As the Israel Defense Forces prepare to withdraw from Area A (the first pullback was delayed last night), it is appropriate to start evaluating the results of going into the Palestinian territories in the first place. Is it true, as Prime Minister Ariel Sharon promised on October 17, that "what has been going on until now will not continue"?
There is no one in the corridors of power in Jerusalem who believes Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat plans to change his ways. He has not abandoned the use of terror as a means to pressure Israel into accepting his positions, and he has no intention of handing over the murderers of Tourism Minister Rehavam Ze'evi. Nor is he about to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure or arrest the terrorists named on a list that Israel has submitted to him.
One cannot avoid reaching the conclusion that these important goals that were at the core of the cabinet's decision to order the IDF into Area A have not been attained. Nor can one avoid noting another failure - the shooting on Gilo continues, and has perhaps even intensified, since the army went into Beit Jala and Bethlehem. The conclusion - the operation undertaken to besiege Palestinian towns and send in Israeli troops has not prevented direct shooting. This tactic was effective only in one aspect of the fight against terror - it made it difficult for potential attackers to enter Israel proper.
Ostensibly, the action reaped two important benefits. It made it possible to trap two Palestinians who were part of the cell that killed Ze'evi (although the murderers themselves were not captured), and it brought about the arrest of more than 40 members of terrorist organizations. One could contend that these results alone justify the action.
But defense officials themselves concede that the two accomplices in the Ze'evi murder were captured immediately after the assassination, without any connection to the IDF incursion into areas under PA control and that the arrests of other Palestinian terrorists was carried out mostly in the village of Beit Rima in an action that was planned a long time ago and did not directly require the drive into Area A (although there may have been an element of diversion that helped the troops operating in Beit Rima).
It is therefore difficult to point to any tangible successes stemming from the siege on the Palestinian towns. They are limited to preventing terrorist action within Israel (in the form of car bombs or suicide attacks) although this is only a temporary reprieve. As soon as the siege is lifted, the nation will once again be exposed to lethal attacks.
The IDF operation did not dent the ability of terrorist organizations to attack Israel nor diminish their motivation to do so (motivation may have been intensified). It also did not bring about any substantial change in Arafat's position on the use of terror against Israel.
In the cabinet, there are those who contend that the operation put psychological pressure on the PA and drove home to Arafat that there is a threat to his sovereignty hanging over his head. It is doubtful if Arafat has internalized this lesson and the possibility should not be excluded that he has reached precisely the opposite conclusion.
The IDF action once again proved the limits of force, the ritualistic character and the barrenness of massive military response in the current situation Israel faces with the Palestinians. The action also extracted a diplomatic and moral price. The price was tension with the United States, the European's coming to the rescue in defense of the Palestinian populace, and fresh frustration in Israel when IDF troops return to their bases and it becomes clear that nothing has changed in terms of Palestinian behavior, or if anything has changed, it is only in the short-term.
The government and the army are in an unenviable position. They must find a response to the Palestinian violence under the most difficult of circumstances - they must be efficient but mete out a response of the right proportions. They must respond to public outcry and also consider world opinion. They must hit at terrorists but also decrease the level of suffering of the Palestinian population in general.
It would be easier to manage this complex conflict if the political authorities could decide, finally, whether Arafat is a partner to an arrangement, or an enemy to be quashed.
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