The campaign slogan, "It's in our hands," hasn't sounded so true for quite some time. Beyond the public relations glitz of the campaign broadcasts, replete with images of hands wrapped around a flag, lies a simple truth, one that the ideas-people and advertisers might not have had in mind when they coined the slogan.
It really is in our hands: Despite what is said and heard in our public from morning to night, Israel bears a large measure (albeit, not a full one) of responsibility for what has occurred here over the past months; and it also holds the keys to extract the sides from their current predicament.
The united chorus and brainwashing campaign that has imposed the full brunt of the responsibility for what has happened on the shoulders of Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority has worked wonders. Most Israelis have, in fact, been convinced that the tragedy that has transpired was unavoidable. But another explanation of the events, another truth, could yet come to the fore. Unwittingly, the patriotic public relations campaign could help reveal it.
The last wave of terror attacks, the most horrifying sequence of all, came after two relatively quiet months in which no mass strikes were perpetrated. The month before those sixty days was also quiet, marred only by one large-scale shooting attack. Then came Mahmoud Abu Hanoud's assassination, which was preceded by a number of other targeted killings of Palestinians.
The Abu Hanoud assassination came after the period of relative quiet; and its horrific, destructive aftermath was not long in following. Hamas declared that it would take revenge, just as it announced after the 1996 assassination in Gaza of the "engineer," Yihye Ayash. And acts of vengeance did indeed follow soon after the Abu Hanoud killing. Just like the murder of former tourism minister Rehavam Ze'evi came in response to the killing of Abu Ali Mustafa, so too did a wave of suicide strikes follow the Abu Hanoud assassination.
Pointing to this sequence of events does not justify the terror atrocities. It does not relieve the terrorists of direct responsibility for their acts. But it is also true that Israel could have taken advantage of the period of relative quiet to achieve goals other than those sought by damaging, unnecessary assassination operations. For instance, during such a period of quiet, Israel could have significantly eased its closure policies. It was in our hands to do so.
The customary assumption - terror acts belong to them; acts of self-defense belong to us - no longer stands up to the test of reality. The balance of bloodshed and casualties puts Palestinian losses three times higher than those suffered by Israel. Beyond this, the character of several operations carried out by Israel severely strains our assumption of moral probity. Five children killed by a mine laid by our soldiers are not just regrettable victims of an accident; they are victims of terror. Similarly, the trail of destruction that Israel is now leaving through the West Bank and Gaza Strip cannot escape classification as terror.
Harshly provocative operations and the arrogant flexing of muscles - the destruction of Arafat's helicopters, tanks positioned in front of the PA leader's offices, the bombing and toppling of communications antennae, the occupation of Marwan Barghouti's apartment - merely stoke the fires of hatred and violence.
By calling on Arafat to wage war against terror, without supplying him with genuine political incentive to do so, and by raising this demand at a time when all of his security forces that are supposed to carry out the job are being bombarded and humiliated, Israel is casting doubt on its real intentions.
Is this still a war that Israel has declared on terror? Or, alternatively, is it a war that is being waged against the PA? Does anyone seriously believe that the repeated bombing of Palestinian police bases, or positions of Arafat's Force 17 Presidential Guard, will prevent even one suicide attack? And what is the connection between the tightening of closures and the current, cruel situation in the territories and the war against terror? Could it be that Sharon's plan was, from the start, to return Israel to Nablus and Hebron? Horrifyingly enough, if this was his plan, the Palestinians furnished him with an abundant number of excuses to implement it.
The promoters of the "It's in our hands" public relations campaign are trying to say that Israel has the wherewithal to extricate itself from the current predicament. And they are right. Alternative handling of the difficult crisis that now troubles Israel as though it were a natural disaster defying human intervention has a political motive: Those who uphold this version of events want to obscure responsibility for what has happened and obfuscate the imperative to come up with a solution.
By adopting a few bold measures, steps that are contrary to the ones it has taken till now, Israel can make a decisive contribution toward the resolution of the crisis. We have learned that the huge military effort, the renewed conquests, the assassinations and the curfews do not stifle Palestinian terror. They only aggravate and increase it.
In light of this knowledge, it is difficult to understand why a government that persists with these policies enjoys such wide public support. The time has come to choose a completely different policy path: All brazen displays of military might, the aims of which are to quench the Israeli public's thirst for revenge and to destroy the PA, should be curtailed. Israel should declare that it is ending its own acts of violence. Then, after putting an end to its attacks, Israel should indicate a willingness to resume negotiations without any preconditions.
Such declarations would put Arafat's real ambitions and intentions to the test. Furthermore, they would pose a challenge to Sharon. If Israel's prime minister really wants a peace arrangement, as he frequently says he does (even though his acts so far have undermined this declared objective), such moves would provide him with a golden opportunity to put his money where his mouth is.
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