Which government statement should we believe - Wednesday morning's or Friday afternoon's? The government is heading for another military adventure and is authorizing reservists to be conscripted for it but meantime, Ariel Sharon's government leaves the citizens wondering where all this is heading. What will be the military operation's goals, what is its scope, and for how long does the government intend to carry it on?
Early Wednesday morning the Prime Minister's Office issued a statement about consultations Sharon carried out in response to an attack on the road leading from the Gilo neighborhood in Jerusalem. The announcement was unequivocal: "There has been a decision to change the State of Israel's policy of responding to acts of murderous terror," it said. "Israel will respond to an act of terror by taking Palestinian Authority lands. These territories will be kept by Israel for as long as terror continues. Additional acts of terror will lead to the taking of more territories."
At first, this statement left little room for doubt - the Prime Minister's Office had decided to change Israel's mode of action in the confrontation with the Palestinians. From this point on, Israel would occupy lands located within the Palestinian Authority any time there was an act of terror against Israel or its citizens. This change represents an important turning point in Israeli policy which indeed warranted a special declaration. Before the change, the Israel Defense Forces responded directly to terror attacks, and devoted military energies to thwarting them - from now on, the IDF would enact a collective punishment policy damaging to the whole Palestinian population in the territories, and to the PA leadership. More terror attacks would lead to an Israeli occupation of additional areas in "A" lands that have been controlled by the PA.
For argument's sake, we'll ignore the controversial moral perception wrapped within this decision and the dubious political-diplomatic policy it promotes. More than anything, the question arises as to whether this is indeed the binding decision reached by Israel's governing body, whatever that body is.
As it happened, not long after the Prime Minister's Office issued the announcement, both the defense and foreign ministers took exception to it. Benjamin Ben-Eliezer appeared on the media to make clear he had no part in a decision meant to reoccupy Palestinian land, or to enact collective punishment on the Palestinian population in retribution for acts perpetrated by individuals. Foreign Minister Peres called for a meeting with Sharon and demanded that the statement be revised.
A new declaration was issued on Friday. Following a meeting of the political-security cabinet, we were told the IDF will remain in a few Palestinian cities on the West Bank "as necessity requires and until its objectives are attained." This statement appears to re-affirm the IDF's familiar pattern of activity: The army's actions are designed to forestall terror strikes, and IDF troops occasionally enter PA territories for a limited time.
The government's mode of operation in this instance cannot be overlooked, and it would be wrong to take solace in the fact that a statement was released on Friday to revise one made on Wednesday morning. The decisions in question here are fraught with far-ranging implications that will affect the lives of many people. The public deserves to know precisely what decision the government has made regarding the continued military struggle with the Palestinians.
Who has reached the decision, and what should be inferred from the contradiction between the two announcements? How did it happen that the Prime Minister's Office announced that the IDF is gearing up to occupy new areas on the West Bank for a length of time? How binding was the second statement, which came 48 hours later, and advocated an opposite policy course - to persist with existing IDF policy? Which of the two decisions reflects realities as they have unfolded on the West Bank since Wednesday morning?
For four days, significant numbers of IDF troops have operated in central cities on the West Bank, and in its environs. Reserve units have been called up, and a name, "Determined Route," has even been designated for the operation. In contrast to "Defensive Shield," whose goals were defined in a way that guaranteed it would be limited in time, the purposes of Determined Route remain ambiguous.
When IDF soldiers are sent deep into Palestinian territory, the public has a right to know how long they are meant to be there, and what will count as success in the operation.
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