The Coming Middle East Crisis
By A.D. Freudenheim

9 December 2001

The real crisis in the Middle East is not the current one, the bloodshed and chaos seen on TV and in newspapers in recent days. Rather, the crisis is the one the Israelis and the Palestinians are heading towards with breakneck speed, a predicament neither side wants to acknowledge and which is centered around a very simple issue: lack of planning.

The Palestinians collectively - whether members of terrorist "liberation" movements like Hamas, or participants in the proto-governmental structures of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) - seem completely unable to envision life more than one step ahead. Suicide bombings are effective mechanisms for instilling terror, but not much else. The terrorists do not appear to have a game plan to capitalize on the fright they instill and take a step towards Palestinian liberation; they only await the Israeli response, and then respond (again) in kind. No peace marches, no organized demonstrations - showing the world the hardships the Palestinians suffer at the hands of the Israeli occupation - only bombings, mortar attacks, shootings, and death. While each episode seems to further harden the resolve of most Israelis, and erodes the sense that the Palestinians have any legitimate claim to human rights when they themselves can act so inhumanely, it also reveals another truth: the Palestinian terrorists' pattern of sustained violence is hardly a plan for national liberation.

Meanwhile, the PNA, and its leader Yasir Arafat, appears increasingly weak, with few achievements to point towards. The PNA's response to a demand for a crackdown on terrorists by Israel seems to be only the most basic: mass arrests of Palestinians allegedly involved with terrorist organizations. The PNA leadership skipped the opportunity to explain to the Palestinian people exactly how the suicide bombings are weakening the Palestinian cause; they further weakened their position by making themselves appear overly-responsive to Israeli demands. The PNA is walking a tightrope existence, apparently oblivious to the understanding that falling off on the side of the terrorists will be just as harmful as falling too easily into the hands of a waiting Israel.

On the other side, it seems equally clear that the government of Ariel Sharon has no real plan for how Israel should deal with the land of the West Bank and Gaza, or for the Palestinians who occupy it. Under the administration of Ehud Barak, there was a strategy; it was hardly ideal, both sides were unhappy with it, and in the end it collapsed - but it existed, and its existence helped sustain the process of negotiations. In many ways, Barak's Palestinian plan mirrored his moves in southern Lebanon, where he initiated a tactical withdrawal from a hopelessly extended conflict in which both sides were too weak to ever win; the Lebanese and Palestinians were too feeble militarily, and the Israelis were too half-heartedly committed to what true victory would have required. The situations are not unrelated.

The Sharon government, however, has not developed (or at least, not publicly announced) any kind of plan of action, or considered disengagement from the conflict; instead, its only actions have been reactive, a constant series of decisions to respond (or not to respond) militarily to attacks on its citizens, to murder those it believes to be associated with terrorism, and to respond yet again when those murders are avenged. The Sharon government has refused to cease settlement construction in the West Bank and in Gaza, let alone withdraw from the existing settlements entirely, but there has been very little public discussion of what continued settlement growth means for Israel. The settlers have value to Israel as bargaining chips, but beyond that they add very little to Israel's strengths and instead are only a costly liability.

Perhaps the Sharon government hopes to take over the land of the West Bank and Gaza, and truly annex it - but then certainly there has been enough provocation to do so already, and yet Israel has resisted. Israel's recent demands on the PNA have probably helped to destabilize Arafat; perhaps Sharon hopes that Arafat and his proto-government will falter and fail, and that it will then be left to Israel to "secure" the West Bank and Gaza strip for the protection of all. What then? Right now, Israel is the partial occupying force governing several million Palestinians, some of whom are willing to lose their lives to make a statement about this occupation. Does Sharon's Israel desire to be the full-fledged occupier of this population of Palestinians? Does Sharon think that Israel can, with impunity, achieve a total takeover of these lands, for Israeli use and long-term gain? What does Israel expect will happen to the Palestinians living there? Where is the Israeli plan for peace?

Ariel Sharon and members of his government say that the problem with Arafat is that he refuses to step up to the plate, to take some responsibility for the situation, and to take some action to change the current course of events. Sharon, on the other hand, wishes to be portrayed as a man of action, protecting his people and his nation. He seems to have failed in both action and vision: Sharon speaks of peace, but refuses all PNA overtures as insubstantial; he says that he wants peace, but will not acknowledge under what framework until there is a kind of peace already; he refuses to acknowledge the violence that is inherent in an occupation; and his government takes actions to undermine the strength of the PNA while simultaneously demanding that the PNA act more forcefully. This is not planning, but only cynical statesmanship.

It is an awful irony that both the Israelis and the Palestinians now live with leaders who are utterly devoid of a strategic vision - and are also lacking in true commitment to a single cause. The deficiency of vision prevents either side from advancing in their goals, since the only thing either side can envision is defeat; there is no concept of a realistic victory. The lack of commitment means that neither side will truly marshal their forces towards one, inevitable goal. The Palestinians seem unprepared to declare an outright war (or make war plans with their Arab state supporters), nor do they appear ready to lay down their arms and adopt the pose and the poise of a nationalist-peacenik (a la Mahatma Gandhi, say). The Israelis will not overrun the occupied territories and drive the Palestinians out - but they won't withdraw from the West Bank or Gaza strip either.

If peace is desired by both sides, then both sides must plan for peace - agreeing that not every problem can be solved in one step, accepting that both sides must make concessions in order for both sides to "win" - and acknowledging that whatever bloodshed has been witnessed in the past 14 months of this Intifada will be nothing if the current crisis is allowed to continue.

Copyright 2001, by A.D. Freudenheim. May not be used in whole or part without written permission. However, you may link to this page as desired! Contact A. D. Freudenheim for further information.
This page is part of: The Truth As I See It.