‘Revisionists’ vs ‘Rejectionists’

 15 October 2002

‘Revisionists’ vs ‘Rejectionists’

Part Two: End Game

By Gwynne Dyer

The precise shape of the disaster that is stalking the Middle East was outlined last April by Martin van Crefeld, Israel’s most respected military historian, in an article in Britain’s Daily Telegraph. “Mr Sharon would have to wait for a suitable opportunity,” wrote van Crefeld, “such as an American offensive against Iraq…(or) an uprising in Jordan, followed by the collapse of King Abdullah’s regime…(or) a spectacular act of terrorism in Israel that killed hundreds. Should such circumstances arise, then Israel would mobilise with lightning speed….”

“A force of twelve divisions, eleven of them armoured…would be deployed: five against Egypt, three against Syria, and one against Lebanon. This would leave three to face east (against the West Bank and Jordan), as well as enough forces to put a tank inside every Arab-Israeli village just in case their populations get any funny ideas. The expulsion of the Palestinians would require only a few brigades. They would not drag people out of their houses but use heavy artillery to drive them out; the damage caused to Jenin would look like a pinprick by comparison….”

“Some believe that the international community will not permit such an ethnic cleansing. I would not count on it. America will not necessarily object,…particularly if it does not disrupt the flow of oil for too long. Israeli military experts estimate that such a war could be over in just eight days. If the Arab states do not intervene, it will end with the Palestinians expelled and Jordan in ruins. If they do intervene, the result will be the same, with the main Arab armies destroyed. Israel would, of course, take some casualties…(but) their number would be limited…. Are you listening, Mr Arafat?”

Martin van Crefeld is not an ideologue of left or right, and he does not want to see what he describes come to pass. His reason for writing his article was to make Arafat understand that his support for terrorism is leading the Palestinians into disaster — but he probably knew that the real addressee for his message is not Arafat at all.

Yasser Arafat had no moral compunctions about terrorism in the earlier part of his career, but the Israeli government’s policy of blaming every terrorist attack on him personally — “the head of terrorism,” as Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon calls him — is only a device to avoid the peace talks that Sharon has no wish to enter anyway. Israeli intelligence knows perfectly well that Arafat has lost all control over the ‘rejectionists’ of Hamas and Islamic Jihad (and latterly, over non-Islamist rogue elements of his own Fatah organisation as well). They may sometimes inform him of their attacks, but he doesn’t order them, and he can’t stop them.

The rejectionists are convinced that Israel can be brought to its knees by terrorism, or at least that a compromise peace with Israel is morally unacceptable and must be sabotaged by continuous violence. The former notion is probably believed only by the thicker rank-and-file members of their organisations, but the latter is lethally attractive to intelligent Palestinian nationalists who are high on religion, because it means their only duty is to stop peace from happening. They don’t actually have to figure out how to defeat an overwhelmingly powerful Israeli opponent; sooner or later, God will take care of that.

Some of the brightest rejectionist leaders even understand that they are also serving Sharon’s purposes by their actions, and paving the way for a new expulsion of the Palestinians even worse than 1948. They don’t care, because they believe that such a calamity will bring the major Arab states back into the battle against Israel — and even if they, too, would certainly be defeated by Israel this time round, that doesn’t matter. In the longer run, their weight will be decisive.

They could be right. Nobody can guarantee that the United States will still be committed to defending Israel in fifty years’ time, or that the Arab states will still be disunited and mostly poor. Nobody can guarantee that Israel will always have several hundred nuclear weapons, and the Arabs none. But Arabs will always outnumber Israelis by at least twenty-to-one — which is why Israeli statesmen have long sought a peaceful accommodation with their Arab neighbours while their country’s military and political power is still overwhelming.

Sharon sees things differently. He argues that Israel’s only hope of safety is its own strength, because Arabs can never be trusted. Using that argument, he has opposed every proposal to return conquered territory to the Arabs from the peace deal with Egypt on down — but one suspects that it is his territorial ambitions that really drive his arguments.

Ariel Sharon is no statesman, but he is a good, maybe a great strategist. What if his strategy works?

Then Jordan will really become the Palestinian state that Israeli ‘revisionists’ have always said it should be, a seething nest of misery whose embittered inhabitants blame everybody else, non-Arab and Arab alike, for the disasters that have befallen the Palestinian people. The rest of the Arab world will face a decade of terrorism and revolutionary upheavals, and the flow of oil from the Gulf will become chronically precarious. But Israel will be quite a lot bigger, at least for a while.


To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 4 and 9. (“Martin…at all”; and “Sharon…arguments”)