- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 31, 2000

The Israeli Defense Forces rout from Lebanon is reminiscent of the rushed American exit from Saigon.

The decision to withdraw from Lebanon was a bold and correct gamble. However, with the exception of the final day, the execution was faulty. This is surprising for one of Israel's most decorated generals, Prime Minister Ehud Barak. A former chief of staff, a commander in several Israeli wars in Lebanon, he knows the terrain, the people, and Israel s Lebanese allies. Yet, Mr. Barak failed to execute a smooth and honorable withdrawal after 10 months of preparation.

The Palestinians are watching this process very carefully. As the Economist stated so succinctly on May 27: "The fact that Lebanon has got all its Israeli-occupied land back and got it by force encourages the Palestinians to question why they should be asked to settle for less." That brings us to the complex and volatile Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

A moment before the moment of truth has finally arrived. Two significant obstacles are yet to be overcome. Both are extremely complex: first, the interim agreement, and then the more complex final-status arrangements. Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's strategy for negotiations from the beginning of the Oslo process has been to combine diplomacy with violence and to use the mailing fist of the Arab world and the European Union.

The tactics are that whatever piece of territory is secured in negotiations, the next one is secured by means of violence. These tactics will not change, as has been demonstrated with the small intifada organized by Mr. Arafat earlier this month to pressure Israel to surrender to his demands in the interim negotiations. The Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz's defense analyst, Ze'ev Schiff, wrote May 23 about Israel's strategy for meeting Mr. Arafat's tactics: "The disturbances must end with a strategic victory for Israel. In this particular context, victory would mean that the other side has reached the conclusion that it has made no gains politically, territorially or economically from the riots … it has actually lost some of its previous gains. Unless the other side reaches such conclusions, it might believe that violence is an effective instrument for pursuing its goals."

Israeli governments, from Yitzhak Rabin to Ehud Barak, have neglected to make the Palestinian Authority conform to the Oslo Agreements. The Oslo Agreements provided the Palestinian Authority with 18,000 armed policemen. Today there are more than 40,000 heavily equipped paramilitary troops. When Israel asked for the names of all policemen that shot at Israelis during the Jerusalem tunnel riots, none were provided by the PA.

The PA failed to change the viciously anti-Semitic and anti-Israel textbooks. The Palestinian universities have become armed camps. Mr. Arafat's tactics include using the 17 or so armed groups that are connected with the PA security apparatus at random for various operations against Israel. Take for instance this month's intifada. It was organized by Tanzim (The Organization) to fire at IDF in the West Bank. In fact, the Palestinian territory is replete with local militia outfits like this one. Danny Rubinstein wrote in Ha'aretz on May 22: "Arafat plays divide-and-conquer power games with these groups. At any given moment, he will encourage and cultivate commanders of one particular group and isolate others, while preparing to switch his preferences later on."

These groups end up shooting at each other and residents of cities of the West Bank. The Palestinian state has become an unruly armed camp dangerous to its own citizens and to Israel.

If Israel is not able to persuade the Palestinians that diplomacy would be more effective than violence in achieving their goals, then we will witness serious violence before and after the final status negotiations. Ze'ev Schiff writes, "The resumption of the peace talks as if nothing has happened cannot be considered a victory for the Israeli side. On the other hand, a crucial determining factor will be the feeling of genuine loss on the side that initiated the violence. Otherwise, tomorrow we will see disturbances in which isolated Jewish settlements will be placed under siege." The Palestinian modus operandi of repeated violations of signed agreements must come to an end. Mr. Schiff writes, "A desire to be generous at the negotiating table must be accompanied at the same time by a determination to display a sufficient degree of toughness on military and security matters."

The Oslo Agreements were flawed from the start. Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, the cautious analyst and strategist, was pushed by Shimon Peres and his young allies, especially Minister Yossi Beilin, to conclude an agreement that was inherently fraught with opportunities for violence.Rabin s strategy called for a step-by-step diplomacy of peace for territory. Mr. Arafat's well-established method of mixing violence with diplomacy made the outcome for Mr. Rabin's strategy predictable.

Do not expect the final status negotiations to be any different. The most difficult issues are to be decided, including the future of Jerusalem, the right to return, Israeli settlements, and the final percentage of territory that Israel will concede. What you can expect is the formal declaration of a Palestinian State, either unilaterally by Mr. Arafat or as a result of the final status negotiations.

Since the Palestinians are unwilling to sign a declaration that the establishment of a Palestinian State is an end to war with Israel in any form or method, the strife between Israel and the Palestinians will continue. The lesson Mr. Arafat learned from Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon is that if you put enough pressure on Israel, with its low tolerance for casualties demonstrated by the withdrawal, continuing the tactics of violence as a system of wringing out concessions, you will win. Therefore, Mr. Arafat can be expected to continue his strategy of diplomacy by violence.

Amos Perlmutter is a professor of political science and sociology at American University and editor of the Journal of Strategic Studies.

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