The Jericho Show

Israel is convinced that it is not dealing with an occupation but with a war on terror and in such wars, of course, there is no place for discourse.

So what could Israel have done? Let those terrorists walk around freely and grant interviews to all the TV stations? The anxiety of such a possibility created the spectacle of the week: a group of wanted men in their underwear walking with their hands above their heads, from a Palestinian jail into an Israeli one. And indeed, in the competition between the possible spectacle that the terrorists would produce and the spectacle that the state wanted to produce, the state won, and there's no point in criticizing it over this. On the contrary, when it was clear that the other possibility was more or less a series of assassinations, which would certainly kill innocent passersby - and the partial cease-fire - it was best the way it was done.

There's also no point in whining about how "we are all exposed" and how terror will return to the cities. Israeli civilians were harmed by terror while Ahmed Saadat's gang was in prison, and they will continue to be exposed to terror as long as the occupation goes on - not because Israel "put on a show" in Jericho. After all, Saadat (the secretary general of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine) ran his affairs from prison as if it were his office.

More importantly, the argument that Israel has supposedly reopened the "cycle of violence" is too convenient - not because it doesn't have a measure of truth to it, but because that truth assumes that there is a status quo of quiet in which each side precisely measures what the other side is doing and determines an appropriate response. One for one: When Israel strikes, the Palestinian groups retaliate; when Israel is quiet, the Palestinians are restrained. Thus, the thinking goes, if Israel only were to exercise self-restraint, it could control the territories without violent reactions from the Palestinians. That is a nice illusion that treats all violence in the territories as part of a balance of forces between deterrence and prevention. That is why the questions that followed the Jericho operation are so important: Will the organizations respond? Will Hamas join the retaliation and end the hudna (cease-fire)? And mostly, look what a precise message Israel sent Hamas: now it understands that Israel gets those who don't keep agreements with it.

Beyond the sheer nonsense of such slogans, since non-abidance with agreements is not a Palestinian monopoly - and in the Jericho case, there was only a reasonable suspicion that an agreement would be violated - it is worth noting the balancing equation similar to those between two Mafioso families. The concept of "occupation," let alone "negotiation," is nowhere to be found in the equation. Stature is a matter of who sends a more threatening message. This is a balance based on two contradictory assumptions: the first, that "Palestinian terror" no longer needs a reason. It exists as if it were genetic, terror for terror's sake, and there is no way to persuade them to cease. The decisive evidence of this is of course the victory of Hamas, the ultimate symbol of terrorism. The second assumption says that as long as the Palestinians don't uphold certain conditions (fighting terror, disarming the armed groups, and in a worst-case scenario in which those two conditions are met, then democratization), Israel has no choice. It must fight where they refuse.

But what is Israel complaining about? If terror is the heart and soul of the Palestinians, there's no point in posing conditions to them, and if it is not genetic terrorism, why not try negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, even if it is headed by Hamas?

The result of this contradiction is a system of denial that refutes any possibility or purpose inherent in negotiating, whether about freeing prisoners or withdrawing from the territories. Unilateralism, whether it is a matter of the continued imprisonment of the assassins in Jericho or of a "convergence," meaning another withdrawal, is the only means; there is no other. This is because Israel is convinced that it is not dealing with an occupation but with a war on terror and in such wars, of course, there is no place for discourse. At least there was a good show in Jericho. That's something. But let's not confuse the sense of satisfaction with the feeling of victory.