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  • Mark Lavie

Little good from Israel’s operation in Jenin

Any way you look at Israel’s latest West Bank military operation—not much good comes of it.

Israeli forces swept through the Jenin refugee camp, clashing with terrorists, blowing up explosives labs and confiscating arms and ammunition.

Let’s examine the results: military and political, short term and long term.

Short term military: For the Israelis, the results were impressive—rows and rows of rifles,

explosives, handguns, ammunition and other weapons laid out on tables for reporters to see and photograph, as well as dozens of terrorists arrested.

For the Palestinians, a setback to the main terrorist center these days, the Jenin refugee camp. Leaders killed or arrested, weapons lost, explosives production hindered. Also widespread destruction in the Jenin camp, especially from huge bulldozers that ripped up the streets to obstruct movement of armed Palestinians.

We’ve been here so many times that the conclusion is obvious: None of this is permanent. Israel will go back to planning its next anti-terrorist operations, and the Palestinians will go back to rebuilding their network of armed militants. It’s just a matter of time until the pre-operation status is recreated—on both sides.

So what is achieved militarily in the short term?

For Israel, a cork on the bottle of terror attacks originating from Jenin, with the full knowledge that pressure building up in the bottle will blow the cork out at some point in the future.

For the Palestinians, another group of holy martyrs in their never-ending resistance against Israel, and pictures of Zionist destruction to flood social media and sway world opinion. We’ve already seen a smirking BBC presenter confronting an ex-Israeli prime minister with the assertion that Israel just loves to kill children, a sideways acknowledgement that the Palestinian militant groups welcome teenagers into their ranks and hand them weapons of all kinds, turning them into targets.

Long term military: Not much changes. Israeli forces swept through the same Jenin refugee camp in 2002, sparking wild accusations of hundreds of Palestinians slaughtered (a too-late report put the actual death toll at 55), and leading to a temporary drop in terror attacks from the camp. But here we are, some 20 years later, back at the starting point. So for both sides, there are no long term military consequences.

Short term political: For Israel, distraction from the internal conflict over the radical domestic steps of its most extreme government. For the Palestinians, it’s more serious—further evidence of loss of control by the central administration—the Palestinian Authority, headed by Mahmoud Abbas, now in the 18th year of his four-year term as president.

Long term political: For the Palestinians, the latest Jenin flare-up is no more than a blip on the radar screen of the transition from the rule of Abbas, who’s 87, to a new regime. With the Palestinian Authority steadily losing control and support, the West Bank is likely to go the way of Gaza, where the Islamist militant Hamas seized power in 2007 after winning an election and forcibly expelling Abbas operatives who refused to hand over the reins.

For ordinary West Bank Palestinians, the prospect is for an Islamic clampdown of the type seen in Gaza, and a probable end to the freewheeling night life of Ramallah, the nascent high-tech industry there and other budding aspects of a life beyond constant confrontation with Israel.

Hamas control of both the West Bank and Gaza would present Israel with a fiery new situation. Hamas is best known for sending suicide bombers into Israel two decades ago, and firing thousands of rockets at Israel in the meantime. There is some security cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, and the target of that cooperation is usually Hamas. If Hamas assumes control, the relationship with Israel will become totally confrontational.

That could mean an instant shift from limited clashes and isolated terror attacks—the reality of the past two decades—to the prospect of rocket barrages from the West Bank against nearby Tel Aviv and its neighboring cities, sparking full-scale Israeli military operations, incursions and battles that would make the latest Jenin sweep look like a scuffle in a schoolyard.

The Israeli political fallout from that would be a shift from the current, new emphasis on domestic issues back to the parameters that have always determined Israel’s elections up to now: security, security, security.

That would entrench a hardline Israeli government with tough talkers pledging to put the Palestinians in their place, upping their rhetoric every time one of their pet military operations fails to break the Palestinians once and for all, as Israeli moderates and doves wail helplessly from the sidelines, politically and socially—an ugly future for the Jewish state.

It’s not as if Israel can do much to prevent this from happening. Twice in recent years, in 2000 and 2008, Israel has offered the Palestinians a state in the equivalent of all of the West Bank and Gaza, ending its occupation—but the Palestinian leaders turned them down flat. Negotiations, what critics call a “political horizon,” are a waste of time—been there, done that, failed. Twice.

Hope might come from the political realignment of the Middle East, with the battle lines dimming between Israel and Arab states on the one hand, and Iran and Saudi Arabia on the other.

The time might come when cool heads in the region decide it’s time to put a stop to this constant Israel-Palestinian distraction, and impose a settlement.

Unfortunately, the chances of Israel’s willingly cooperating with such a solution drops in direct proportion to the increase in violence with the Palestinians and the resulting hardline Israeli government inevitably voted in to “deal” with it.

One thing is certain—whatever the shape of the solution, the Palestinians will reject it, just as they have rejected every formula for peace since 1947.

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Correspondent MARK LAVIE has covered Israel and the Middle East since 1972. His second book, “Why Are We Still Afraid?” recaps his career and comes to a surprising conclusion.

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