Has Israel won the Oslo War? Is the Aksa intifada over? Over the past several weeks a number of prominent voices have weighed in on this topic claiming triumphantly that indeed, the war is over. Israel has won.
There are several objective factors that lend to this conclusion.
Israel's economy, which was teetering on the verge of collapse in the first two years of the war is now making a strong comeback. Whereas in 2001 and 2002 the economy shrunk, by 2003, our economy grew by a modest 1.3 percent and conservative projections forecast a healthy 3.8 percent increase in GDP by the end of 2004.
The number of successful terrorist attacks has decreased by some 70% over the past year. The fact of the matter is that IDF forward deployment in Judea, Samaria and Gaza together with more sophisticated defenses, better technology and more specialized training and professionalization of the armed forces have together enabled Israel to prevent terror attacks that would have been undetectable four and even two years ago.
The precipitous drop in the number of Israeli casualties has had a psychological impact on Israelis. Today we cringe, rather than fall into a sweaty-palmed panic every time we hear ambulance sirens. Tourists, the kind that come here for fun rather than "solidarity missions," have returned to us.
Foreign exchange students are returning to our university campuses.
In short, it would seem, we are back to normal.
On the other hand, the Palestinian towns and cities in Judea, Samaria and Gaza are wracked with anarchy and gangland violence between the various terror groups and PA militias in a seemingly endless turf war. When polled late last month about Gaza's prospects after Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's planned evacuation, 59 percent of Palestinians said that they are worried that internal Palestinian infighting will ensue. More starkly, 69 percent of Palestinians believe that their lives and those of their family members are not assured.
Add to this popular sentiment about the Palestinian Authority. Eighty-seven percent of Palestinians believe it is corrupt; 92 percent support fundamental reforms of the PA while 53 percent do not believe that the PA is reforming. Fifty three percent of Palestinians also believe the status of human rights and democracy in the PA is poor.
And then there are the PLO apologists. Over the past couple of weeks some of the PLO's strongest and most knee-jerk supporters are voicing criticism of Yassir Arafat. Terje Roed-Larsen, who as the UN Coordinator in the territories has been one of Arafat's most trusted shields from criticism and one of his main shills for libelous attacks against Israel, has suddenly said that things are bad in Gaza and the Arafat isn't interested in governing.
Even more shocking, The New York Times, which holds the greatest responsibility for mainstreaming the PLO in the US, politely suggested on Thursday that Arafat consider retirement. Such statements from Arafat's best friends seem to indicate that the wall of international support for Arafat's terrorist dictatorship may be starting to crumble.
But there is another side to this story. And it tells a far different tale. Yes it is true, so this story begins, that Israelis are persevering and proving once again that the presence or absence of peace has no bearing on our ability to function normally and indeed to prosper. And yes, the Palestinians are miserable and poor.
Yet we have changed and they have not.
When Ehud Barak went to Camp David in July 2000, he did so after having lost a vote of confidence in the Knesset. He went as the head of a minority government increasingly despised by the overwhelming majority of Israelis. His offers at Camp David were rejected by a majority of Israelis. After the collapse of that summit, as Barak desperately begged Arafat for a peace deal in Taba, there was a complete disconnect between the sentiments of Israeli citizens and the machinations of the government. The landslide with which Ariel Sharon was voted into office in 2001 attests to the fact that Barak's platform – the surrender of all or most of Judea, Samaria and Gaza and the partition of Jerusalem with the ceding of the Temple Mount to Arafat – was completely rejected by the Israeli people.
Back in 2000, the idea of erecting a fence more or less along the 1949 armistice lines was seen as the default view of the far-Left. Politicians like Haim Ramon, who wanted to put distance between the Labor Party and the messianic visions of Shimon Peres and Yossi Beilin, embraced the idea of the fence as a way to force Israel out of the territories with a delusion that we weren't creating a terror kingdom on the other side. The Likud under Sharon opposed the fence, rejecting the idea as a stupid version of the stupid Bar Lev Line which led to the fiasco of the 1973 Yom Kippur War.
