Ilan Baruch
Haaretz (Opinion)
December 7, 2012 - 1:00am


An examination of national liberation struggles pursued since the end of World War II reveals a mixed record of success by different rebel leaderships in their ability to balance prudently their political and their military (or, if one prefers, terror ) wings, in their fight for political independence. This applies to the organizations that fought for the creation of the Jewish state - Israel.

Negotiations conducted more recently between the South African government and the African National Congress depended in part on the ANC's ability and willingness to obtain political assets from the South African government in exchange for keeping its armed brigades at bay. In fact, the ANC preferred to invest in building up its forces, and then to keep them in their barracks rather than engage in violence against South African targets. The same pattern applied to the South West Africa People's Organization, the Namibian liberation movement. The SWAPO leadership negotiated with the South African government about the end of its control of the territory that was later to become Namibia, in exchange for the willingness of SWAPO's military wing to keep its forces on their bases. The same thing has been true of leaders of other liberation movements in Africa and Asia.

Much to the Palestinians' misfortune, Yasser Arafat dismally failed to restrain the Palestinian armed struggle, and to balance it with political negotiations. From its inception, the Palestinian liberation struggle was filled with blood, bullets and pillars of smoke.

At its height, the second intifada led to a catastrophic chapter in the bloody Israeli-Palestinian dispute. Paradoxically, the more the Palestinians exercised cruel acts of terror against civilians, the less deterrence they enjoyed vis-a-vis Israel. In the final analysis, Jerusalem used a military steamroller against Ramallah in the Defensive Shield operation. Gains notched up 10 years earlier by the Palestinian political leadership during the Oslo process were obliterated. For a precious decade, the vision of a Palestinian state was lost to reality, and the prospect of its realization almost eliminated.

The consequences of the second intifada remain manifest in Israeli-Palestinian relations, as well as in the internal Palestinian political schism. Israel's unilateral pullout from the Gaza Strip, and Hamas' triumph in the 2006 elections, both posed a challenge to the PLO: Ramallah licked its wounds, and dedicated itself to non-violent struggle. It strengthened the Preventive Security and other forces, which operate in conjunction with the IDF and the Shin Bet. On the other hand, in Gaza, Hamas and the Islamic Jihad developed a military capability significant enough that it threatens the PLO and the Palestinian Authority's hegemony, which it uses routinely against Israel, inter alia, as a challenge to its legitimacy.

By imposing a military siege on Gaza and a diplomatic one on Ramallah, Jerusalem navigates between the PA and Hamas, and acts to enlarge the political chasm between the two Palestinian leaderships. Iran exploits this situation to its own advantage.

The efficacy of this diplomatic-security formula has now been exhausted. Jerusalem experienced a bad November: In Operation Pillar of Defense, the leopard initiated a confrontation with a fox. It ended in a tie. In this kind of match, a tie means victory on points for the fox. The leopard learned that Gaza's military capabilities had now entered a "zone of immunity." That was followed by "Operation UN," and this time the leopard was drawn into a confrontation by the fox that led to a knockout: 138 in favor, 41 abstentions, and Jerusalem received the support of only seven countries, in addition to Washington.

Clearly, after two such significant defeats for Jerusalem, on both the military level and the diplomatic one, the Israeli and the Palestinian leaderships now face a new set of challenges. Indications of a turnabout in terms of willingness, both in Gaza and in Ramallah, to engage in practical steps to bring about a necessary reconciliation between them, and a long-term cease-fire with Israel, are increasing. The Hamas movement is accumulating unprecedented diplomatic clout. In the wake of the Gilad Shalit affair and Pillar of Defense cease-fire negotiations, Israel will have to get used to facing Hamas as a negotiating partner on other, bigger issues.

An ongoing Hamas cease-fire with Israel, combined with internal Palestinian reconciliation, has the serious potential to confer on Ramallah the diplomatic strength it requires to face Israel as a newly declared non-member state of the United Nations. Strengthened in the international arena, the PA can be expected to exert renewed pressure on Jerusalem, which will have no choice but to deal with the challenging combination of a strong Hamas and the self-styled State of Palestine.

The good news in all this: On the horizon looms a possible new paradigm in Israel-Palestine relations, one that might lead to a break in the political deadlock, and a reset for peace negotiations.


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