Review March 14, 2002 / Rosh Chodesh Nisan, 5762

Michael Kelly

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Israel needs to adopt Yasser Arafat's strategy | Israel is approaching crisis point. As New York Times reporter James Bennet noted in a front-page news analysis Tuesday, both the scope and the balance of political killing in Israel have shifted historically and fundamentally. This shift is the result of what must be considered an interim success for Yasser Arafat's strategy of phased war against Israel.

In that strategy, the point is to ostensibly pursue peace while waging episodic war, using the cover of the former to consolidate the gains of the latter; accepting (or pretending to accept) compromises now as necessary to gain time and ground toward an absolute win.

The first major phase of the current war was the Palestinian uprising, or intifada, which began in 1987. The second major phase was an interlude of peace that centered on a negotiating process that effectively began with the Oslo accord in 1993 and effectively ended with the Camp David failure of July 2000. The third major phase is what is generally called the second intifada, the killing that began when the Palestinians rejected the peace process and returned to active war in September 2000.

In the first phase, the killing was limited and radically unbalanced in favor of Israel. As The New York Times analysis noted, in the first 17 months of the first intifada, 441 people died — 424 Palestinians and only 17 Israelis. The fact of this imbalance put immense political and moral pressure on Israel to make compromises — to trade land for peace.

At Camp David, Israel offered extraordinary concessions. These included the transfer of 88 percent to 95 percent of West Bank territory to the Palestinian Authority, the forced evacuation of 40,000 Jewish settlers, the return of some Palestinian refugees and the surrender of some Jerusalem neighborhoods. This, Arafat declared to be not enough.

Camp David was a failure for Israel, for humanity and for the two feckless and self-deluding men, Bill Clinton and Ehud Barak, who brought it to pass. But it was not at all a failure for Arafat and his long-term strategy. Indeed, in the logic of Arafat's war of phases, "failure" was the necessary opening to the next level of war.

This is "the second intifada." It is different from the first intifada in kind — not only suicide bombers and stone-throwers but also armed irregulars attacking Israeli military targets. And, it is different in degree — the killing is much greater and much less one-sided. The death total in the first 17 months of this phase of conflict is three times greater than in the first 17 months of the earlier phase. More than 1,000 Palestinians have been killed — but so have 340 Israelis.

Thus, as the Times analysis notes, the ratio of Israelis to Palestinians killed in the first intifada was 1 to 25. In this round, the ratio is about 1 to 3. And it is narrowing still.

These new mathematics of death have put Israel on the defensive and in a position that Israel's government cannot allow to long continue. What are Israel's options?

One is not appeasement alone. That was tried at Camp David; the great concessions only encouraged the Palestinians to hope for greater yet, and to open a new phase of war toward that end.

Another is not simply soldiering on. The Palestinian insurrectionists want to continue the conflict. They believe that the new math will work over time for them — that they can continue to inflict massive pain on Israel and that enough pain will, soon enough, force Israel to quit all of the West Bank, Gaza, Jerusalem and perhaps more.

What Israel must do is to adopt its own version of Arafat's phased-war approach; it must pursue peace, or appear to pursue peace, as a phase in the longer war. It must meet Palestinian war with relentless war in return. But, simultaneously, it must become the aggressor in a new peace process — whether or not that process will ultimately lead to a peace Israel can accept.

The so-called Saudi plan currently on the table is a cynical and moth-eaten fraud put forth by a cynical and moth-eaten regime. In its ultimate proposals — the abandonment of Jerusalem, the return of all Palestinian refugees — it is purposely unworkable. Israel should nevertheless grasp it (or something equally unrealistic) as the basis for a new round of negotiations.

This won't produce peace. But Israel can learn from Arafat's strategy; the great thing now is to take the long view — and meanwhile move the war to the next phase.

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Michael Kelly is the editor of National Journal. Send your comments to him by clicking here.

© 2002, Washington Post Co.