Jul 26 2001

The limits of power

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

Is there a limit to military power? Is there a limit to what a successful media campaign can accomplish? Can any party win a struggle without these two important components? Israelis have been flexing their military might and media power, but so far they have fallen far short of crushing the Palestinian will. Is there a hidden Palestinian strategy? 
Some Israeli politicians are trying to convince generals – and generals who have become prime ministers – of the limits of military power in a conflict like ours, and of the wisdom of concentrating instead on the media war. Public-relations firms have been hired, at million-dollar fees, and the Israeli, pro-Israeli, and worldwide Jewish media machine have been put to work. From an Israeli point of view, the results are impressive, even though the PR people have a difficult case to present. I mean, it can be no simple matter to blame Palestinian resistance on Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat and the incitement on rarely watched Palestine television rather than on the natural human desire of a people to be rid of a foreign colonial military occupation.

Many Palestinians have blamed the Palestinian leadership for not doing enough to counter this media campaign. And except for some hardworking activists in the Palestinian diaspora, the Palestinian position has been working on auto-pilot, with only the human force of the injustice as the driving argument for the Palestinian side. Some point to the absence of a Palestinian media position, the presence of an inept representative in Washington, and the practical absence of any effort to reach the Israeli public.

But despite the lack of Palestinian success on the media front, many can’t help but think that the Palestinian leadership has some plan – a new tactic to score points and get the Palestinian quest for independence on solid footing.

The more I think about it, the more I am convinced that there is no particular short-term Palestinian plan. The strategic goal of an independent state within the 1967 borders with Jerusalem as its capital, and a fair solution to the refugee issue, clearly continues to be the Palestinian goal. But how to reach that goal remains a mystery .

There is some indication that if the Israelis are unwilling to accept these in the short term, they will in the long term. In reality this has always been the Palestinian strategy. The only problem used to be the inability to stop and reverse the illegal Jewish settlement activity on Palestinian lands. For many this was the single biggest problem with the Oslo Accords – namely that the 1993 agreement did not include a settlement freeze.

Now that settlement activity is de-facto frozen and the world has taken a unanimous stand on the issue, the Palestinian leadership has all the time in the world to reach the above goals. And the sooner the Israelis agree to them, the better for all concerned.

For the Palestinian leadership, the greatest asset is the existence of a unified people in its own land that refuses to be subjugated. The only thing that can stop this long-term Palestinian plan is mass expulsion – something that is highly unlikely due to the collective Palestinian experience and the presence of major diplomats, media representatives, and the UN in the Palestinian territories. This, incidentally, is why the Palestinians are insisting on outside observers, whether from the CIA, the EU, or the UN. Such an international presence will be one more obstacle to attempts by Israeli settlers, soldiers, or others to expel Palestinians.

Writing in Ha’aretz a month ago, Uzi Benziman quoted Israeli experts as saying that Sharon is a master tactician but a weak strategist. What I am saying is that Arafat might have thrown in the towel with regard to negotiation tactics, the media battle, or winning over the Israeli public. He has calculated that he could not outmaneuver former prime minister Ehud Barak and former US president Bill Clinton; that he wouldn’t be able to take on the biased Western media; and that he could not charm Israelis into accepting Palestinian demands while they retain their overwhelming military and political power. The only area in which Palestinians could do well is the long term.

This long-term Palestinian plan was forced on the Israelis when Barak insisted on an all-or-nothing plan. It’s no wonder that Arafat resisted going to Camp David, and insisted on a promise from Clinton, which Clinton later broke, not to blame either side if the talks failed.

In my opinion, of course, Arafat could have done many things differently without relinquishing the long-term plan. No harm would have been done had the Palestinians played the negotiations, the media, and the Israeli peace camp more effectively. But the key to understanding the Palestinian strategy lies in realizing that on the fundamental goal of true independence and a fair solution to the refugee problem, neither Arafat nor his successor will budge.

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