Israel: January 15, 2004

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Israel took a lot of international heat last year for it's anti-terrorism measures. But there were few complaints in Israel, because terrorist attacks against Israelis were down 30 percent in 2003 (3838 attacks) versus 2002 (5301 attacks). More importantly, at least for Israelis, only half as many Israelis were killed by terrorists in 2003 (213) compared to 2002 (451 dead). Perhaps nearly as reassuring to many Israelis, there were 22 percent more foreign tourists visiting Israel in 2003, versus 2002. But that's still 56 percent fewer than showed up in 2000, just before the latest war with the Palestinians began. However, while the Israeli economy has suffered a recession because of the fighting, the Palestinian economy has been devastated.

The Israeli army and police are, as far as they are concerned, fighting a war with the Palestinian terrorist organizations and have had more success catching, killing or arresting, key members of terrorist groups. Bomb workshops and stockpiles of weapons and explosives have also been found, and supply routes cut. The terrorists have not let up, but they have been taking a beating and most of their attacks, especially the suicide bomb attacks inside Israel, have been detected and foiled. In response, the terrorists have recruited more women, Arab-Israelis and adolescents to serve as suicide bombers, or as part of the teams that get the suicide bomber into Israel. The Palestinians have also been receiving more support (supplies and technical advice) from Iran and the Hizbollah terrorist group in Lebanon. 

The Palestinians have also found European supporters useful, at least to distract the Israelis with demonstrations and symbolic attempts to stop the security wall from being built. The security wall, between Israel and Palestinian areas in the West Bank, is only a third finished, but has already demonstrated it ability to cause a decline in attacks.  For the areas now protected by the wall, there were 17 successful attacks, killing 89, from April 2002 to December 2002, which was before the wall was built. But once the wall went up, there were eight attacks resulting in 51 deaths (between January and November 2003.) 

But the most important result of this war on terror, and the terrorists losing ground, is the increased Palestinian willingness to make a deal. The Israelis have gained the upper hand in the battle with the terrorists, and most Palestinians are getting tired of living in what amounts to a large prison camp. The Israelis are still offering essentially the same deal that was turned down by the Palestinians three years ago. Both sides still have their "we want it all factions," and both sides have to deal with these extremists if any peace deal is to work. But in that respect, Israel is at a disadvantage because it can control it's extremists (the most far out of whom want to take over the entire West Bank and expel the Arabs), if the government is willing to pay the political cost. The Israeli settlers on Palestinian land have the backing of about a quarter of the Israeli population. But the Palestinian extremists (who want to destroy Israel and drive all Jews from the Middle East) have the support of about half the Palestinians. Israelis have to worry about what happens if peace is made, and an independent Palestinian state is established. That means no more Israeli troops, police or undercover agents working in the Palestinian territories. It means the Palestinian terrorist groups, who are unlikely to completely disappear, can freely bring in materials for building bigger rockets and bombs. What happens when these rockets start falling on Israeli territory, killing Israelis, and the Palestinian government finds that it cannot, or will not, take on the terrorists again? The terrorists, and their Palestinian supporters, believe that, in the long run, their attacks will work, and drive all the Jews from the region. This is what has been taught in Palestinian schools for generations. The Israeli extremists know this, and that's one of the justifications for their plan to expel the Arabs from the West Bank. 

Peace is a relative thing in this part of the world. For many Palestinians, any peace deal is mainly a truce, so that more weapons can be obtained and more attackers recruited and trained. But the situation is not hopeless. Arab Moslems and Christians have been at each others throats in this area for over a thousand years. The Christians are still there, although they have been emigrating out of the area in much greater numbers in the past few decades. In some places, the Moslems and Christians get along, in other places, there is either fighting, or a sort of truce. The farther away you get from the Middle East, the easier it is to be optimistic about peace there. But up close and in your face, the situation is pretty ugly. Peace between Israel and the Palestinians will be relative, and probably temporary.


 

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