The bomb that found Salah Shehadeh in the home of one of his wives in Gaza and in the process, killed 11 other people, including eight children, was the 48th that the Israeli Air Force has dropped since the intifada began. The other 47 bombings "made no noise," as they say in the military, and were therefore considered successful operations. The prevalent understanding in the government and the defense establishment is that an "emergency routine" should be maintained and that any sharp jumps in the violence curve should be avoided, to the extent possible. The buzz word in the defense establishment describing this policy is "to play with the volume button" so that Israel can go on "managing" or "containing" the conflict without any extreme changes in the situation.
In fact, this has been the approach ever since October 2000: the previous government as well as the current one blindly believe that the best policy for Israel is to let the violent conflict with the Palestinians "exhaust itself," since it cannot be resolved by military or political means. Ostensibly, this concept leans on substantial military and political reasons; in reality it simply hides a common human weakness: the fear of change.
The explanations why there is no way out of our grim reality are all common knowledge: the Palestinian mutiny cannot be suppressed with force; Israel must not cave in to terror; there is no partner for peace talks on the other side; Israeli concessions are perceived as signs of weakness; the core issues - the Temple Mount and the Palestinian right of return - cannot be resolved and a permanent agreement can therefore not be sought; unilateral withdrawal would not end the conflict but only boost the motivation of the Palestinians and the Arab world to crush Israel; because of coalition problems and the ideological rift in Israeli society, no government has the power to make unequivocal moves either way; if Israel reoccupies the territories and destroys the Palestinian Authority or, alternatively, if it agrees to withdraw to the borders of 1967, the relationship between Israel and the Arab minority living in Israel would change dramatically, to the extent of an existential threat; resuming direct negotiations where we left off in Camp David would only give the Palestinians an incentive to keep up their terror campaign; if the international community is allowed to sponsor negotiations, dictates would be handed down to Israel that it cannot accept.
It is these compelling arguments that fixed the mind-set of decision makers in the IDF and in the government. Since each of the options includes a gamble, since each neutralizes the other, our leaders have, for two years, been opting for the least-dangerous choice: status quo. The concept that was born out of this natural inclination was beautifully constructed: a mix of limited offensive operations, extensive defensive operations and monitored political activity to assist internal developments within the Palestinian Authority that would eventually neutralize Arafat and install a new Palestinian leadership. This formula also provides a solution for the reality in the Middle East after the American attack on Saddam Hussein.
But this prescription completely ignores the possibility that even if Arafat is removed, an understanding with the Palestinians may still not be attainable under the current Israeli terms, and that terror is not an act of individuals but an expression of a popular sentiment.
Now that the new chief of staff assumed office, the prevalent approach has gained an official stamp of approval: the prime minister stated this week that he accepted the opinion of the military that this is the road to follow.
But there is another way. A new peace proposal can be put on the table despite past disappointments, trust-building gestures can be made, many other such moves can be devised. It is foolish to believe that under the circumstances the current approach is optimal; consider how low this country has sunk and how heavy is the price it has been paying for the fixed concept - the "conceptia" approach - of its leaders.
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