A Few Thousand Soldiers, a Thousandth of the Billions


By Akiva Eldar

March 17, 2003

No wonder nobody ran into the streets of Hebron to celebrate after President Bush's speech on Friday. His promise to present the "road map" shortly did not lift a single checkpoint or move any tanks on the way to the schools and hospitals. They'll be happy to know that the matter of the checkpoints and the tanks has been taken up in quiet talks between Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and their designated prime minister, Abu Mazen.

Moreover, there have been reports arriving at European capitals that Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz has promised the IDF will continue easing restrictions even if the rejectionist organizations continue trying to sabotage any progress. Israel's only condition is that the new leadership in the Palestinian Authority "demonstrate a 100-percent effort to fight terror."

Seemingly, there's nothing more just than that deal. Just, but not wise. First of all, the Bethlehem-Gaza First plan proved the Palestinian police is incapable of doing what the strongest army in the region found impossible. The vacuum created by withdrawing soldiers is filled by armed militias. Transferring responsibility for the security of the citizens of Israel to the police of the PA can be expected to quickly deteriorate into a double bloodbath of Israeli civilians and Palestinian police. The government of Israel will be able to wash its hands of the matter, the checkpoints and tanks will go back into position, and that will be the end of the reforms and the road map.

On the other hand, the last 30 months show that the IDF's continued presence in the cities of the West Bank and its abuse of the civilian population does not eradicate the violent resistance. Moshe Ya'alon himself said lately to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that there's been no change in Palestinian motivation for using terror. The leaders of the political and military echelons get reports of innumerable alerts about attempted infiltrations into Israel and foiled attacks. Since Ya'alon promised to "sear into the consciousness" of the neighbors that terror doesn't pay, the hearts of a few hundred more Palestinians have been seared by the loss of their loved ones.

This security snafu is intricately linked to the political snafu, hidden in the distinction made by the chief of staff, who this weekend described the Oslo accords as "a deliberate Trojan horse." By leaving that statement in the air without any reaction, the government locked the door to the grand deal: an end to the violence against Israelis in exchange for an end to the occupation. Ya'alon and his commanders are deliberately ignoring years of calm - 1996 to 2000 - when there were only four major attacks. Benjamin Netanyahu, who frequently waves that accomplishment around, forgets to say that when he was prime minister, he personally thanked Yasser Arafat for "pinpoint prevention" by the Palestinian security forces. Israel, which is broadcasting the concept that the Oslo accords were a conspiracy to throw it into the sea, shuts down the minimum deal acceptable to the entire Palestinian leadership - the Clinton framework.

The big difference between Abu Mazen and Arafat (and between quite a few Israeli politicians and military men) is that the designated prime minister does not believe the military path shortens the road to the political goal. It's a long way from that to accepting the changes Sharon wants to put into the road map, like the permission to take over more Palestinian land. There are quite a few people in the Palestinian leadership who complain that it was Abu Mazen and his partners in the Oslo process who let the Israelis bring in a Trojan horse, in the form of 100,000 new settlers after the accords were signed.

Abu Mazen and Mohammed Dahlan won't take a chance on a war against Hamas in exchange for a "political horizon" that consists of three isolated cantons between settlements. The argument that they made "100-percent effort" won't be good enough when the buses burn in the cities of Israel. If the IDF pulls out of the cities of the West Bank and Gaza, it will be back very quickly, accompanied by the choruses of "the Palestinians never miss an opportunity ..."

The only way out of the conundrum is in George Bush's hands, but it's not the fake peace plan that he announced at Tony Blair's request. He needs to invest in a peace corps in the territories - only 1 percent of the soldiers, and a thousandth of a percent of the money, and just a little of the prestige that America is devoting to the new order in the Gulf.

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