Over the weekend, the Israel Defense Forces again took up positions in the suburbs of Khan Yunis, and the defense minister found himself once more having to instruct the army to take action in order to put an end to the firing of mortars against Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip. And, if this was not enough to counter the hypothesis that the armed confrontation with the Palestinians is dying out, Qassam rockets were launched in the past day against the western Negev, and mortars injured four Israelis in Neveh Dekalim. Two of the victims, including an 8-year-old boy, were seriously wounded.
The State of Israel must ask itself if these developments are necessary. Immediately following the death of Yasser Arafat, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his ministers promised to do everything in order to make it easier for the new Palestinian leadership to establish itself. The message was that the Israeli leadership would not miss the opportunity to open a new page in the relations between the two peoples. During internal deliberations it became abundantly clear that the lesson from the past calls for the creation, to the extent possible, of the necessary conditions in order to direct the confrontation toward dialogue. As part of this view, Sharon apparently ordered the IDF to avoid assassinations of Palestinians, except in clear-cut cases where a "ticking bomb" needed to be neutralized. The heads of the security establishment announced that they would limit the IDF activities in the territories to necessary operations, which they would seek to keep as limited as possible in the near future.
In practice, the behavior of the IDF sheds a strange light on the official stance of the political echelon. In the past month, since Arafat's death, the IDF has arrested and killed Palestinians. Nearly every day the public is informed of an IDF operation in the Palestinian Authority's territory. A number of days after Arafat's funeral, the IDF rushed to make public the surrender of Imad Kawasme in Hebron. Last Thursday, the air force tried to assassinate Jamal Abu Samhadne in the Gaza Strip. The two were, indeed, leaders of Palestinian terrorism, and the IDF has been after them for years. Notwithstanding, the question stands on whether, under the current circumstances, they constituted "ticking bombs."
Moreover, even if the military operations that were meant to arrest or kill these men were carried out without particular criticism from the Palestinian Authority, the decision makers in Jerusalem must ask themselves whether these moves serve their declared aims: to put an end to the cycle of violence and lay the foundations for the development of diplomatic dialogue.
The fact is that the number of violent incidents and the number of injured resulting from this activity is back on the rise: In the past three days alone (as of last night), the IDF has killed six Palestinians, one of them a 7-year-old girl, and injured three others. The number of Israelis injured in Palestinian attacks is four. The Israeli explanation to these figures is well known: The IDF is operating to prevent attacks and the measures it is adopting are clearly defensive; its targets do not belong to the camp of Palestinians willing to move away from violent struggle to negotiations.
Past experience justifies questioning the validity of this argument. During the previous tenure of the Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) government, a similar violent dynamic unfolded, stemming to a large extent from the routine thinking and activities of the IDF and the view of its commanders that "operational opportunities" must be taken. Only in retrospect did the honest among them admit that this approach contributed to the failure of the Palestinian leader to bolster his position in power.
That mistake is now once more on Israel's doorstep: Even if not all the IDF operations in the territories during the past month are opposed by the Palestinian Authority (there is no evidence backing this hypothesis), they are significant enough to create an uncontrollable situation and undermine the efforts of achieving the desired aim - to replace the armed confrontation with dialogue with the new Palestinian leadership.
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