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Israelis In Denial About Deterrent Power

By Rami G. Khouri PACIFIC NEWS SERVICE Article Dated 4/30/2001

EDITOR'S NOTE: The uprising in Israel's "occupied territories" has continued now some seven months, and the mood there is reportedly very grim indeed. Palestinians no longer fear Israeli guns or death itself, and until Israel realizes that, the deeply unhappy situation will continue. PNS commentator Rami G. Khouri, former editor of the Jordan Times, writes a regular column from Amman.

AMMAN, JORDAN -- It is too early to judge if Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has fulfilled his promise to bring security and peace, but the signs so far should trouble Israelis.

They now face more random personal danger than they did two months ago, and Sharon's policies may be revealing that Israel's "deterrent" military power is, in fact, no power at all.

Israelis live a strange paradox. Their country is at the peak of its power, providing security and prosperity to Jewish people -- yet at the same time it suffers the most profound insecurity because of its relationship to people who struggle with it heroically for equal rights in the land of Palestine and Israel.

Despite its military bluster, Israel obviously has not found a way out of this core national dilemma. Its formidable strengths are almost worthless in its confrontation with the Palestinians, and Israelis finally seem to be grasping this difficult point.

During the past seven months of escalating clashes, Israelis have shown striking unanimity on the need to address security issues first with whatever force necessary. Equally striking is their profound sense of concern for Israel's survival -- Israelis say they are fighting for Israel's existence in a repeat of 1948, and that Arafat and the Palestinian Authority are no longer credible as peace partners.

In short, Israelis see only gloom and doom, and they blame it all on the Palestinians and Arafat.

I don't remember a time when so many Israelis have been so consistently wrong for so long.

They are wrong in trying to explain the intifada as simply the consequence of a political switch that Arafat turned on when he needed more violence to bring international pressure to the Israelis.

They are wrong to interpret the sustained Palestinian resistance to Israeli occupation, the intifada, as a sign that the Palestinians and other Arabs have rejected co-existence with Israel.

They are wrong to assume that a fair peace treaty based on international legitimacy cannot now be achieved with the Palestinians.

A more accurate view would see that Palestinians erupted again in a spontaneous rebellion because Israel refuses to stop expanding its settlements in Palestinian lands, offers Palestinians a degraded form of sovereignty based on Israeli security needs, and applies humiliating control measures and collective punishments. Israel also refuses to accept its responsibility for creating refugees in 1947-48 or abide by UN resolutions.

It's really rather simple: the Palestinians want freedom and equal rights with other human beings and sovereign states. They are prepared to live peacefully alongside an Israeli state if both states enjoy equal rights, but they are also prepared to sacrifice to win independence.

Israel had always assumed that its massive military force and punitive, colonial-era control measures would prevail. Israel has been doing this for nearly 35 years -- but to its obvious growing concern and confusion, these measures do not seem to work any more. Sharon is being exposed as a merchant of false goods.

Israel is suddenly waking up to the fact that its ultimate deterrent -- the massive, sustained use of military power, often with U.S. diplomatic acquiescence -- is, in fact, no deterrent at all.

You can't deter someone who is not afraid of you. The Palestinians are no longer frightened by Israeli guns or by death itself. This is not peculiarly Palestinian -- it is simply how legitimate national resistance movements work, whether Jews against Hellenized Romans 2200 years ago, Americans against the British 225 years ago, French and Belgians against the Nazis 60 years ago, Algerians against French 40 years ago, or by Palestinians against Israelis today.

When the occupied shed their fear of the occupier's power, the battle is over. The big guns have no more meaning or purpose. The swaggering general looks like a tragic fool who promises only more senseless death for both parties.

No wonder Sharon has dropped his precondition of not negotiating while fighting continues, and is furiously talking with Palestinians on half a dozen fronts. No surprise that his government is suddenly making semi-happy noises about the Jordanian-Egyptian proposals to cease fire and resume negotiations.

Presumably, there are important lessons to be learned here -- about the real power of guns, and the enduring role of justice and fairness in conflict-resolution.


-- Martin Thompson (, April 30, 2001


"the truth is always somewhere in the middle"

-- Taz (, May 01, 2001.

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