I. Palestinian duplicity did not begin the day that Yasser Arafat immigrated to Gaza City from Tunis in 1994, but the Chairman’s arrival on the scene in Israel set into motion a trend that Israel has proved unable to reverse over the ensuing two decades.
The original Oslo accord called for the nascent Palestinian Authority to create a “lightly armed” police force, in order to maintain public order but lacking the ability to pose a threat to Israelis or to Israeli police. The sides agreed that the PA police could hold 13,000 light weapons.
But that number had been exceed nearly four-fold by the time Rabin was assassinated just 16 months after Arafat’s celebrated arrival in Gaza. International observers at the time said weapons far in excess of the “light weapons” agreed upon had been smuggled into the PA.
The first time PA “police” opened fire with their brand-new, American-supplied weapons was several weeks after Arafat’s arrival. Arafat and other Palestinian spokespeople made clear that whatever peaceful process there was would be temporary.
And yet, Israel was undeterred. Senior officials such as then-Prime Minister Shimon Peres and then-Justice Minister Yossi Beilin prosecuted the Oslo process with full diligence, ignoring bus bombings and other clear signs along the way that the Palestinians were using the process to create the conditions for war, not peace. Palestinian terror was eventually met with Israeli withdrawals, and thousands of Israelis and Palestinians were maimed or killed when the storm finally hit, on September 29, 2000.
This history is relevant as Israel moves to prosecute yet another round of fighting with Hamas in Gaza. During the years Israel governed the Gaza Strip, local residents and terror operatives felt free to dig tunnels under the Egyptian border, and to smuggle weapons into the Strip from Egypt. Here, too, the process continued unabated, and the results of that police are clear. Once again, Israelis will pay the price of that police from their bomb shelters and protected rooms as the air force tries to convince Hamas to “play nice” by holding their fire.
II. Upon leaving the south Lebanon security zone in May, 2000, Prime Minister Ehud Barak warned that any attack against the international border would be treated as an act of war. At the same time, Foreign Minister David Levy warned Hezbollah not to “play with fire” by attacking Israeli civilians or troops.
But when Hezbollah responded to the Israeli pullout by kidnapping three IDF soldiers, Adi Avitan, Omer Soued and Binyamin Avraham less than six months later, Israel’s response was… non-existent.
Similarly, when Ariel Sharon evicted 1,600 Jewish families from their homes in Gush Katif five years later, he warned that the first rocket from the Judenrein Strip would be met with the “fires of hell.”
But again, it turned out that the fires of Sharon’s hell weren’t all that hot: On August 25, 2005 – less than two weeks after Sharon’s troops “disengaged” from Gaza, Arab “freedom fighters fired two Qassam rockets at Sderot. Two weeks later, on September 12, several hours after the last IDF troops left the Strip, Palestinians celebrated by burning down the synagogues in former Jewish communities and firing rockets at Sderot and Kibbutz Yad Mordechai.
Like his predecessor, however, Sharon granted a free pass to Palestinians, sending a clear message that the “fires of hell” had actually turned into something closer to a grudging acceptance of the reality of rocket fire on the Israeli home front.
In both cases, the terror groups involved understood that despite exhortations to the contrary, Israel would, indeed, resolve itself to living with the attacks on its civilian population. As the saying goes: There is no second chance to make a first impression.
III. If Israel has not managed to eliminate Hamas in previous rounds of fighting, which were no less painful for Israeli and Palestinian civilians, there is no reason to expect the political establishment to give the IDF a green light to do so now. Were the political will there, the army could complete a Hamasectomy in Gaza in short order. The unhappy truth, however, is that Israel is in a painful dance with Hamas: Of course, the current situation is untenable, but it is worth remembering that Hamas is far from the worst enemy Israel could find on the Gaza doorstep.
As Alex Fishman, military correspondent for Yedioth Aharonoth, wrote Sunday, knocking Hamas out of Gaza could cause a vacuum there, one that could be filled with Islamic radicals that would make Israel long for the good old days of Hamas.ISIS is just one example.
IV. If Avigdor Liberman makes the leap from foreign minister to prime minister at the next election, Israel will experience the largest round of international condemnation since Operation Cast Lead in 2008. Washington will mumble its usual line about “expecting the elected leaders to show commitment to the peace process” but will privately – or not so privately – shun Liberman. So, too, the Arab world, which will use the election of the “extreme” Liberman as evidence of the “Nazi” nature of Israeli society, and Israeli leftists will moan that the recent election of right-wing extremists in Europe has hit Israel as well.
As “proof,” they will quote Liberman’s suggestions to re-draw the Israel-Palestinian border as part of a final peace deal that would re-apportion a large majority of the Palestinian Arabs in the Land of Israel as citizens of the Palestinian state (his plan does not call for uprooting anybody from their homes, with the exception of some Jews. Presumably, the latter point is “okay”). They will cite election success to Israel’s “racism” and “fascist” nature.
On that day, the refutation to those libels will be nothing more than photographs from this week’s riots in Omer, Nazareth, Tamra and other Arab-majority towns around the country.
Ultimately, Yisrael Beteinu will campaign on one essential point: Israeli citizenship comes with rights and responsibilities. Arab citizens of this country should feel free to forego the former if they are unwilling to exercise the latter. But Liberman will argue strongly that the former will be unavailable without a strong commitment to the latter.
V. In June, 2000, following Israel’s pullout from the south Lebanon security zone, I predicted that Israel would eventually pull its civilians and military forces out of the Gaza Strip. I feared two things: One, that Israel was losing the mettle to complete the dirty task of eliminating an enemy and demanding unconditional surrender.
Second, even at that early stage, I worried that Israel had ignored our enemies drive to build offensive weapons arsenals for so long that the Home Front cost of such an operation would make a drive towards absolute victory nary impossible.
But it is my last point from that time that bears repeating today: I predicted that Israel would eventually leave the Gaza Strip, but also that Palestinians would eventually force Israel to return. The fact of an un-occupied Gaza is a disaster for Palestinians, for it requires them to take responsibility for building a civil society, an economy, etc.
Frightening words that bear repeating today.
Meir Halevi Siegel
About the Author: Meir is a news writer for JewishPress.com - and he loves his job.
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