Oct 19 2001

The quiet Palestinian response surprises Israelis

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

Ramallah — When Israeli tanks rolled into Ramallah, on Thursday morning (October 18), they expected stiff resistance. They drove in from the northern side of the city near the Best Western Hotel and from the West near the Jawwal building. To reduce casualties the Israelis chose the early morning hour of 6:30, using only tanks and armored personnel carriers, and entered only two kilometers into Palestinian “A” areas. Palestinian national security forces were poised for battle and ready to attack the invading Israelis. But the Israelis were surprised as to what awaited them. No resistance.

The Palestinian decision not to respond in an all-out resistance campaign reflected the new Palestinian strategy. President Yasser Arafat articulated this new strategy, adopted after the Sept. 11 attacks in America, when he agreed unilaterally to a ceasefire. At the time, he said that Palestinians will not shoot even if they are shot at.

This new strategy takes into consideration the changes in the world after the attacks on New York and Washington and tries to capitalize on the needs of the Western powers for active support of Arab and Muslim countries.

The assassination of a right-wing Israeli cabinet minister this week, reportedly by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), complicated the situation. The denouncement of the killing by Arafat and top Palestinian National Authority (PNA) officials reflects the concern that the PNA wants to try its best not to be left out of the new world coalition against terror.

The Palestinian decision not to shoot at infiltrating Israeli tanks also reflects the experience of the power of diplomacy. Palestinians have seen Israelis withdraw from Jenin, Beit Jala as well as last Sunday’s withdrawal from Hebron’s Abu Sneneh neighborhood as a result of diplomatic pressure. Sure Palestinian resistance did have some effect. But the withdrawal from Beit Jala, for example, was due to the Palestinians’ continuous attacks on the settlement of Gilo rather than attacks against Israeli soldiers who were hunkered down in tanks and in high buildings.

Despite the official PNA position, the assassination of a much despised Israeli official has been well received in many Palestinian circles. The fact that it was carried out at all, and the fact that those carrying it out escaped, rather than knowingly carried out a suicide mission, has lifted Palestinian spirits.

It followed a period in which the PNA and the world community were unable to stop the Israeli policy of assassinations, even after the Palestinian side respected the ceasefire agreement, which had resulted, in part, in a gradual lifting of the Israeli siege last Monday (October 15).

But while the assassination resulted in a return to the siege policies, a number of Palestinians felt that it created a new dimension to the conflict. This was the first time that an Israeli cabinet minister was killed by Palestinians. This reflects a weakening in the effect of deterrence by Israeli officials. By assassinating a senior Israeli official, the Palestinians have slightly shifted the balance of deterrence to a degree that now Israelis will start thinking twice before resuming their assassination of senior Palestinian officials.

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