The Palestinian-Israeli Conflict at the Aftermath of the War in Iraq
© April 2003 by Asher Intrater
It is Passover season in Israel, and the war in Iraq is basically
over. There is a cautious but clear sense of hope that there is a new opportunity
for improvement in the conflict with the Palestinians. Here are some factors
influencing the situation.
1. Abu Mazen has been chosen as the new prime minister
of the Palestinian Authority. He has expressed his desire to see terrorism stopped.
Of course, his rationale is not a concern for the safety of Israelis, but the
evaluation that the Intifada terrorist war has done more harm to the
Palestinians than good. In that he is correct. And the Israelis are not looking
for benevolence from the Palestinians, just an end to the terrorism.
2. In addition, Abu Mazen has stated that he is in favor of reforms in
the PA, such as decreasing the roles of the corrupt gang of leaders that are
close to Arafat, and by appointing people with professional abilities in leadership
roles in the cabinet, instead of mere political cronies.
3. Abu Mazen wants to appoint Muhamed Dahlan as the head of internal
security among the Palestinians. In other words, he would be responsible over
the Palestinian police and in charge of stopping the terrorist groups, such
as Jihad and Hamas. While Dahlan is also certainly no lover of Israel, he is
a strong leader and has voiced his willingness to use force to stop Jihad and
4. Sharon has agreed to meet with Abu Mazen and move toward negotiations
for peace with him. Interestingly, Sharon had previously refused to meet with
Abu Mazen, citing the reason that Mazen had written a doctoral thesis on the
claim that the Holocaust in Nazi Germany against the Jews never happened! However
Sharon now says that he will not let that stand in the way of negotiations.
5. This week is the final struggle between Abu Mazen and Arafat as to
whether Arafat will approve the cabinet appointments that Abu Mazen has proposed.
Arafat doesnt like the some of the appointments (including Dahlan). Abu
Mazen has threatened to resign if the appointments are not approved. If he resigns,
the PA will lose standing in the international community. If the appointments
are approved, there will likely be some sort of talks between Sharon and Abu
Mazen in the near future. Arafat still wants to maintain control of the PA,
and therefore is fighting Dahlan and Abu Mazen, even though they are both part
of the Palestinian movement that he started. It seems he is having trouble releasing
his leadership to the next generation. Arafat is an expert at manipulating the
chaos between the various factions and running a liberation movement.
However he is incapable of building a government with financial integrity, social
institutions and diplomatic commitments.
6. Exactly one year ago, the Israeli Defense Forces started what was
called operation Defensive Shield where they went into the Palestinian
territories to fight against the terrorist infrastructure. Although this operation
has received much criticism in the international press, the statistics show
an undeniable effectiveness. Alex Fishman in Yediot Ahronot (Israels leading
Hebrew newspaper) reports that in the first three months of 2002 (the last quarter
before Defensive Shield began) 40 major terrorist attacks were successfully
completed against Israel. In the first quarter of this year, there were only
5 major attacks completed. In the first quarter of 2002, there were over one
thousand (1,000!) minor terrorist attacks, while in the first quarter of 2003
there were only 280.
7. One area in which the Intifada has done great damage to Israel is
the economy. The two and a half year Intifada has wiped out tourism to Israel
as well as foreign investment, which has caused a domino effect of unemployment,
tax deficit, business collapse, etc. Former Prime-minister Netanyahu is now
in charge of reforming the economy. He has the three-fold challenge of trying
to wrench the nation out of virtual financial collapse, bring reform to the
socialist style union and government bureaucracy, and to solve the budget crunch.
Its basically an impossible job. If he succeeds, he will be in strong
position to be the next prime minister. However, this treasury position is the
right job for him now. And in any case the Israeli voters will appreciate him
for tackling it, even if they complain about it all the way.
8. The Intifadas damage on the Israeli economy has also affected
the IDF. This year they have had 2.8 billion (600 million dollars!) slashed
from the defense department budget. This means that there will be drastic changes
and cutbacks in certain areas of the armys operations.
9. The triple influence of Abu Mazens potential new government,
the destruction of the terrorist infrastructure by the IDF and the slashing
of defense budget, may point to a new effort to advance a diplomatic solution
at this time.
10. Most Israelis are willing to sacrifice land and settlements for peace,
but the question is whether the security factors can be enforced if the IDF
is removed from the territories. A possible solution raised between Hamas and
the PLO is a Hundah, a temporary cease-fire. The great danger in
this is that it would simply require Israel to remove its armed forces, enabling
the terrorist groups to rebuild their infrastructure, and end up in a new wave
of terrorism and bloodier conflict than there was in this Intifada requiring
Israel to reenter the territories and start the whole defensive shield
strategy all over again.
11. If that were the case, it would be better not to have negotiations
or a cease-fire. A few people believe that God is hardening Pharaohs
heart in the case of Arafat in order to prevent that worse scenario from
12. Sharon has declared his tentative support of Bushs road
map if the security issues can really be solved. Amram Mitzna, head of
the labor party and opposition in the Israeli Knesset, has declared that he
will support Sharon in the negotiations, and even join the coalition if the
negotiations made the far right wing quit.
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