The past few days have seen more carnage in the land of Palestine/Israel than nearly any during the previous 31 months of conflict. And if the rhetoric of Hamas and the Israeli government is to be taken seriously (and it should be), the coming days will see much more bloodshed.
Early this week, Palestinian militias launched a pair of carefully targeted Palestinian attacks against Israeli military personnel actively engaged in occupation operations. Israel responded by launching sloppy retaliations, taking the lives of some twenty Palestinian civilians, injuring dozens more. Though these attacks were said to target leaders of Hamas, the use of helicopter-borne rockets in populated areas rendered the strikes terrorist in nature. These spectacular assaults overshadowed the numerous murders committed by the Israeli army elsewhere in Palestine during the same period.
In a perfectly predictable response, Hamas returned to targeting Israeli civilians, killing 16 on a Jerusalem bus, and pledged civilians would again be primary targets for revenge attacks, going so far as to warn all foreigners to leave Israel immediately. For its part, Sharon has reportedly ordered his forces to â€œcrush Hamas by any means necessary.â€
There are extremists on both sides of this conflict. In Palestine, they are the marginalized militias, with growing popular support, carrying out illegal attacks on Israeli civilians. On the Israeli side, the extremists dominate every level of government, with growing support from the US and Jewish Israelis, carrying out illegal attacks against Palestinian civilians.
President Bushâ€™s initial condemnation of the Israeli terror operations has been officially reversed as a result of overwhelming criticism from Jewish and neo-conservative power bases in the United States. Now, says the White House, criticism will be solely focused on Hamas.
At the same time, Israeli criticism cleverly focuses on the Palestinian Authority (PNA) for not taking decisive action against the terrorist strongholds of Hamas. Of course, there are two reasons the PNA has not made, and cannot make, any moves other than diplomatic to curb the activities of Hamas.
First, its security forces were decimated more than a year ago by a relentless stream of Israeli assaults on its posts, materiel and personnel. Even if the PNA wanted to crush Hamas, the Palestinian Authority forces are too weak to make anything more than nominal endeavors in that regard.
Perhaps more importantly, though, the PNA continues to lose support among the Palestinian people, while Hamas (as well as Islamic Jihad and the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade) gain in popularity â€“ probably less as a result of their tactics than for having condemned the PNAâ€™s suspected willingness to sell out at the negotiating table. Assaults performed by PNA forces â€“ if remaining security personnel could be coerced to carry them out in the first place â€“ would lead to far broader civil conflict within Palestine, weakening the PNA that much more.
Itâ€™s no accident Sharon has all along insisted adamantly that its devastated negotiating counterpart, the PNA, use its remaining security forces to crush Hamas and other militias. When the PNA is inevitably unable to follow through, Israel and Washington portray this as unwillingness, instead of inability. But were it to be carried out, such a move at this juncture would serve to popularly delegitimize the PNA, and perhaps weaken Hamas, while polarizing Palestinian allegiances. Meanwhile, from an Israeli perspective on negotiations, the PNA would be further legitimized â€“ but this â€œlossâ€ on the part of Israel would be sustainable, since the PNA is the only party in Palestine willing to negotiate items such as borders, settlements, refugees and Palestinian resources. Israel stands only to gain international recognition of what it has thus far gained illegally, while Palestine stands to lose what more than 100 UN resolutions and the Geneva Conventions claim to protect.
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has now reiterated his call for an armed UN peacekeeping force to literally stand between Palestinians and Israelis. But Israel and the PNA will likely repeat previous insistences on this matter. Palestine refuses any such force involving American troops, while Israel refuses any peacekeeping force incorporating non-American troops. These are sensible stances on each side, since US forces would enhance the Occupation, and third party forces would protect Palestinians from Israeli aggression.
Barring the unlikely intervention of an international peacekeeping force, nothing on the horizon even raises the possibility that violence will be curbed. More likely, a period of increased but still sporadic terrorist attacks by Hamas will result from, and be met with, widespread and systematic terrorist assaults by the Israeli Occupation Forces. Hamasâ€™ ideology will ensure it remains incapable of resisting occupation by means globally recognized as legitimate. Consequently, the international community will withhold support for Palestine, the side which otherwise rightly commands the most sympathy outside Israel and the United States. Israelâ€™s unchecked arrogance will be the driving force behind its own brutality, possibly in the form of another operation similar to the March/April 2002 offensive, or possibly in the form of continued airborne assaults.
In the United States, public opinion is slipping farther toward support of Israeli policies, and administration diplomacy is following suit. So long as US media and Jewish/neo-conservative pressure groups manage to portray Israelis as victims and Palestinians as aggressors, in contravention of reality, US backing for Israel will continue unabated. Another media war is well underway, with Israelâ€™s supporters landing a barrage of op-ed letters in the major newspapers overnight. Palestine solidarity activists must work hard to counter this offensive, lest it be used to bolster the one Israel is about to launch on the ground in Gaza and the West Bank.