- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 20, 2000

Despite two months of continued Palestinian violence, Israelis and Palestinians will once again sit at the negotiating table in the United States, demonstrating that Israel is committed to the peace process and proving that a diplomatic solution to the current crisis in the Middle East is preferable to any other.

In addition, Israel's pending elections certainly add a new dimension to its quest for peace. However, regardless of the current domestic situation, and while holding out hope that negotiations can help restore trust and calm, Israel's strategy for dealing with the current violent situation on the ground not only remains steadfast, but is abundantly clear: There is no military solution.

Palestinian instigation of violence on the ground sentences the process to an unbalanced fight. In such an environment, Israel, the militarily superior of the two, will always be perceived as using excessive force, and Yasser Arafat is capitalizing on that fact. It is only when sitting around a negotiating table that true, fair, and balanced discussions and advancements can be made in the peace process. Yet, absent Palestinian implementation of the many cease-fire agreements, and any earnest moves to bring the process back to the negotiating table, Israel has had to adopt a realistic strategy for dealing with the current conflict as it is manifesting itself on the ground.

First, Israel's military is actively seeking to contain and limit the fighting. The Palestinians are striving for the opposite. The escalation of fighting seems to be seeking maximum death and destruction to bring about an internationalization of the issue and external intervention. Yet, this is misled. Such an escalation would only serve to drastically increase the loss of life on both sides, dissolve any trust built throughout the preceding seven years, and further endanger overall regional stability. By containing the violence, Israel can at least attempt to maintain a level of stability and limit the human tragedy.

Secondly, Israel is proactively dealing with the Palestinian military infrastructure that plays an active role in the continued violence against its citizens. To this end, we are effectively conducting surgical operations in order to damage their operational capability and to constrain their ability to continually hit Israel.

The final key to our strategy is our continued policy that violence cannot, and will not, bring about political benefits for the Palestinians. Israel cannot allow the Palestinians, through the use of violence, to dictate the parameters of the process. The current orchestrated campaign of armed confrontation directly contradicts both the letter and the spirit of the Oslo framework, under which the Palestinians committed to abandoning the use of violence as a means to advance their aims. While Israel has agreed, in the framework of peace talks, to far-reaching changes in the political realities in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, against the background of armed conflict, Israel would be unwise to do anything that could be perceived as a victory for armed struggle. Violence is not a productive method to advance Palestinian policy goals. If the Palestinians want a long, drawn-out war of attrition, they will find a strong, united Israel unhesitant to respond. Israel is confident that the Palestinian leadership, and the Palestinian society, cannot sustain the pressures of such an extended conflict.

Mr. Arafat achieved recognition as a legitimate leader with the help of the United States and the international community, hypothesizing that a negotiating partner would help stabilize the region. He has gone from exile in Tunis to honored guest at the White House. He graciously accepted American assistance politically, diplomatically, and economically. Yet, when things got serious at Camp David, he balked, and is now trying to change the rules of the game. Oslo provided the Palestinians a quasi-state with parliament and police forces. Now, when asked to do their part for peace, the Palestinian leadership questions the method, and calls the American led peace effort illegitimate. Mr. Arafat's motives should be called into question.

Israel's strategy leaves the door open for a political deal with the Palestinians, should they choose to walk through it. Israel is prepared to wait until the Palestinian leadership proves it is a committed peace partner. The failure of the Palestinian leadership to end the violence following the summits in Paris and in Sharm el-Sheik, and following the Peres-Arafat meeting, brings into grave doubt its commitment to the political process. Israel will wait until the Palestinians realize that the negotiating table is preferable to the ongoing guerrilla war that is currently destroying public confidence in the process, and further, is creating a detrimental atmosphere for peacemaking. If the Palestinians act seriously to end the violence they will do much to re-establish the Israeli public's faith in peace. Until then, Israel cannot base a policy on blind trust, and our strategy for dealing with the fighting is clear.

David Ivry is currently Israel's ambassador to the United States, and previously served as Israel's national security adviser and the director general of the Ministry of Defense.

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