Expressions of satisfaction emerged from the prime minister and the IDF top brass over the weekend at the moves they initiated. The chief of staff and his colleagues sounded pleased with the results of the assassination of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, and the prime minister and his aides expressed contentment with the results of Dov Weisglass' meetings in Washington, which dealt with the disengagement from the Gaza Strip.
Before it transpires how realistic these evaluations are, one should identify the assumptions these two moves are based on and examine the extent to which they bring Israel closer to its target - ending the conflict with the Palestinians, or at least improving its security.
Liquidating Sheikh Yassin has the potential of going down in the history of the conflict with implications like those of the Deir Yassin massacre in the War of Independence. The occupation of Deir Yassin in Jerusalem in April 1948 haunts the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to this day. In the Palestinian and Arab discourse, it is seen as a manifestation of Israeli atrocities. The village was conquered by Etzel and Lehi (pre-state underground militias) in an operation that resulted in scores of dead civilians. The massacre provided the legitimacy for brutal retaliations. In the Israeli discourse it was seen as a controversial move but also as the operation that accelerated the flight of Israel's Arabs, to the state's benefit.
In retrospect, the symbol of the Deir Yassin massacre clouds the relations between the two nations to this day, and what seems like an isolated achievement at the time frequently becomes a toxic residue whose drops can prevent reconciliation for a long time to come.
This too may be the outcome of Sheikh Yassin's liquidation. The defense establishment finds encouraging signs in the response of the Palestinian street and moderate Arab regimes and in the act's repercussions on the rejectionist organizations' ability to attack Israel.
This joy is premature. It may yet transpire that the assassination is perceived in the Arab world as a Jewish provocation of Islam, and is bound to bring an acute act of revenge that will further complicate the conflict and prevent the implementation of the disengagement plan.
Like the decision to kill Yassin, the initiative to withdraw from the Gaza Strip is an isolated answer to a security or political need, without dealing with the root of the problem. On the week the Knesset marked 25 years of peace with Egypt, Ariel Sharon should have known that trying to be clever with the Palestinian problem does not solve it.
Menachem Begin believed he could solve the problem by giving them autonomy. Accumulated experience has shown that Israel's problem with the Palestinians has only intensified since March `79. As Begin tried, in vain, to remove the problem from the universal agenda with a complete withdrawal from Sinai, so Sharon will fail in his attempt to solve it by evacuating the entire Strip. As Sadat demanded creating an affiliation between the peace agreement and the solution of the Palestinian problem, so the United States will not fulfill Sharon's expectation to disconnect his moves in the Strip from his plans in the West Bank.
Sharon's assumption that after the withdrawal the world will let him conduct an unrestricted war against the Strip if the terror attacks from there persist is an illusion. As long as the Palestinian problem is not solved from its base, Israel will be considered responsible for it to a large extent.
The rosy descriptions the Prime Minister's Bureau is spreading of the results of Weisglass' talks in Washington will not succeed in concealing the basic difficulty - the conflict cannot be solved with gimmicks and partial moves. The withdrawal from Gaza - a welcome initiative in itself, if indeed it is carried out - is no substitute for a comprehensive solution that ends the occupation and restores self-respect to the Palestinians and security to the Israelis.
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