Those reading Hanan Ashwari’s cryptic warning this week in a Los Angeles Times oped, that the Palestinians may return to armed resistance should not mistake its meaning: It is a hint at what might be in store for the Middle East in the next six months.
Ms. Ashwari, who sits on the Palestinian Legislative Council, is not the only PA leader to indicate that the Palestinians have not forsworn violence. Other leaders such as former prime-minister Ahmed Qurei have stated openly that, failing the achievement of a diplomatic breakthrough, a new Intifada cannot be ruled out.
History reveals that when Palestinian leaders threaten to take unilateral actions and talk violence, it is never represents just a nervous premonition; it threatens war.
In 1936, the British Mandatory Authority in Palestine, seeking to negotiate the end of a general Arab strike with the Higher Arab Committee, was stunned when Arab violence erupted in the Galilee and then spread throughout the country. The disturbances took the form of murderous attacks on Jewish settlers, the bombing of the Iraq Peteroleum Company’s oil pipeline and the abduction of British officers. It was only put down with the exercise of the harshest of measures by British authorities.
In 1994, within seven months following the signing of the Oslo Accords, an infamous bus bombing killing eight in the northern Israeli town of Afula signaled that ongoing negotiations would not prevent the continuation of armed conflict . Over the following 24 months suicide bombings in markets, cafes, discotheques, malls and on buses resulted in 137 Israeli civilian deaths and 451 wounded without any serious attempt by Arafat or the Palestinian Authority to stanch the flow of terrorists into Israeli towns and cities.
In 1997, a violent rebellion remembered now as “The Tunnel War” was instigated by Yasser Arafat when he accused the first Netanyahu government of infringing on Palestinian rights when the government opened a long approved and negotiated tourist tunnel near the Western Wall. This occurred while Arafat was in the midst of negotiations with the Israeli leader. The confrontation lead to the deaths of 15 Israeli soldiers and 50 Palestinians
Yet the most egregious example of Palestinian mal-intent during negotiations occurred in September 2000 when following Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak’s offer of a Palestine state – which embraced nearly all Palestinian territorial demands, Arafat rejected the offer and set the match to a long planned violent conflict known as the Second Intifada. That four year long conflagration would consume 1,053 Israeli and 4,561 Palestinian lives.
It is particularly interesting that the word ‘compromise’ does not appear in the press interviews or opinion pieces of any of the Palestinian leaders. Ashwari herself implies that there is in fact there is no compromise to be had. Either the Israelis can create a single bi-national state or else accede to Palestinian national demands- the dismantlement of all settlements, the creation of a sovereign Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem and, by implication, the right of return for millions of refugees.
Clearly this is not basis for negotiation let alone mutual co-existence.
But that may be just the point. Taking maximalist positions without regard to the likelihood of accession on the other side has been the pattern of Palestinian negotiation for 75 years. It is almost certainly a Palestinian calculation that with each failed negotiation and new violent confrontation, Palestinian stock only rises, as their leaders are able to reinforce the image of a David confronting Goliath and, despite their central role in the escalation of hostilities, that they are helpless victims of aggression.
Last week, Mahmoud Zahar, a Hamas leader, told students during a lecture at the Islamic University in Gaza City that following the failed Camp David negotiations in 2000, Arafat instructed Hamas (as well as the armed wing of his own Fatah, the Aqsa Martyrs Brigades) to carry out a number of military operations ( read suicide bombings) in the heart of Israel, recognizing that negotiations with the Israeli government had by then failed.
They had failed because Arafat, much like his successors, felt he had much more to gain from armed conflict than he did from negotiation. That, unfortunately, has been the pattern of Palestinian leaders for 80 years. The world feeds this pattern of obfuscation and rejectionism by continuing to ignore it. It is not a prescription for peace, but for war.