Friday, March 15, 2002
And now, back to the situation.
A quote from a letter to Andrew Sullivan's website:
"Bush did not oppose Israel's assassination policy. He did not oppose missiles fired at terrorists by Israeli helicopters or Israeli incursions to get terrrorists or even keeping Arafat locked in Ramallah. Bush said nothing, for months, about Israel tearing down a TV station or hitting an occasional ambulance or school. I was proud of our president for allowing Israel to act as any nation should when it faces terror on its streets. What Bush has rightly opposed, yesterday and before, was Sharon first saying last week that the Palestinians needed to "be battered" before negotiations could begin . . ."
There's more in the letter that I don't agree with, but this sentiment I quoted here is, I think, basically right. It has been very painful to watch the Bush Administration's recent pressure on Israel, and it has been gratifying to see Israel's perennial friends in the American conservative press voicing criticism of the Administration for it. But I have to admit, I agree with the letter-writer. Sharon has no solution, and he should stop talking as if his policies are intended to achieve a solution. You cannot change anyone's mind by beating them on the head. If Sharon's tactics thwarted terror successfully and put pressure on the Arafat regime, they would perhaps cause Arafat to negotiate a cease-fire, because he would see that his war was not working. (If they did that, of course, then Israel would have little reason to negotiate such a cease-fire, which could only give Arafat room to maneuver for the next round of attacks.) But they have not thwarted terror. Terrorism has only increased, week by week, and for Arafat this is victory. For Arafat and his regime, success is not measured in how well they have served their people but in how many Jews they can kill. If Sharon were to send tanks into every street in the territories, and kill 1000 Palestinians, and if Fatah were able to blow up one of those tanks and set off one bomb in Tel Aviv killing 20 schoolchildren, Arafat would count it a victory. And he would be right, because Israel measures victory not in blows inflicted on the enemy but in lives saved and security preserved in Israel. And this is as it should be.
Sharon is stuck between two unacceptable alternatives. He will not surrender and he will not destroy the PA. So his policy is to cut off the tail of the snake while leaving the head intact. But, like a hydra in reverse, every tail cut off grows two. (Perhaps I should describe the PA as a scorpion not a snake; on a scorpion, the tail is what is deadly.) It is pointless for Sharon to talk in terms of pressuring Arafat to come to the table, and he should certainly not talk in terms of bloodying the Palestinians to make them give up on terror, which is a public-relations disaster and serves no strategic purpose. They are a proud people egged on to war by fanatics and ruled by cynical murderers. They will be absolutely impervious to their own losses. They will respond only to conclusive defeat. If the details of coalition politics - Israel's internal coalition and America's war coalition - prevent Israel from delivering that defeat and destroying Arafat, then there are only two alternatives. First, America must itself or through a proxy (such as Jordan) eliminate the PA and establish the major population centers as wards of an international police force. This would have real costs for Israel in that she would lose her freedom to respond to terror with operations such as have recently been conducted in Ramallah. Or, second, Israel must prepare itself to bleed, indefinitely, while America redraws the larger map of the Middle East in a way that, not incidentally, will be highly beneficial to Israel.
Sharon has clearly opted for the second course. He has said, by his actions, that he would prefer Israeli civilians to continue to die rather than either upset the American war effort or surrender in the face of attacks. He has decided that, in one sense, Arafat is right: we (Jews) are all soldiers, none of us civilians. This is a terrible decision; I would not want to be Sharon or in his cabinet, and have to decide it. But if we endorse this decision, we should not demand tough talk of our leader that weakens our cause and emboldens our enemies (as if they need to be emboldened).