Back to Articles


Revive Israel Ministries

The Palestinian-Israeli Conflict at the Aftermath of the War in Iraq

© April 2003 by Asher Intrater

It is Passover season in Israel, and the war in Iraq is basically over. There is a cautious but clear sense of hope that there is a new opportunity for improvement in the conflict with the Palestinians. Here are some factors influencing the situation.

1. Abu Mazen has been chosen as the new prime minister of the Palestinian Authority. He has expressed his desire to see terrorism stopped. Of course, his rationale is not a concern for the safety of Israelis, but the evaluation that the Intifada – terrorist war has done more harm to the Palestinians than good. In that he is correct. And the Israelis are not looking for benevolence from the Palestinians, just an end to the terrorism.

2. In addition, Abu Mazen has stated that he is in favor of reforms in the PA, such as decreasing the roles of the corrupt gang of leaders that are close to Arafat, and by appointing people with professional abilities in leadership roles in the cabinet, instead of mere political cronies.

3. Abu Mazen wants to appoint Muhamed Dahlan as the head of internal security among the Palestinians. In other words, he would be responsible over the Palestinian police and in charge of stopping the terrorist groups, such as Jihad and Hamas. While Dahlan is also certainly no lover of Israel, he is a strong leader and has voiced his willingness to use force to stop Jihad and Hamas.

4. Sharon has agreed to meet with Abu Mazen and move toward negotiations for peace with him. Interestingly, Sharon had previously refused to meet with Abu Mazen, citing the reason that Mazen had written a doctoral thesis on the claim that the Holocaust in Nazi Germany against the Jews never happened! However Sharon now says that he will not let that stand in the way of negotiations.

5. This week is the final struggle between Abu Mazen and Arafat as to whether Arafat will approve the cabinet appointments that Abu Mazen has proposed. Arafat doesn’t like the some of the appointments (including Dahlan). Abu Mazen has threatened to resign if the appointments are not approved. If he resigns, the PA will lose standing in the international community. If the appointments are approved, there will likely be some sort of talks between Sharon and Abu Mazen in the near future. Arafat still wants to maintain control of the PA, and therefore is fighting Dahlan and Abu Mazen, even though they are both part of the Palestinian movement that he started. It seems he is having trouble “releasing” his leadership to the next generation. Arafat is an expert at manipulating the chaos between the various factions and running a “liberation” movement. However he is incapable of building a government with financial integrity, social institutions and diplomatic commitments.

6. Exactly one year ago, the Israeli Defense Forces started what was called operation “Defensive Shield” where they went into the Palestinian territories to fight against the terrorist infrastructure. Although this operation has received much criticism in the international press, the statistics show an undeniable effectiveness. Alex Fishman in Yediot Ahronot (Israel’s leading Hebrew newspaper) reports that in the first three months of 2002 (the last quarter before “Defensive Shield” began) 40 major terrorist attacks were successfully completed against Israel. In the first quarter of this year, there were “only” 5 major attacks completed. In the first quarter of 2002, there were over one thousand (1,000!) minor terrorist attacks, while in the first quarter of 2003 there were “only” 280.

7. One area in which the Intifada has done great damage to Israel is the economy. The two and a half year Intifada has wiped out tourism to Israel as well as foreign investment, which has caused a domino effect of unemployment, tax deficit, business collapse, etc. Former Prime-minister Netanyahu is now in charge of reforming the economy. He has the three-fold challenge of trying to wrench the nation out of virtual financial collapse, bring reform to the socialist style union and government bureaucracy, and to solve the budget crunch. It’s basically an impossible job. If he succeeds, he will be in strong position to be the next prime minister. However, this treasury position is the right job for him now. And in any case the Israeli voters will appreciate him for tackling it, even if they complain about it all the way.

8. The Intifada’s damage on the Israeli economy has also affected the IDF. This year they have had 2.8 billion (600 million dollars!) slashed from the defense department budget. This means that there will be drastic changes and cutbacks in certain areas of the army’s operations.

9. The triple influence of Abu Mazen’s potential new government, the destruction of the terrorist infrastructure by the IDF and the slashing of defense budget, may point to a new effort to advance a diplomatic solution at this time.

10. Most Israelis are willing to sacrifice land and settlements for peace, but the question is whether the security factors can be enforced if the IDF is removed from the territories. A possible solution raised between Hamas and the PLO is a “Hundah,” a temporary cease-fire. The great danger in this is that it would simply require Israel to remove its armed forces, enabling the terrorist groups to rebuild their infrastructure, and end up in a new wave of terrorism and bloodier conflict than there was in this Intifada – requiring Israel to reenter the territories and start the whole “defensive shield” strategy all over again.

11. If that were the case, it would be better not to have negotiations or a cease-fire. A few people believe that God is “hardening Pharaoh’s heart” in the case of Arafat in order to prevent that worse scenario from taking place.

12. Sharon has declared his tentative support of Bush’s “road map” if the security issues can really be solved. Amram Mitzna, head of the labor party and opposition in the Israeli Knesset, has declared that he will support Sharon in the negotiations, and even join the coalition if the negotiations made the far right wing quit.