The Oslo accords divided Judea and Samaria into areas A, B and C. Area C, where most settlements and few Arabs are, was placed under complete Israeli control. Area B, strategic areas with large Arab populations and the smallest of the three, was under Palestinian Authority civil governance but remained under Israeli security control. And Area A was supposed to be under full PA control.
The Oslo plan was that we and the US would help the PA build up their ‘security forces’, with which they would ‘fight terrorism’. One of the comments heard at the time was that this was like expecting Kellogg to fight cornflakes; but in any event, the idea resonated in the US and with the ‘peace’ establishment in Israel. Why should we risk our soldiers and be vilified for brutality when Yasser Arafat would do our dirty work for us?
Predictably, this didn’t work. When the Second Intifada began, terrorists found it convenient to base themselves in places like Jenin in Area A, to commit their atrocities against the Jewish population on both sides of the Green Line, and then run back to Area A where we were not permitted to pursue them. Sometimes the PA would arrest the terrorists, in which case they were usually released quickly, or ‘escaped’.
In March 2002, in one of a series of deadly attacks – there were fifteen suicide bombings and multiple shooting and other attacks that month – a Hamas bomber exploded at a Passover seder at the Park Hotel in Netanya, killing 30 people and injuring 140. Two days later, the IDF launched Operation Defensive Shield, a massive incursion into the territories to find and destroy the terror networks that had been established there.
The operation was costly for Israel with 30 soldiers killed, but also in other ways:
On April 2, the IDF reached Jenin, from which 23 of the 60 terror attacks in 2002 had emanated. There, the army waged a pitched battle, involving house-to-house fighting with Palestinian gunmen in the city’s refugee camp.
Booby-trapped houses were primed to collapse on the Israeli forces. By the time the fighting ended, 23 IDF soldiers and 52 Palestinians (of whom 14 were civilians) were dead. Ultimately the Palestinian Authority, Human Rights Watch and the United Nations corroborated these figures.
Ultimately. But before that happened, a media campaign was waged against the IDF by the PA, British reporters (especially Philip Reeves, now NPR’s Pakistan correspondent), and the “human rights” NGOs. Hundreds, even thousands, of Palestinian civilians were said to have been killed, buried by Israeli bulldozers with the “sweet and ghastly reek of rotting human bodies” wafting from the ground, in the words of the execrable Reeves.
An Israeli-Arab filmmaker, Mohammad Bakri, made a film called “Jenin, Jenin” that repeats the libels. It continues to be shown around the world. Like the Mohammad Dura incident, the “Jenin massacre” has been placed into history despite the fact that it didn’t happen.
After the trauma of the Intifada, the IDF returned to carrying out hot pursuit of terrorists in Area A. But now we seem poised to repeat the mistake of Oslo, as the IDF prepares to concede security control of Area A to the PA:
The Palestinians are demanding that the Israel Defense Forces withdraw simultaneously from all the cities and rejected an initial Israeli offer to withdraw completely from Ramallah and Jericho first, and to restrict activities elsewhere in the West Bank to arrests of Palestinians suspected of intending to carry out imminent attacks.
The IDF and Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon believe that the Palestinian security services are capable of undertaking a sizable chunk of the work that the army does today.
I have great respect for Moshe Ya’alon, who became Chief of Staff immediately after Defensive Shield, and carried on the work of suppressing the Second Intifada. But surely he must understand that the PA’s “security forces” cannot be depended upon to protect Israeli Jews, and his support for this is surprising. The Shabak [internal security service], several cabinet ministers and numerous MKs strongly oppose the idea.
Apparently the IDF favors it. I suppose that’s understandable. Everyone wants to avoid unpleasant situations or to put them off as long as possible. Most of the high-ranking officers in modern technocratic armies like the IDF are managers first and warriors second (well-known exceptions are Sharon, MacArthur and Patton). They see fighting as disruptive to their organizations. Minor conflicts detract from their long-term planning and use up stocks of equipment and budgets. Operations in Judea and Samaria are hard on soldiers who have to deal with demonstrations, harassment by women, children, and Israeli and international activists.
There is also a smell of international arm-twisting about this. Although I have no evidence at this point, there could very well be a connection with the upcoming attempt to pass a resolution in the Security Council declaring Jewish settlements illegal. There are also the ongoing negotiations with the Obama Administration over the memorandum of understanding on future military aid. Finally, there is Israeli concern over talks between the US and Russia on a solution to the Syrian civil war which could possibly include the Golan Heights. I wouldn’t be shocked to hear that the US is using these issues to pressure Israel to agree to the PA demands.
In view of the fact that both Hamas and Hezbollah have been beefing up their defensive and offensive capabilities – and despite repeated claims from Israeli officials that these organizations don’t want conflict with us – it seems to me that the wisest policy would be to prevent the build-up of what would be yet another front in the next war. But that is exactly what will happen if the IDF does not keep the pressure on the terrorists in Area A.
As happened in Judea and Samaria before 2003 and in southern Lebanon after 2000, when we allow our enemies to enhance their capabilities unmolested we find ourselves in a situation where we are deterred from taking action because of the expected cost. Ultimately we are forced to fight, and then we pay the price anyway. Like the withdrawals from southern Lebanon and Gaza and the Oslo accord, turning over security control to the PA purchases temporary – perhaps very temporary – quiet, in return for longer term weakness.
There is another reason not to do this: If the IDF backs off today it will be a boost to the enemy’s morale. Any concession we make will be seen as a victory for the decentralized terrorism of the Intifada of Knives. No matter how much our officials say that the withdrawal has nothing to do with terrorism, they won’t convince the Palestinians, who will celebrate the success that their ‘martyrs’ have brought them.
Our enemies see the conflict as a long, historic struggle, and we should too. Every war, every battle, every terror attack, every inch of land gained or lost, every Jew or Arab that enters or leaves the Land of Israel moves the cursor of history. From 1948 to 1993 there is no question that we were in ascendance. Oslo was an inflection point. Since then, our trajectory has turned downward.
Are our leaders paying attention?