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The Troubles of Admitting Defeat

by Roger Rick

The biggest obstacle to peace in the Middle East is the refusal of the Palestinian people to admit defeat.

It is true, of course, that the creation of Israel in 1948 and the routing of Arab armies that were coming to their aid was perceived by many Palestinians as the great catastrophe, the Nakba. It is also true that the Six Day War resulted in the occupation of the land that, according to the UN Partition Resolution, should have been theirs. Yet, neither event persuaded a majority of Palestinians that they had lost the war: the street celebrations as the Egyptian army crossed the Suez canal in 1973, the cheering on the roof tops as the Scud missiles rained down on Israel in 1991, and the giving away of sweets as the airliners crashed into the World Trade Center in 2001 are all evidence that they have not accepted defeat.

Giving sweets

A woman receives free sweets as Palestinians in East Jerusalem celebrate after hearing the news of a terrorist attack on the World Trade Center (©AP)

And why should they?

Most Palestinians consider the war with Israel as an Arab-Israeli conflict. No doubt, the Arab side has lost a few battles, but the struggle goes on. After all, with the exception of the Golan Heights, Israel does not hold Arab territory; the Sinai which for a short time after the 1967 war was occupied by Israel was returned to Egypt in exchange for a worthless piece of paper — a peace treaty that Egyptian President Mubarak has no intention to honor. The states lining up against Israel have almost hundred times the people, hundred times the land — how can they ever be expected to lose?

A creative way out of the dilemma might be if the victor admits defeat — this is essentially what the lunatic left fringe in Israel and Peace Now is proposing. Give them all the land they desire, an internationally recognized Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital, and — tata! — the conflict will be over.

The trouble with this vision is that Israel's foes will not be satisfied with half of a pie. The Palestinians rejected the Partition because they wanted all of the former British mandate. Even now, after many of the large cities are back under IDF control, the Palestinians call for the liberation of all of Palestine, all of Jerusalem. Why should they stop fighting once they have their own sovereign state, when retaliation by Israel against such a state would bear the danger of punitive UN sanctions?

Supporters of the Palestinian cause argue that the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip justifies resistance of any kind, even suicide bombings. While strapping explosives around your waist and blowing yourself up at a bus stop or pizza parlor may be the most depraved form of resistance ever devised by an occupied population, it is, nevertheless, covered by their right to self-defense. The only problem with that strategy is that reprisals for such attacks are the right of an occupying force.

Compared to historical standards, the counter measures taken by the IDF — curfews, road blocks, and targeted killings of terrorist leaders — resemble more the actions of a police force than retribution by an occupying army against an enemy population. In Oradour-sur-Glane an SS troupe wiped out the entire population of a village as reprisal for the killing of an SS officer. They didn't even bother to ask whether anyone in the village had participated in the attack.

In a bizarre twist of common logic, the steps taken by Israel to stem the tide of terrorism are used by Palestinians as justification for nightly house invasions in which whole families are murdered, suicide bombings in which babies are torn into pieces. Arafat unleashed the most recent wave of terrorism, the Al-Aqsa intifada, after he was offered his own state on 95% of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, plus a piece of Jerusalem. He rejected the deal because it did not include the right of return for Palestinian refugees — a right that Israel will never be able to grant unless she is willing to commit suicide.

Yasser Arafat

Yasser Arafat giving blood for New York terror victims (©AP)

Before the latest intifada, 98% of all Palestinians lived in areas ruled by the Palestinian Authority; there were no curfews, just a few road blocks for the protection of Jewish settlements. According to the peace plan offered by Ehud Barak, most of the Jewish settlements were to be dismantled, for the others, the Palestinians were to be compensated for with Israeli land.

One wonders what the victors of World War II would have done if a defeated Germany would have sent suicide bombers to London, Paris, Moscow, or New York. They did not, of course. The only notable act of German resistance was a peaceful demonstration of construction workers in East Berlin which was bloodily put down by Soviet tanks.

The Germans had no trouble admitting defeat. The Dönitz government had capitulated unconditionally, millions of soldiers had perished on the battle fields, millions of civilians had died in the fire storms of the great cities, the population was starving. There was no fifth column promising to come to their rescue, no cheering section at the United Nations, no peace activists to help them wrest victory from the jaws of defeat.

The allies barred the old Nazi leadership from returning to power (Arafat may not be as vile as Hitler was, but the decision to bring him back was breathtakingly stupid, nonetheless). Instead, they built societies in their own image — a free, democratic state in the Western part of a divided Germany, a totalitarian communist regime in the East. After 45 years, the allies finally ended the occupation of Germany and restored full sovereignty to the re-united nation.


"The key question is never to admit defeat," Ali Shamkhani, defense minister of the Islamic Republic of Iran, remarked recently. "No war is won until one side admits to being the loser."

Shamkhani and other military leaders were charged by the Supreme Guide Ali Khamenei to prepare for war against the United States. Another pronouncement that eerily reminded me of Palestinian attitudes was that Americans — unlike Iranians — would not be willing to sustain the carnage of a long, bloody war.

Hopefully, we'll never have to find out.

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Revised 8/22/03