From the beginning of the current Palestinian-initiated
violence on erev Rosh Hashana this past year, it was common
wisdom that PA head Yasser Arafat was trying to use his
weakness in the field to defeat Israel on the world media
stage. It was clear that his strategy was to provoke Israel
more and more, to try to use Israel's military effectiveness
in order to bring world pressure against Israel, by
introducing an international observer force in order to
"protect" the Palestinians from Israeli military might.
Though it was clear from the outset that Arafat and the
Palestinians were prepared for a long struggle and did not
expect a quick resolution, yet Arafat's hope, it was said,
was that Israel would, in the course of its retaliation
against Palestinian provocations, cause some terrible,
bloody civilian tragedy which would galvanize world opinion
Now Israel, tragically and most certainly without soliciting
it, has suffered precisely that kind of devastating attack.
The savage murder of 19 innocent teenagers in the heart of
Tel Aviv and the maiming and injuring of almost 100 others,
has dramatically brought home the low, unbridled and
indiscriminate violence practiced by the Palestinian
terrorists in a way that the attacks on those who could be
dismissed as settlers never did.
Prime Minister Sharon wisely elected not to launch an
immediate military response to wring out the full impact as
it was gathering in the world press. Even Arafat realized
that his usual excuses would not be worth much and instead
condemned the violence and called for a cease fire.
In the short term Sharon is in a good position. If Arafat
actually implements a cease fire in response, then Sharon
wins the significant increase in security that would bring.
If Arafat's nice declaration is not followed by facts on the
ground then Sharon becomes (at least for the time being) the
established peace monger and more importantly he begins to
take control of events; Arafat is responding to him rather
than the other way around. Up until now all the initiative
was on the Palestinian side; even Sharon could do no more
than respond to Palestinian attacks, for the most part.
By deciding not to respond immediately and continuing his
recent policy of restraint, Sharon has seized the
initiative. He can still respond next week when the main
excitement has died down. An important thing for the
dynamics of the talks is that Sharon is in control and
Arafat is merely responding.
Sharon has given Arafat another chance -- perhaps his last --
to return to the path of peace and civilized behavior,
however the chances of this really happening are not great.
Arafat apparently does not want, and perhaps cannot, assert
his full control over the many independent terror
organizations that operate throughout the West Bank.
Critical decisions and strategy will have to be formulated
within the coming weeks.
The situation is grave and fraught with danger for Klal
Yisroel, but we must remember that our true power is in
our mouth -- the mouth used for tefilloh. We must
beseech Hashem to help our brethren wherever they are, and
to make an end to our troubles.