Tuesday, August 28, 2001 Volume 66, Issue 5


 
 









 
Conflict escalates between Israel and Palestine

Michael Ahlf

Start counting down now, folks. Sept. 28, 2000 is the date historians years from now will mark as the beginning of the current round of
Israeli-Palestinian hostilities.

You see, it was on that day that Ariel Sharon (currently the Israeli Prime Minister) made a visit to the Temple Mount. The site is one of the most
hotly disputed sites by the two sides, because it holds the Western Wall, the last remaining piece of the Jewish temple, as well as two mosques.

Needless to say, the Palestinians didn't like it. Sharon is a conservative, and has been accused by the Palestinians of various criminal acts in
previous armed conflicts. His arrival sparked a riot in which more than 30 people, mostly Israelis, were injured. Shortly thereafter, the war of
words began, with Arafat denouncing Sharon's visit.

Fast forward through time ­ "days of rage," the release of Palestinian terrorists by Arafat's government and the real kicker that made things go
even further downhill -- the wave of popularity that swept Ariel Sharon into office.

Quite seriously, the Palestinians had only themselves to blame for that, because the more they denounced the man, the more the opposing
Israelis loved him. Peace talks fell through because Sharon was not Ehud Barak, a previous Israeli leader, not willing to give in nearly as much
to Palestinian demands. (Then again, it didn't matter much. Even when Barak offered unprecedented concessions from the Israeli side, Arafat
walked away from the table.)

Sharon's new government quickly set its terms into place -- no negotiation until the violence from the Palestinian side stopped. To do so would
be to negotiate with terrorists. The Palestinians, of course, countered that the violence could only stop if negotiations began.

And then there are groups like Hamas, the "Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine" and even Arafat's own Fatah group added to the
mix. Half of these are firmly entrenched in the idea of getting rid of Israel altogether.

Fast-forward again. Days upon days of fighting, shelling, children in Israeli settlements being killed by mortar shots while they sleep, Israeli
counterattacks on buildings where they think the mortars are located, suicide bombings. The ugly reality that, even while they sue for peace, the
PLO is revering the suicide bombers as holy martyrs only stirs up the bloodlust of the Palestinian side.

Kind of depressing, isn't it?

So here we sit ­ and, unfortunately, the blame for the situation is on Arafat. Like it or not, it was Arafat's decree that released terrorist leaders
from jail, and Arafat who sat around declaring "days of rage" and this whole "intifada" idea.

The political tactics that brought Arafat to power and kept him there, the idea that he has drilled into the Palestinians that they can win land by
killing Israelis, is nonsense, but it's all he's got.

What will it take to bring back peace? Arafat would have to re-jail all the terrorists, or at least all the ones Israel hasn't killed in retaliatory strikes.
He'd have to establish a moratorium on armed attacks, suicide bombings and everything else, and get the Palestinian police and military to
enforce the bans. So far, he hasn't done anything of the sort. The addition of United Nations inspectors, his main battle cry right now, would be
ludicrous; they'd wind up fighting with the terrorists the first time there was a mortar strike, and before you know it the UN forces would be
shooting Palestinians right alongside the Israeli forces.

Since Arafat won't do these things, it's obvious the Palestinians need a new leader. The problem is, a new leader would come from the same
stock of terrorists and in all probability wouldn't be any better. Meanwhile, the likes of Yitzak Rabin don't exist any more, and the closest Israel
had (Ehud Barak) failed in his task when Arafat reverted to type and walked away from the negotiating table.

And so we have day after day of fighting, waiting for either the Palestinians to elect a new leader or Israel to stop the counterattacks. It's a giant
game of chicken, and it looks like both sides are going to lose.

Ahlf, a senior electrical engineering 
major, can be reached at mahlf@mail.uh.edu.


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