Nov 23 2002

Time to Break the Cycle of Violence

Published by at 12:00 am under Articles,Palestinian politics

Palestinians might differ considerably over what is the best way to resist the Israeli occupation. Some might argue for nonviolent resistance while others insist that only violent resistance will eventually lead to the exit of the occupational forces. Some Palestinians argue that anti Israeli attacks must be limited to the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip while others say that since Palestinian civilians are not immune from Israeli attacks, Israeli civilians can’t expect any different treatment.

But while Palestinians differ on the type and target of the resistance there seems to be near consensuses about the importance of timing. A badly timed attack, most would agree backfires even to its initiators. An attack after the Labor party left the national unity government in Israel has produced an illegal Israeli expansion of the Jewish presence in the heart of predominately Palestinian Hebron.

If the majority of Palestinians agree on the importance of timing, it is logic to discuss the wisdom of anti-Israeli attacks at this particular time. For the next three to six month important changes are expected in the region. These changes ought to persuade any sincere Palestinian to stop and consider the benefits or lack thereof of their actions.

Israelis are preoccupied with their internal and general elections that their external policy will not be changed as a result of attacks. If anything, such attacks might play into the hands of one group on the account of a more forthcoming group. Any violent action on the part of Palestinians will certainly have an effect on the Israeli elections. By carrying out any attacks during this period, those carrying them out are throwing their weight behind the more radical group of candidates.

On the regional and international level the timing can’t be any worse for Palestinians. The Iraqi crisis is set to divert attention from the suffering of Palestinians under occupation. If anti-Israeli attacks continue they will do little to change Israeli negotiating position, they will not result in a change of the balance of forces in the area nor will they produce any international or western pressure on Israel.

On the Palestinian front, the situation is also fluid as the present caretaker government is a transitional one as we await new local, legislative and presidential elections in 2003.

All of the above elements must lead Palestinians to take a courageous position of unilaterally suspending anti Israeli attacks for say three months or six months.

Such a move will send a powerful message to the Israeli public and international community. A three-six month genuine moratorium on violent anti Israeli acts will also show the discipline among Palestinian militant groups. This will prove that they can stop when they choose and thus reflect the strength and unity of Palestinians.

Finally such a cessation of resistance acts will also benefit the Palestinian population, which has suffered untold pains as a result of the Israeli policy of closures, sieges, curfews, house destructions, tree-uprooting and apartheid-like travel restrictions. Israel has used the Palestinian resistance acts as a justification for the collective punishment of Palestinians.

Unfortunately such a bold Palestinian decision does not ensure an Israeli moratorium to its illegal policy of assassinations and extra judicial killings or even an easing of the oppressive occupation. Every attempt to produce such a quid pro quo with the Israelis during the past two years, whether directly or indirectly, has failed. In fact, recent history shows clearly that Israel has broken periods of Palestinian quiet with its deadly assassination policy, acts that Israeli knows very well would produce reprisals.

And so, while it might be logical to expect Palestinian militants, including the Islamic groups, to agree to such a unilateral cease fire, it will be extremely difficult to hold these groups back once their own leaders and local heroes are killed by Israeli death squads. A lack of response would make the targeted group look weak in front of its own public. Rejecting public calls for revenge and sustaining such a unilateral cease-fire would require these groups to sacrifice their own public standing for the common good. The only way that these groups might be willing to do that is if they are convinced that the prize at the end of the tunnel is worthwhile for them and their people. The world has proven in the past not to have the willingness or the ability to deliver what they promise. Promised monthly Arab financial support to the near bankrupt Palestinian economy has dried up completely in the past two months.

The world’s inability to get Israel to respect binding international conventions regarding safeguarding civilians under occupation has exasperated confidence in the world community. This contradiction is made that much more blatant as Palestinians look at how Iraq is being forced to enforce every single element of the UN resolutions.

If the present cycle of violence is to be broken we need courage and statesmanship by Palestinian militants and leaders, sincere efforts by Arab leaders to rescue Palestinians and genuine non-stop involvement by the world community to end this madness.

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