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Shifting Sands of Power in Palestine/Israel PDF Print E-mail
Justice News
Friday, 29 December 2006 09:47
Shifting Sands of Power in Palestine/Israel

- Rami G. Khouri -  By most measures, it would seem that in the Palestinian-Israeli war, the Israelis are winning. They control and colonize Arab lands, enjoy military superiority and total American support, and unilaterally try to define the diplomatic parameters of the conflict. But this may be a mistaken assessment, and perhaps the Palestinians and Arabs are starting to win some battles, while Israel is losing some of the dominance it has long enjoyed. Seven significant events in the past five months seem to support this possibility.


Seven events during the last half of 2006 suggest a new power shift resulting from Israeli conflicts in Gaza and Lebanon. The hope is that from these developments wiser and more humane -- peaceful and negotiated -- actions and agreements will come in the New Year.

Power Balance Shift in Israel-Palestine

Rami G. Khouri

Agence Global
December 29, 2006

Copyright ?2006 Rami G. Khouri / Agence Global
[Republished at PEJ News with AG permission]


BEIRUT - The first was Hizbullah?s ability to fight Israel for 34 days this summer, and on the 34th day still to be firing hundreds of rockets into Israel. Morality and political consequences aside, this reflected a truly historic combination of Arab political will, technical military proficiency, and a capacity to remain shielded from Israeli, Western and Arab spies and infiltrators. No Arab party had ever crossed this threshold in the century-long conflict with Zionism and Israel.

The second event was Israel (and Washington) having to accept the August ceasefire resolution at the United Nations, after the United States had given Israel weeks of extra warfare to hit Hizbullah. A determined Arab group forced Israel and the United States to accept a political resolution instead of military victory, and the cease-fire resolution included measures that Israel had previously always rejected, e.g., addressing the occupied Shabaa Farms area in the context of the Israel-Lebanon conflict, rather than as occupied Syrian land, and specifying the return or exchange of Israeli and Lebanese prisoners.

Israel quietly dropped its previous position that the two Israeli soldiers snatched by Hizbullah on July 12 be returned unconditionally. Then, the stationing of over 20,000 Lebanese and international troops in southern Lebanon, long an Israeli demand, also came at a price: limiting Israel?s scope of action in southern Lebanon and its over flights throughout the country.

The third noteworthy development was Israeli acceptance of a ceasefire with the Palestinians in Gaza in late November. This, after it had said that it would not stop attacking and would do anything required to retrieve Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, whom Palestinian guerrillas had snatched from an Israeli army post on the Gaza-Israel border.

The juxtaposition of events in Lebanon and Gaza this summer was powerfully telling. Israel?s once vaunted military prowess and frightening deterrence failed to stop Lebanese and Palestinian fighters from snatching three of its soldiers from border areas. Israel?s subsequent severe, savage military attacks and mass punishment of civilian populations failed to make the Arabs cough up the soldiers. Weeks or months later, Israel swallowed its words, put away its ultimatums and threats, and accepted cease-fires in both cases.

The fourth important development is that Israel has been unable to stop the home-made, rather rudimentary Qassam rockets from being fired into its southern region by Palestinian militants and resistance fighters. The Israeli military might and intelligence capabilities (resulting in the killing of some 400 Palestinians since June) have not stopped determined young men from firing these rockets into Israel.

The fifth striking incident occurred in early November, when Israel had pinned down a group of Palestinian fighters in a mosque in Beit Hanun in northern Gaza, expecting them to surrender or be killed. What happened next was significant: Over 200 Palestinian women broke through the Israeli siege, swarmed the mosque, and provided cover for the young fighters to escape -- at the price of two women being killed and a dozen injured. Battle-lines that had been defined by Israeli troops fighting a handful of Palestinian youth had been transformed into the Israeli army finding itself helpless -- and defeated -- in the face of the Palestinian civilian population.

The sixth incident happened in mid-November, when the Israeli army had telephoned the home of a Palestinian militant in Jabaliya refugee camp in Gaza and warned the inhabitants to leave a three-story residential building that was going to be destroyed. Instead of fleeing quickly as they had usually done in such cases, hundreds of civilians instead swarmed into the residence, stood on the rooftop, and dared the Israelis to kill them all. Faced with these nonviolent civilians who no longer feared death, the mighty Israeli killing machine and its befuddled political leaders suddenly became much less impressive -- for they had lost their capacity to intimidate with the threat of death.

The seventh, most recent, incident was Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert?s meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas earlier this week, and announcement that Israel would release $100 million of withheld Palestinian tax revenues and remove some checkpoints in the West Bank -- reversing his previously steadfast insistence to make no such gestures, or even meet with the Palestinians before Gilad Shalit was released. In the end, Olmert met, talked with, and made concessions to the Palestinians. Shalit was nowhere in sight.

Events in 2007 may determine if these of 2006 signify a change in balance of power in the Palestinian-Israeli and Lebanese-Israeli confrontations. We must now hope that the trend these events signify opens the eyes and brains of Arab and Israeli leaders who have relied mainly on military force to achieve their goals, and propels them towards negotiations as a more effective and humane route to achieving their goals, and bringing a normal life of peace, security and recognition to their peoples.


Rami G. Khouri is an internationally syndicated columnist, the director of the Issam Fares Institute at the American University of Beirut, editor-at-large of the Beirut-based Daily Star, and co-laureate of the 2006 Pax Christi International Peace Award.

Copyright ?2006 Rami G. Khouri / Agence Global
Released: 29 December 2006
Word Count: 880

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Agence Global is the exclusive syndication agency for The Nation, The American Prospect, Le Monde diplomatique, as well as expert commentary by Richard Bulliet, Mark Hertsgaard, Rami G. Khouri, Tom Porteous, Patrick Seale and Immanuel Wallerstein

Last Updated on Friday, 29 December 2006 09:47

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