Michael Totten thinks there will not be a chance for peace in the Middle East until there is “a brief and total war” between the Israelis and the Palestinians:
The Palestinian regime will be demolished. The Al Aqsa Martyr’s Brigades, Yasser Arafat’s Fatah, Islamic Jihad, and Hamas will be killed in battle, hunted down, put on trial, and imprisoned forever. Europeans will scream, and it will be ugly. The Arab street will explode, and it will be frightful. The Palestinians will accept a political solution at the point of a bayonet. They will not say “no” because they will not be given a choice. Then they might get their state.
I think this statement, uncharacteristically, is built more on wishful thinking than the reality of the situation.
First, he states “The intolerable status quo will not be maintained because there will be few in Israel willing to maintain it,” yet recent polls indicate that’s exactly what most Israelis want to do.
Which regime will be “demolished,” in the war? If Totten is referring to the Palestinian Authority, sweeping away Abbas and the parliament along with Arafat’s cronies would be counterproductive. As we’re seeing in Iraq and Afghanistan, when you destroy a government, you’d better damn well be ready to take its place, or else the terrorists and fanatics will.
In this case, if the P.A. is gone, then it would be replaced by either Israeli soldiers, the United Nations or Hamas. I doubt Israel would even try to govern the Palestinians, and the U.N. has proven useless in volatile situations (just look at Africa). That leaves Hamas, which will be more than willing to fill the void.
It is also naive to think “the Al Aqsa Martyr’s Brigades, Yasser Arafat’s Fatah, Islamic Jihad, and Hamas will be killed in battle, hunted down, put on trial, and imprisoned forever.” Let’s assume the Israelis invade and quickly smash the terrorist strongholds. How, then, are they to distinguish between 20-something-year-old males and terrorists-in-waiting? Are they to embark upon a Herod-like slaughter in order to stamp out terrorism?
An invasion would meet little initial resistance but quickly become a guerilla war, worse than Lebanon, and Israel would ultimately pay as high as price as the Palestinians. They may succeed in killing the top leadership, but as long as these groups benefit from outside support (military, financial, political), other “martyrs” will quickly step in to take their place.
What really needs to happen is a fundamental change in the surrounding countries. States like Saudi Arabia and Egypt (and France) need to get the Palestinians to look at their society and assess what their three-year Intifada has achieved. Then they need a strong internal leader (Abbas) to lead a “national” dialogue over whether they want to keep waging this futile war, or if they want to build a civilized society for their children. Admittedly, this is wishful thinking on my part, but the time for an invasion would have been before Abbas’s appointment, not now.
Abbas is “a chick without feathers,” as Sharon said. I believe the United States rushed in too quickly to deal with him, when it should have stepped back and allowed him to gain power and credibility amongst his people first. I don’t oppose the current military action, but the Israelis need to make sure they don’t delegitimize the first credible leadership alternative to Arafat to come along in decades.
UPDATE: Friedman’s column tackles the same topic.