Benjamin Ben-Eliezer was very pleased last weekend: he believed there was a good chance that the Palestinians would endorse his plan, known as "Gaza First," and the violent conflict would subside. It also looked like the terror curve was falling after no deadly attacks had taken place in more than a week. Since Ben-Eliezer is the defense minister, it is important to understand how he thinks in order to comprehend the mind-set of Israel's leadership in the face of the Palestinian uprising.
Ben-Eliezer now diagnoses more readiness among the Palestinians to reach an understanding with Israel that would stop the violence. To avoid a jinx and in order not to be accused of false prophesies, he says he has no assurances that this wishful forecast will indeed materialize. More terror attacks may occur, but his feeling is that an "interesting" change is taking place on the Palestinian side.
Ben-Eliezer is not the only one to spread optimistic forecasts. In April, after Operation Defensive Shield, on his way to meet U.S. President George W. Bush, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said that the operation was important and created a shock wave in the Palestinian Authority. The quiet period after the operation led Sharon's aides to determine that Operation Defensive Shield has brought security back to Israel's streets. The operation was seen as such a great success that its name was enlisted for other national goals (Finance Minister Silvan Shalom, for example, announced "an economic defensive shield"). But as Sharon was holding his talks with the American President, a ruthless terror attack took place at a pool parlor in Rishon Letzion, killing 16 and wounding 60. Other suicide bombers followed shortly.
June's Operation Determined Path also brought temporary relief. It, too, stirred up hope and talks of a turning point, but this hope, too, was crushed.
Now, in the wake of Operation Maybe This Time, Israel's leaders again cannot avoid the temptation to say that the long-awaited change is about to take place. So much so that the defense establishment has concluded that Palestinian leaders have realized the intifada has failed and led to disastrous results for them. These evaluations are based on reliable intelligence generated by a close monitoring of Arafat and his senior assistants.
In between operations, Prime Minister Sharon has on several occasions made learned observations about the recipe he has found for fighting terror and about how the Palestinian leaders were slowly realizing that they had no choice but to reach an understanding with Israel. Unfortunately, it is almost certain that the current halt in terror will come to an end and the bloodshed will continue.
The cycle described above is reminiscent of Alzheimer's disease, which usually strikes older people. The most prominent symptom of the disease is forgetfulness, but it also includes delusions and paranoia. Time and time again Israel's leadership forgets the consequences of the previous military operations that it launched against the Palestinian Authority in response to terrorism. Israel's reactions repeat themselves, as though the same steps were never taken before. The leadership also encourages the futile hope (in Alzheimer patients the delusions involve anxiety) that these measures lead to the change it has been yearning for; with every new cycle the leaders are more convinced that they are facing a horrible enemy that would be unwilling to reach a sincere agreement under any circumstances.
Having tried the "seven days of quiet," "gradual arrangement in the West Bank," "security talks" and "talks about implementing the Tenet and Mitchell plans," Israel's leaders are now toying with the notion of "Gaza First," in the hope that Arafat will vanish and the Palestinian leadership's attitude toward Israel will be transformed. These solutions are just about as effective as paracetamol is for Alzheimer's patients. There is only one way to untangle the Israeli-Palestinian situation - an agreement that would be based on Israeli withdrawal from the territories.
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