We are now seeing the first indications of change in the nature of the conflict with the Palestinians. Operation Defensive Shield seems to have been the catalyst that may yet produce profound changes in Palestinian society, in relations between Israel and that society, between Palestinians and the Arab world, and Palestinians and the international community.
As expected, the operation did not mark the end of suicide bombings, but it has brought about a substantial reduction in Palestinian terrorist activity. It was a demonstration that the IDF has the capability of bringing about such a result, and it is now clear to all that future Palestinian acts of terror will be followed by similar operations.
Despite all the talk and newspaper advertisements of a movement of IDF soldiers to refuse to serve in the territories, this turned out to be a marginal phenomenon. The call-up of reserve units was uniformly successful, reservists reporting for duty in the knowledge that they were going to fight for their homes and families. The military operation enjoyed the wholehearted support of the vast majority of the Israeli public, and no doubt subsequent operations will receive similar backing. Israel is united in its battle against Palestinian terrorism.
Although the operation was met by protests in Europe by governments and street demonstrations, by the time the dust had settled it was clear the allegations of massacres and war-crimes were groundless and Israel, under daily attacks from Palestinian suicide bombers, had no choice but to respond forcefully. The reservations about the operation heard from Washington quickly were replaced by understanding and even support.
Yasser Arafat and his people are coming in for severe criticism around the world. "I am disappointed in him, the Palestinians deserve a better leadership," said President George Bush. The U.S. government agrees with Israel's prime minister that fundamental reforms are needed in the Palestinian Authority - an end to corruption, a start to transparency in its financial affairs, and above all an end to support for terrorist activities. Even the Europeans are chiming in with the same tune.
Similar voices, somewhat more muted, are heard in the Arab world. Arafat is coming in for criticism, the demand is heard for reforms in the Palestinian Authority, and the Saudi princes have taken on the job of pressuring Arafat to mend his ways. Suicide bombing, which at first was hailed in the Arab press as a Koran-approved form of martyrdom, is lately being condemned as unworthy of Muslims. Arafat is losing the support of Arab leaders.
The most significant changes are taking place among the Palestinians. Whereas, many expected that Operation Defensive Shield and Arafat's lengthy quarantine in Ramallah would boost his prestige and turn him into a hero, the opposite seems to have happened. His prestige among the Palestinians has plummeted, his reception on his visits to Palestinian towns is decidedly cool.
More and more Palestinians are beginning to realize that his leadership has led to ruin and disaster. While some of his lieutenants are threatening to resign and others are sparring for leadership positions, calls are being heard for reform of his corrupt leadership and the introduction of democratic rule. So insistent are these calls that even Arafat is talking about holding elections and carrying out reforms.
By now Arafat is sufficiently well known that hardly anyone is holding his breath waiting for him to carry out serious reforms of his despotic corrupt regime. But after all these years his many admirers in Europe and Israel, who used to troop to his door and shower oriental kisses on him, are beginning to distance themselves from him. The Norwegian judges who awarded him the Nobel Peace Prize are probably hiding their heads in shame. Even they now know that he will not bring peace to Palestinians and Israelis.
All these changes are not an avalanche, but they may yet portend one. An avalanche that will sweep away Arafat's leadership and the Oslo agreements into history, bring Palestinian terrorism into general disrepute, and clear the decks for an eventual accommodation between Israel and its neighbors.
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