Tempered by two years of war, in 2003, the Labor Party discarded its grandiose visions of PLO flags unfurled on the Temple Mount and based its election campaign on a call for the mere withdrawal of IDF forces from Gaza and the destruction of the Israeli towns and farms that have been built there. Again, Israelis laughed, Sharon called it folly and won an overwhelming victory as the Labor party was all but decimated.
Yet what do we have today? Largely as a result of the Palestinian terror war, the Likud has adopted some of the most radical Labor views from four years ago. Not only is Sharon calling for a unilateral withdrawal from Gaza and the deportation of some 8,000 Israelis from their homes. He and the Likud have made Ramon's fence their own. Even Sharon's original route for the fence left plenty of Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria on the Palestinian side and thus spelled out their eventual destruction. Under US pressure, Sharon basically agreed to have the fence follow the route of the 1949 armistice lines. And now, the Supreme Court has determined that even that was not enough. The Supreme Court's decision on the fence laid down the legal precedent that, as Ehud Barak conceded at Camp David, the territories are not disputed, they belong to Arafat.
Although Sharon still argues that he will not divide Jerusalem, his deputy and gadfly Ehud Olmert has already stated that at least five Jerusalem neighborhoods would end up in PLO hands. The route of the fence already takes two neighborhoods out of the city.
Shimon Peres, who has never been elected by Israeli voters, is poised to become reunited with his seat in the Foreign Minister's office. Four years after the transformation of his Oslo Peace into the Oslo War, Peres is still a true believer. He insists on resuming negotiations with Arafat and believes that it would be "immoral" for Israel to retain any territory it gained in 1967. According to Palestinian sources, Arafat is banking on both Peres's return and Bush's defeat in November.
When he assumed office in 2001, US President George W. Bush proclaimed that the proposals offered by Israel at Camp David, like the December 2000 Clinton Plan, were no longer valid. Yet over the past three and a half years, Bush has made Palestinian statehood one of the central planks of his foreign policy. His advisors have made clear that from their perspective Israel will at the end of the day transfer nearly all of the territories to the PLO. And Bush is still more supportive of Israel than his Democratic rival Senator John Kerry.
When Arafat rejected peace and turned to war four years ago, Barak and his foreign minister Shlomo Ben-Ami both argued that Europe would have to react to Arafat's action by finally ending its automatic support for the PLO. Alas, time has proved them wrong – again. As we learned last year, far from supporting Israel, the EU now considers us the greatest threat to world peace.
s of anti-Semitic sentiment and violence in Europe are higher than they have been since the Holocaust. Not only does the EU support every Palestinian position against Israel in every international forum, its leaders and elites have a new comfort level with the notion of Israel's destruction.
For their part, the Palestinians are proud of what they have accomplished. While 16% of Palestinians believe that Israel has won the war, 40 percent believe that they are on the winning side. There has been no dampening of support for terrorist attacks since the beginning of the war. Support for suicide attacks in Israel remains more or less steady at 62 percent. Sixty-nine percent of Palestinians believe that the "armed confrontations have helped achieve Palestinian rights in a way that negotiations could not."
As for Arafat, he is still the unquestioned leader. While it is true that various Palestinian factions are fighting one another, they are all paid by Arafat and they are all loyal to him. And while his supporters in the West half-heartedly criticize him, they will never abandon him.
And look at what he has accomplished: He went to war to gain through terror what he was given at the negotiating table. And he has achieved this aim. In so doing he showed that he will receive Israel's final offer from July 2000 as Israel's opening offer tomorrow and will do so without having made any concession in return. He is still a terrorist overtly committed to Israel's destruction and he has been handsomely rewarded for this.
Perhaps then, the best that can be said is that Israel won the Aksa intifada but Israel has lost the Oslo War.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.