And the Winner Is?

Who won the 1,000-day war that Yasser Arafat launched against Israel in September 2000 - a war that caused thousands of Israeli and Palestinian casualties, did substantial damage to the Israeli economy and brought utter ruin to the Palestinians?

This may seem like a rather abstract question. Firstly, because as yet, it is not clear that the war is over. The hudna that the Palestinian terrorist organizations have declared is, according to them, no more than a 90-day truce, which, even if observed for that period, may very well lead to a renewal of terrorist warfare unless they are disarmed in the interim. Secondly, one could ask: Does it really make any difference for the future of Israelis and Palestinians who won this bloody contest?

Experience shows that it can make a difference. There is little doubt that Egypt's readiness to sign a peace treaty with Israel was the direct result of its realization that it had lost the Yom Kippur War - a war that Egypt and Syria initiated under optimal conditions, hitting Israel simultaneously in the north and in the south and catching the country unprepared.

It doesn't matter that to this day, Egypt declares that it was victorious and that it has established a museum in Cairo that depicts this "victory." The Israel Defense Forces' presence 101 kilometers from Cairo and within artillery range of Damascus at the end of the fighting is convincing enough. Had it not been for the realization that renewed violence against Israel would only lead to another defeat, they would probably have prepared themselves for another round of fighting rather than negotiating peace with Israel.

More recently, Hezbollah's sense that it had scored a victory over Israel after the precipitous withdrawal of the IDF from southern Lebanon not only led to a continuation of hostile activity on Israel's northern border, but also seemed to have encouraged Arafat to launch his campaign of terror against Israel. If a few hundred Hezbollah fighters could bring Israel to its knees, then certainly thousands of Palestinians bringing terror into the homes of Israelis would be able to do it, he thought.

So the pertinent issue at this time is whether it has become clear to the Palestinians, after the experience of the 1,000-day war, that acts of violence against Israel will get them nowhere. During the years of terror, it seemed that what was needed to put an end to this bloodshed was a decisive Israeli victory, a victory that would be a clear signal that Palestinian violence would achieve nothing. Such a victory would be the dismantlement of the Palestinian terrorist networks in Judea, Samaria and Gaza and the removal of the Palestinian leadership that launched the war of terror against Israel.

That point has yet to be reached, although it was coming closer as a result of the operations of the IDF and the security services during the past year.

The Palestinians - first and foremost Abu Mazen - were beginning to express sentiments that the campaign of violence was counterproductive. There were signs that Hamas was eager for a cease-fire, especially after one of the organization's leaders, Abdel Aziz Rantisi, barely escaped an attempt on his life. Although the Palestinian leadership has not been removed, Arafat has been weakened and pushed to the sidelines, while Abu Mazen seems to take center stage.

Is this enough? Is the task that Israel set for itself now going to be completed by the Palestinians themselves? Is Abu Mazen going to disarm Hamas and the other terrorist organizations and remove from the Palestinian leadership those who were the advocates of violence and terror?

It is far too early to tell. His hesitancy in confronting Hamas is troubling. Trying to encourage him by releasing Palestinian terrorists from Israeli prisons is a risky proposition. Israel was close to scoring a victory over Palestinian terror. It is to be hoped that we are not snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.