How long, O Lord, how long? As blood continues to flow, this prayer must be daily on the lips of both Israelis and Palestinians. After two weeks of the latest Israeli military invasion of northern Gaza, more than 90 Palestinians lay dead, hundreds maimed or wounded, most of them civilians. Every day more people were being killed, more homes destroyed. Meanwhile nearly 30 Israelis and Egyptians were killed on Oct. 8 in bombings at four Egyptian Red Sea resorts. For Israelis, the bombings were a hard blow, coming during the popular Succot holiday. They must wonder when they will ever be permitted to rest easy, whether inside or outside their fortress state, just as Palestinians must despair that they will ever dwell in their own homes in peace.
In recent weeks, Palestinians had two new reasons to despair. First, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon announced that Israeli troops would not withdraw from Gaza until they end the threat of rocket attacks on neighboring Israeli towns. Second, Sharon’s counselor Dov Weisglass revealed the prime minister’s plan for withdrawal of Israeli settlements from Gaza as a sham intended to sweep away any prospect of a peace agreement.
The significance of the disengagement plan, Weisglass told Israel’s newspaper Ha’aretz, is the freezing of the peace process. The purported withdrawal, he said, would scuttle the entire peace agenda: a Palestinian state, the future of Jerusalem, borders, refugees. The strategy, he added, had the authority and permission of the White House and Congress. The Palestinian legal analyst Michael Tarazi comments that the withdrawal plan is intended to absolve Israel of all legal responsibilities as an occupying power’while simultaneously retaining effective military control over the Gaza Strip and its inhabitants and garnering international support for retaining and even expanding illegal colonies in the Occupied West Bank....
Mr. Sharon, nicknamed the Bulldozer for his unrelenting militarism, has designed a strategy for victory over the Palestinians. His government’s approach to suppressing the intifada has been to reduce Palestinian society to abject ruin while advancing Israeli colonization (settlement) of the remaining West Bank territory. Even as the government demanded that the Palestinian Authority control the militias that sponsor suicide bombers and rocket attacks, it has systematically destroyed the Palestinian infrastructure, beginning with the police. Whole neighborhoods have been bulldozed at will. Land is confiscated, homes destroyed, olive groves uprooted. Border closures, roadblocks, checkpoints and the infamous wall have turned the territories into a veritable prison.
The Palestinians are no angels. They chose armed uprising over negotiation. President Arafat failed to ride the tiger of insurrection, so that the worst elements in Palestinian society have seized control of the fight. Palestinian society is in utter disarray. Gangsterism is rampant. In their prison territories, Palestinians prey on Palestinians. Those who can, flee. The Palestinian people are being destroyed as surely as Bosnians or Kosovars were a decade ago. With every turn of the screw, the threat of Palestinian resistance grows, along with Arab and Muslim resentment worldwide.
To halt this descent into hell, it will take a change of leadership on both sides. Mr. Arafat has validated the Israeli claim that he is not a leader they can deal with, but neither Mr. Sharon nor any Likud politician is likely to become a peacemaker. Likud’s Revisionist ideologyRevisionism is a militaristic form of Zionismstill believes a greater Israel will be built only on captured land at the point of a gun.
Is there a role for the United States in a new peace effort? Not a major one, at least as long as both U.S. political parties are tied to Israel’s apron strings. To be sure, Israel needs an ally and advocate, but both the Clinton and the second Bush administrations have proved that in the crunch, Israel’s ally cannot function as an honest broker for peace. The key U.S. role will be as a member of the Quartet (the United Nations, the European Union, Russia and the United States), and its part will be to persuade Israel to accept what it has so long resisted: outside intervention.To prepare the stage for negotiations, the international community must exclude the Israelis from the territories, protect the Palestinians against further Israeli domination and aid in rebuilding the Palestinian polity. For negotiating a lasting and just peace requires a viable, responsible and, we would hope, democratic Palestine. Just as there will be no end to hostilities as long as Israeli civilians are under attack, so there will be no peace as long as Israelis are occupiers and oppressors, holdingwith U.S. backingan unacceptably strong upper hand in any negotiation.