Occupation Propels Conflict; Removing Yasser Arafat will
do nothing to quell the uprising.
by Hussein Ibish
Originally published in Los Angeles Times
December 4, 2001
This weekend's scenes of horror and devastation in Jerusalem
and Haifa caused by three Palestinian suicide bombers screamed out
to a world distracted by other events that the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict is continuing to intensify.
These attacks came in response to a less-well-reported but
extraordinary wave of killings of Palestinians by Israel, including
the blowing up of five children in their Gaza refugee camp and the
assassination of a leading Hamas figure.
Suicide bombing is a reprehensible tactic. These murderous acts
involve not only political shortsightedness but an unwillingness to
set limits on what is permissible in the pursuit of freedom. Yet
just as the occupation does not justify suicide bombing, neither
does resistance justify the occupation, which imposes a structure of
routine violence on the daily lives of the 3 million Palestinians
who live under abusive Israeli army rule.
The occupation is the elephant in the living room of Israeli and
American discourse on this conflict, the overwhelming fact that
cannot be acknowledged. Instead, what we get is obsession over the
personality of Yasser Arafat and his future as a political leader.
It seems almost absurd to have to point out that forcing millions of
people to live for decades under hostile military rule with no end
in sight inevitably produces violent resistance. Only a mind-set
that steadfastly refuses to recognize this can become captivated by
a lone figure whose real and imagined failings become a smoke screen
that obscures the machinery that actually drives the conflict.
As Israelis and Palestinians use ever more lethal means against each
other's civilians, the question being asked in Israel and the U.S.
is not how to end the occupation, but whether or not to end the
career, or even the life, of Arafat.
Let us suppose that Arafat were somehow permanently removed from the
equation this evening. What would really change?
The bulldozers, checkpoints, Israeli settlements, Jewish-only roads,
the entire hideous apparatus of the occupation would still be in
Would Palestinians suddenly lose their will to resist? Would they
become incapable of organizing protests, demonstrations, armed
resistance or suicide bombings?
Can anyone really believe that the solution is a more oppressive
occupation rather than an end to the occupation?
Like the discourse on "incitement" in the Palestinian media, the
whole conversation about Arafat misses the point. It is the
occupation that creates a distorted reality for both Palestinians
and Israelis, allowing each side to interpret "good" as being
anything that is bad for the other.
In their rage and frustration, Israelis are tempted to obliterate
Arafat and the Palestinian Authority. This would certainly intensify
As such, it is a step that would be welcomed not only by many
Israelis but also by some Palestinians who believe that the
Palestinian Authority simply mediates the occupation.
If the goal is to bring greater security to Israelis, eliminating
Arafat or the Palestinian Authority would certainly backfire
It would only deepen the Palestinian determination to resist Israeli
rule. If it involves Israeli soldiers once again policing the towns
of the West Bank, it would create new targets for armed resistance.
No one should be under any illusion that it would succeed when the
killing of almost 1,000 Palestinians in the past year has failed to
break the will of the Palestinians to accept anything less than
Moreover, it would play directly into the hands of the religious
fanatics responsible for the suicide bombings, whose parties have
never been able to command much more than 20% support among
Palestinians until now. The failure of the peace process to ease the
plight of the Palestinians and Israel's brutal response to the
uprising already has strengthened the extremists' hand. The
destruction of the secular leadership of the Palestinians and a
harsher occupation would all but ensure a spectacular rise in
support for them.
Even dramatic developments such as these, however, would not alter
the substance of the conflict. The question is not whether Israel
gets rid of Arafat and the Palestinian Authority. The only real
question is how many more innocents must die before Israel decides
to return to the negotiating table and work out a serious plan to
end the occupation--and the conflict the occupation propels.
Hussein Ibish is communications director for the American-Arab