August 30, 2007
The Language of Force
by Uri Avnery
Soon after coming to power, Ariel Sharon started to commission public opinion polls. He kept the results to himself. This week, a reporter of Israel’s TV Channel 10 succeeded in obtaining some of them.
Among other things, Sharon wanted to know what the public thought about peace. He did not dream of starting on this road himself, but he felt it important to be informed about the trends.
In these polls, the public was presented with a question that came close to the final Clinton Proposal and the Geneva Initiative: Are you for a peace that would include a Palestinian state, withdrawal from almost all occupied territories, giving up the Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, and dismantling most settlements?
The results were very instructive. In 2002, 73 percent (seventy-three percent!) supported this solution. In the next two years, support declined, but it was still accepted by the majority. In 2005 the percentage of supporters slipped under the 50 percent line.
What had changed in these years?
The TV presenter painted in the context: in 2002 the second Intifada had reached its climax. There were frequent attacks in Israeli cities, people were being killed. The majority in Israel preferred to pay the price of peace than to suffer the bloodshed.
Later, the Intifada declined, together with the Israeli public’s readiness for compromise. In 2005, Sharon carried out the “unilateral separation.” It seemed to many Israelis that they could manage without an agreement with the Palestinians. The readiness for peace dropped below the half mark.
A popular Israeli saying has it that “The Arabs understand only the language of force.” This poll may confirm what many Palestinians think: that it is the Israelis themselves who don’t understand any other language.
Both versions are true, of course.
I have often said that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a clash between an irresistible force and an immovable object. A clash is a matter of force.
The present lamentable state of the Palestinians, with half of them living under occupation and the other half as refugees, is a direct result of the Palestinian defeat in the 1948 war. The first part of that war, from December 1947 to May 1948, was a clash between the Palestinian people and the Hebrew community (the “yishuv”). It resulted in a resounding defeat for the Palestinians. (When the armies of the neighboring Arab states then entered the fray, the Palestinians became irrelevant to the struggle.)
That was a military defeat, of course, but its roots extended far beyond the narrow military field. It followed from the lack of cohesion of Palestinian society at the time, its failure to set up a functioning leadership and a unified military command, to mobilize and concentrate its forces. Every region fought alone, without coordination with the next one. Abd-al-Kader Husseini in the Jerusalem area fought independently of Fawzy al-Kaukji in the north. The yishuv, in contradistinction, was unified and strictly organized, and therefore won – in spite of the fact that in numbers it was hardly equal to half the Palestinian population.
Hamas leaders mock Mahmoud Abbas and his supporters in Ramallah for expecting an Israeli withdrawal without armed struggle.
They point out that even the Oslo agreement (to which they object) was achieved only after six years of the first Intifada, which convinced Yitzhak Rabin that no military solution was possible.
They aver that Ehud Barak left south Lebanon in 2000 only after the resounding success of the Shi’ite guerillas
Their conclusion: even a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders will not come into being unless the “Palestinian resistance” inflicts on the Israelis sufficient casualties and damage to convince them that it is in their interest to withdraw from the occupied territories.
The Israelis, they say, will not give up one square inch without being compelled to do so. Sharon’s poll may well reinforce them in that belief.
The people around Abbas respond by mocking Hamas for believing that they can win against Israel by force of arms.
They point to the immense superiority of Israeli forces. According to them, all the violent actions of the Palestinians have only provided Israel with a pretext to reinforce the occupation, steal more land, and increase the misery of the occupied population.
And indeed, the personal situation of the Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip is now incomparably worse than it was on the eve of the first Intifada, when they could reach any place in the country, work in all Israeli towns, bathe on the Tel Aviv seashore, and fly from Ben-Gurion airport.
Both views contain much truth. Yasser Arafat understood this. That