Barry Rubin reminds us how “same old, same old” much of the rhetoric we are hearing from Palestinian “strategists” these days. As he points out, the last forty years have proven every one of the now-repeated assertions wrong. So why the repetition? Some would call this dogma: it must be true because my belief system needs it to be true. It certainly illustrates the power of the paradigm to dominate perceptions regardless of anomalies.
Same Old, Same Old
May 29, 2006
How times change–or rather don’t. Back in 1971, Egypt’s leading journalist Muhammad Husanayn Heikal wrote, “There are only two well-defined goals on the Arab scene: erasing the traces of the 1967 aggression by Israel’s withdrawal from all the areas occupied by it in that year and erasing the aggression of 1948 by Israel’s total and absolute annihilation…. The mistake of some of us is starting off with the last step before beginning the first.”
This kind of thinking continues to be true decades later, certainly among Islamists and across the spectrum of Palestinian politics. The question is precisely how these two stages are related in the strategy of various groups.
During most of the last 40 years–and continuing today–the means of achieving such total victory was supposed to be anti-civilian terrorism. Arab, especially Fatah, statements from the 1960s sound almost precisely the same as what is being said today by leaders from Hamas, Hizballah, Iran, and even Fatah itself. Of course, these strategies and tactics have been miserable failures for 40 years, which has not discouraged Palestinians and Islamists from continuing to believe them today.
For example, consider what Arafat said in 1968 to explain why terrorism would work: “The Israelis have one great fear, the fear of casualties.” In 1970, a PLO official said that the Israeli enemy has no “potential for endurance, except where a brief engagement is concerned.” Israel would collapse because “Zionist efforts to transform [a diverse collection of Jews] into a homogeneous, cohesive nation have failed.”
Precisely the same arguments, long proven false, were used in a May 23, 2006, interview on al-Manar television by Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah, who explained that Israel was weak and would fall apart because, “It is an extraneous entity. It is not deeply rooted…. Its society is not homogeneous. Some Falasha Ethiopians, some from Russia, and some from I don’t know where…. They are bound together by a baseless and unfounded myth.” (MEMRI translation)
Terrorism would, Arafat said in 1968, “Create and maintain an atmosphere of strain and anxiety that will force the Zionists to realize that it is impossible for them to live in Israel.” Since Jews were cowards, they would prefer, “The life of stability and repose” they enjoyed in their former countries compared with, “The life of confusion and anxiety he finds in the land of Palestine.”
And here is Nasrallah 40 years later, “Another weakness of this entity is that its people came because they were promised security, peace, and a life in the land of milk and honey. But if they encounter something else, they will leave this land.” Of course, during the period between these two statements, Israel’s Jewish population has grown a great deal despite years of war and terrorism.
Nasrallah added, “Our people and our nation’s willingness to sacrifice their blood, souls, children, fathers, and families for the sake of the nation’s honor, life, and happiness has always been one of our nation’s strengths.” Actually, it is the main source of their nation’s weakness, causing dictatorship, unnecessary conflict, enormous waste of resources, civil conflict, lower living standards, and ultimately defeat.
One important change over these 40 years is a readiness to use diplomacy and public relations, concealing–or at least being ambiguous–about the ultimate aim. Yet the refusal to give up the goal of total victory and the method of terrorist violence always sabotages any gains made using either of these tools. And there have also been tremendous setbacks, notably the loss of a superpower ally, with the USSR’s collapse, of almost all active Arab state support.
The idea of following Heikal’s advice–destroying Israel in two stages by pretending to seek only its withdrawal from the territories captured in 1967–is not all that new. By 1971, the PLO was already stating, “We are certainly not opposed to total Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories” as long as this did not preclude, “The Palestinian right to struggle for the full liberation of Palestinian soil… since our struggle did not begin in 1967 but in 1965.”
This position was enshrined in the 1974 Palestine National Council decision to accept “every part of Palestinian land” that could be liberated in order to create a Palestinian state that would continue battling for full victory. In retrospect, this was the concept that guided Arafat and much of the Fatah leadership through the 1990s’ peace process.
Even today, this stance is clear in the public relations-oriented “peace” proposals made by Hamas and also those of Abu Mazin. The key linking concepts today are an unwillingness to make permanent peace with Israel even in exchange for an independent Palestinian state and the demand that all Palestinians who so wish can go to live in Israel. The intention is to continue the struggle both across borders and by the creation of a massive fifth column within Israel itself.
Outside of generating a couple of days of sympathetic headlines, these games will not produce any real results except to keep the conflict going for 40 years more, so that in 2046 Palestinian and Islamist leaders can predict Israel’s imminent demise.
It will also allow them to, in Nasrallah’s words, continue proving their “willingness to sacrifice their blood, souls, children, fathers, and families.” Meanwhile, Israelis–who Nasrallah ridicules for their “strong adherence to this world”–will steadily advance in enjoying high living standards, democracy, and better lives.
Barry Rubin is Director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, Interdisciplinary Center university. His co-authored book, Yasir Arafat: A Political Biography, (Oxford University Press) is now available in paperback and in Hebrew. His latest book, The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East, was published by Wiley in September. Prof. Rubin’s columns can now be read online.
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