A War of Percentages
By A.D. Freudenheim

1 July 2001

Over the last couple of weeks, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has been stating - demanding, really - that in order for Israel to go along with steps towards a full cease-fire, and before consideration of further peace efforts, there must be ten days of "absolute quiet." By this, Sharon means ten days with no violent activity, no protests, no mortar attacks, or any other interruptions of normal daily life from the Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip - a 100% cessation of disruptive (Palestinian) behavior.

In return, the Palestinians insist that such an ideal is impossible to accomplish even under the best of circumstances - and those circumstances do not exist at the moment. They want Israel to accept that Arafat and the Palestinian National Authority will make a 100% effort, but with the understanding that there may be events and people which they cannot control.

From the Israeli perspective, it is easy to see why Sharon's proposal may not seem unreasonable. Meeting with President Bush last week, Sharon noted that "if last week we had five dead, it's like the United States, Mr. President, having 250 killed … by terror."[1]  Dramatic though such a statement may be, Sharon is probably accurate in representing both the calculable impact and the psychological toll that the continuing violence has on Israelis. A small population, on a small stretch of land, surrounded by people they perceive to be opposed to their very existence. In this environment, Sharon's "100%" demand must sound quite compelling.

But it is also an intensely cynical perspective, one which betrays a hopefulness for failure, not a true desire for success, i.e. a real and lasting peace. Sharon claims that Arafat has greater control over the protestors, rock throwers, militias, and terrorists than Arafat himself will publicly acknowledge. But what of Sharon? Is he in control of the rebellious, militant Zionist factions within Israel and the occupied territories? Despite the fact that they are not often discussed, there are plenty of Israelis - and plenty of Israeli settlers in the occupied territories - who do not support the "land for peace concept" and who would likely do anything within their power to prevent such a peace.

And sad as it is, preventing peace under Sharon's 100% quiet arrangement will not be difficult. One moment of violence, incited by a disgruntled Israeli settler could scuttle everything, returning both parties to the position of throwing accusations: "They started it, not us." Would Sharon acknowledge - publicly, as he demands of Arafat - that an Israeli settler was the troublemaker? Would he use the power of his army and police forces to curb militant Zionist activity? Unlikely. Just as Arafat does not appear to see efforts aimed at curbing some violent actions by certain groups of Palestinians as in his own political best interests, neither does Sharon want to deploy forces against Israeli settlers, considering it not politically viable - however necessary it may be for both men to do so.

As a result of Secretary of State Colin Powell's meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, the desired period for "calm" has been reduced to seven days, from ten. Nonetheless, demanding 100% participation in any activity, anywhere on earth is the stuff of utopian philosophy. When the most repressive, authoritarian regimes known have failed at efforts to achieve perfect levels of cooperation, expecting such behavior from Palestinians or Israelis, living in stressful environments under adverse or downright abysmal conditions, is not naïve, it is simply cynical. It is also a sure-fire recipe for adding another conflict - an unresolvable, conceptual conflict over numbers - to the rocks and bullets being dodged on the ground.

[1] "Bush and Sharon Differ on Ending Violence," by Jane Perlez,
The New York Times, 27 June 2001
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.
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