- Almost every week the world watches the Israeli Defense
Force march, fly or drive into a new area of the West Bank and Gaza and
wreak new havoc. Not every week, but too often, the Palestinian reply is
a suicide bombing. The Israeli claim, widely carried in all major media,
is that the whole problem is caused by Palestinian terrorism. The Palestinian
complaint is that they are being repressed and their people and their society
are being systematically destroyed by Israeli military and intelligence
operations. That charge is absolutely true, but it goes largely unheeded.
At no time in recent memory has a well organized, equipped and funded military
force dealt so harshly with a virtually defenseless population. The obvious
intent and the likely outcomes of this Israeli effort, if allowed to run
its course, are the destruction of the Palestinian state and the dispersal
of its people. So far, the results, perversely, have given Israel little
satisfaction and much grief. Instead, both Israel and the Palestinians
have been the victims of self-inflicted wounds.
By most accounts the Israeli economy has been imploding at a scary rate
since the beginning of the Palestinian Intifada two years ago and especially
since the Israeli Defense Force invasions of the West Bank and Gaza during
the past few months. To be sure, Israelâs economy, which perhaps
more than any other economy in the region has its fortunes tied to the
West and to the United States, was severely affected by the after-effects
of September 11 attack on the World Trade Center. This was followed by
the financial market effects of the Enron, WorldCom and other corporate
scandals. Nevertheless, the Palestine conflict is a continuing and probably
deepening drag on Israelâs economic fortunes. And its consequences
are much more the products of Israel's own actions than they are the results
of Palestinian attacks.
The economic downturn is driven daily by developments around the conflict.
Responsive to suicide bombings, especially in favored tourism sites such
as Jerusalem, tourist travel to Israel has been reduced by more than 50%.
That amounts to 1.5% or more of the whole economy since the conflict heated
up. Construction and agricultural sectors have slowed materially due to
the absence of the more than 100,000 Palestinian workers (some say twice
that number including non registered workers) who fuel these sectors.
Unemployment in Palestinian sectors, the West Bank and Gaza, as well as
the disruptions caused by military incursions and the imposition of curfews
have cut Palestinian income and spending on most products, even on food
and basic services. While unemployment in Israel is said to be approaching
10%, it is estimated at a much higher 50-60 percent or more in the West
Bank and Gaza. Much of the Palestinian market is typically served by businesses
in Israel or handled by Israeli pass-throughs, which benefit the Israeli
A large economic effect, probably the largest, has been created by diversions
of the national treasure to the Israeli Defense Force, estimated to be
equivalent to more than ten billion dollars. This is robbing resources
from all other sectors of Israeli economic activity, as well as building
large national debts.
All of these are in part self-inflicted wounds to the Israeli economy.
There is hardly any doubt remaining that the Israeli Defense Force incursions,
and the excesses usually associated with them, have generated a continuing
series of suicide bombers. These have undermined safety and security in
Israel, frightening tourists away while shattering foreign investor confidence.
One Jewish source has suggested that Sharon knows he must have the suicide
bombings to justify his brutal attacks in the West Bank and Gaza. Without
the bombings, this source indicated, Sharon would face irresistible pressure
from the United States, other governments and the United Nations to cease
his campaign. That is certainly true, and it raises a serious question
as to whether the harsh attacks are deliberately designed to provoke Palestinian
retaliation, mainly the bombings, to keep alive Sharon's program to expel
the Palestinians from the West Bank. The unspoken price of this strategy
would be the lives of Israeli civilians, including women and children.
Those would be leadership- inflicted wounds.
While the Palestinian Authority is well aware that Israel uses the suicide
bombings as virtually the only excuse for harsh military reprisals and
the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, the Palestinians have no defenses.
It is doubtful that, even with a hard line effort, Arafat could stop all
suicide bombings. The prices Palestinians pay are occupation, curfew,
harassment, attacks on civilians, frequent shootings, and arrests by Israeli
Perversely, even though the ability of the Israeli Defense Force to prevent
terrorist attacks is totally unproven, each bombing has unleashed more
military incursions, leading to extreme actions such as the 1,000-pound
bomb on a family housing compound in Gaza, which, in turn, led to more
Palestinian attacks. By now the lesson is clear: Brutal military action
does not stop, rather it provokes small scale, but devastating terrorist
attacks. It is time to halt. The safety of the Israelis, the economic
future of Israel, and the future of the Palestinians are all in jeopardy
because of the continuing conflict.
There are more self-inflicted wounds. American Jews and others within
Israel continue to go into the West Bank and Gaza to build or expand settlements.
The current target, much publicized in US media, is Gaza. This increases
Palestinian anger and frustration, further arousing the prospect of terrorist
attacks, either on settlers or on people in Israel. The Israeli victims
need to know that part of the causes, if not all of them in some cases,
are the actions of other Israelis. The Palestinians need to wake up to
the fact that their strategy, such as it is, does not work either.
Calls for building a fence around the Palestinians recently became a popular
idea among some Israelis and some prominent Jews in America. That fence,
if built, will do a number of things, none of them good. It will physically
codify the pattern of enmity and distrust that exists between the two peoples.
It will impose a responsibility and an expense on the Israeli fence keepers
to be sure the integrity of the fence is maintained. It will impose an
obligation on Palestinian extremists to thwart it. It will disrupt a mutually
beneficial commerce between the two markets. It will serve as a daily reminder
to Palestinians that the Israeli consider them second-class people at best.
It will re-impose a barrier between the Israeli and the people of the region
that many Israeli and Palestinians have spent half a century trying to
overcome. Finally, it will precisely define a long-term target for anti-Israeli
terrorists. All of those represent potential but deferred self-inflicted
Over the past months it has become increasingly clear, by Israeli actions
and in policy statements of Ariel Sharon, that the aim of Israeli operations
is to finish a process begun in the late 1940s - to drive the Palestinian
people out of all areas of Palestine west of the Jordan River and perhaps
beyond. If that strategy succeeds, the Israeli people for generations to
come can expect to pay for it through continuing exposure to random, destructive
and potentially deadly terrorist attacks. Those attacks will be the ultimate
self-inflicted wounds, because Israel is unlikely ever to be at peace,
and as 9-11 demonstrated, even the most powerful are not immune.
- Terrell E. Arnold is a retired Senior Foreign Service
Officer of the United States Department of State.