The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Monday, April 15, 2002  


Writing in today's New York Times, David K. ShipIer points to the imbalance of power between Israel and the Palestinian Authority and the resulting impossibility of expecting progress as long as this imbalance exists.

"Israel's strategy -- to hold its Arab neighbors accountable for the use of their territory as a staging ground for terrorism -- eventually succeeded in bringing calm to most border areas for long periods between spasms of warfare. The Israeli-Syrian frontier has been quiet for nearly three decades, even without a peace treaty. After the 1973 war, Egypt and Jordan substantially curtailed infiltrations even before they signed treaties with Israel in 1979 and 1994, respectively.

"However, this miniature cold war has kept the peace only where the opponent has been a strong, stable state. The two notable failures of this approach involve Arab lands without governmental power, and in both cases Mr. Sharon has tried ineptly to reshape Arab politics by applying military force. [Ed.: Emphasis added.] One is southern Lebanon, which disintegrated as the government lost control during the civil war. The chaotic area became home to Palestinian guerrillas, international mercenaries and militias backed by Syria and Iran. As defense minister in 1982, Mr. Sharon invaded in a futile attempt to install a pro-Western regime in Beirut that could pacify the border region.

"The other failure of deterrence is the West Bank and Gaza, where the Oslo accords never gave Palestinians enough autonomy to outweigh Israeli occupation. What progress there was did not strike most Palestinians as worth preserving — not Yasir Arafat's inchoate government, not the Israeli withdrawals that produced disconnected enclaves of Palestinian authority, not the Israeli promise that good behavior would bring statehood.

"There, too, Mr. Sharon has had grandiose political visions beyond the immediate military goals. 'Peace can only be attained if, once we evacuate the territories, we find a responsible Palestinian leadership,' he told the Israeli Parliament last week. Twenty years after failing in Lebanon, he still thinks the Israelis can pick Arab leaders. Yet his military assault against the suicide bombings that have terrorized Israel is actually restoring Mr. Arafat's popularity and further radicalizing the Palestinian population."

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