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http://www3.haaretz.co.il/eng/scripts/article.asp?mador=4&datee=09/20/00&id=93666

Israel's last chance

By Amira Hass , Ha'aretz, September 20, 2000

The conduct of the Israeli negotiations are based, among other things, on the assumption that it is the Palestinians who will lose out by rejecting the agreement and that they must therefore rush into accepting whatever is offered to them now. In other words: Israel can afford to live, and to live well, without an agreement.

This assumption is helped along by the secondary assumption by elements in the defense establishment that even the Palestinians' most visible bargaining chip - confrontation - is not all that feasible due to their economic dependence on Israel. It is worth mentioning that first of all, in contrast to statements by defense sources, the closure policy has not been "stopped completely" since 1997; the prohibition against Palestinians' freedom of movement is firm and abiding. Secondly, it is true that corruption in the Palestinian Authority is driving out investors, but so is political uncertainty and the closure policy.

The two assumptions warrant examination, beginning with the second assumption. On the eve of the Intifada, the Israeli defense rationale was similar. The personal situations of tens of thousands of Palestinian families improved after 1967, when the Palestinians were allowed to become a cheap labor force for Israel and when a few new refugee neighborhoods were built. And in the insulting words of a senior official in the office coordinating government activities in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1992: "We built them Sheikh Radwan [a neighborhood in Gaza] and they still took part in the Intifada." Israel was blind to the non-economic factors that made the life of every Palestinian intolerable. And it also did not understand that people were comparing their situation to the improved situation of their neighbor, especially when that people had rights that were stripped from them.

The second flimsy pillar of the Israeli analysis is focusing on Arafat as the one responsible for instigating or reining in any potential confrontation. Rebellion is not planned from on high, and the moment could come when people who were not afraid of the rifles of the Israel Defense Forces will no longer be put off by those of the Palestinian police. The third flimsy pillar is ignoring the great poverty in which at least one-third of the Palestinian population lives. No intelligence officer could know when and how this poverty will give rise to opposition.

Israel under Prime Minister Ehud Barak has the unanimous support of the West. If the Likud returns to power, this could change. Will the military-economic elites in Israel withstand this change?

Let's assume they will. How will Israel manage with the possible collapse of the PA's systems resulting from the failure of the Palestine Liberation Organization to justify its peace strategy? How will it manage with the mass yearning for Allah and his earthly representatives, the Hamas movement? Look how much a similar Israeli response to years of oppression and discrimination - the Shas movement - threatens the reigning order here.

The Palestinians do not need, or want, to become Hezbollah. But can Israel cope with a limited edition of this organization? Even if the PLO remains, the Palestinian security forces will not agree to restrain Hamas indefinitely. How will Israel manage with the necessary increase in the defense budget once the PA stops operating as a defense subcontractor?

The Israelis - those who make the political and economic decisions - have become accustomed to living well and comfortably in recent years. The settlements and the non-ideological Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, which are the majority, beckon to Israelis because of the quality of life they offer, and cheaply. Can this Israeli middle class adapt quickly to the potential constant harassment and disruption to their comfortable lives - harassment whose scope or nature can barely be imagined today? How many lives will be sacrificed and how many years will pass before Israel's mothers ask why their sons must patrol the roads connecting Kfar Sava to the Jordan Valley.


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