The Palestinian Question - Is it a Colonialist War? 

October 21, 2000

Comment: #392


[1] Charles Krauthammer, "Arafat's Strategy," Washington Post, Friday , October 20, 2000 ; Page A33 Excerpts attached.

Students of 4th Generation Warfare (4GW) are watching events in the Middle East with a mixture of fascination and foreboding. Readers will find a compendium of background essays on DNI.

The Intifada II may be shaping up to the greatest challenge ever faced by Israel. In Reference 1, Charles Krauthammer portrays the nature of 4GW quite accurately in his analysis of the structure of Arafat's "strategy." But he draws a conventional conclusion that Yasser Arafat is calling the shots, in affect assuming that we are watching the outcome of a pre-meditated or controlled strategy. If Krauthammer is correct, it follows from his logic that Arafat has the power and control to call a halt and return to the peace negotiations.

I am not so sure this analysis is reflection of the forces now in motion.

A very different and fresh perspective on Intifada II is presented in the following essay by Harold Gould. It appeared in today's edition of The Hindu, one of the most influential newspapers in South Asia. Gould is a Professor of Anthropology and has devoted his professional life to research in India, but he has also written widely on terrorism.

Gould argues that events have transcended the personalities of Barak and Arafat and that they have acquired a life of their own. He argues that one ought to think of Palestinian revolt as being akin to a colonialist revolt that is being driven by irreversible spontaneous forces, although they are being inflamed by provocateurs.

If Gould is correct, the Intifada II may also be an example of the self-organizing nature of 4GW, which is something the more traditional cause and effect analysis of Krauthammer misses. It would also imply that a very different approach to solving the problem is now required. Bear in mind Gould wrote this essay before the post Sharm-el Sheikh agreement collapsed into a new round of violence.

Harold Gould's Analysis of the Palestinian Question

Why Conventional Diplomacy No Longer Works in Palestine
By Harold A Gould
The Hindu
October 21, 2000

The reason why conventional diplomacy and the standard negotiating procedures between Muslims and Jews in Palestine are not working today is not because concerned and responsible parties on all sides are not trying hard enough. Camp David, Sharm-el-Sheikh and many peace initiatives' that have preceded them, attest to that.

The reason is because those who are pursuing solutions are not searching in the right place.

The root cause of what is occurring in Palestine today is not political chicanery, as a number of Western commentators have asserted, but the prolonged perpetuation by Israel of what can only be called a colonialist culture. This has finally created a fatal disconnect between ordinary Palestinians and leaders on both sides of the border. Ordinary Palestinians are saying that they have endured enough denigration and are taking matters into their own hands.

Arafat no longer is effectively leading the Palestinian masses. He is following them, desperately trying to regain enough credibility and control to restore his authority. Barak has lost his credibility as a peace-maker because his conciliatory words and gestures have, like his predecessors', failed to eventuate in solutions. As a consequence, in frustration, he has, like his predecessors, reverted back to the hardline shibboleths that got Israel into this mess in the first place.

More than either man realizes, in short, events have moved beyond them.

Clearly, the old formulas are not working anymore. The repeated cycles of political confrontation followed by negotiations each time tensions have approached the boiling point have consistently failed to resolve any of the underlying issues that have for so long fueled Palestinian rage and despair. Genuine political autonomy, free of Israeli military and political hegemony, despite all the promises and assurances, has not been achieved .

The de facto annexation' of Arab land has continued unabated not only between periods of negotiations but even when they were taking place. Since the 1970s, there has been a 73% growth in the number of Jewish settlements. Jerusalem remains unresolved. The plight of the vast refugee populations, who live in squalor and virtual economic serfdom along Israel's borders, and who have credible claims for compensation for properties lost in the turmoil that followed the establishment of the Israeli state, have never been meaningfully addressed.

Countries like India that went through the colonial experience instinctively understand where Palestinian anger and violence are coming from. Israelis, Americans and most Westerners, like the British during the days of the Raj, still don't get it.

What they perceive is Palestinians behaving irrationally, resorting to mob violence when purportedly all they have to do in order to get what they want is to be reasonable and patient; to return to the peace process. In principle, of course, this is a consummation for which all parties might devoutly wish.

The problem is that colonialist structures are inherently reactionary, uninclined to relinquish their grip on their subalterns unless they are coerced into realizing that the costs of perpetuating subjugation exceed the rewards of abandoning it. That is what the British learned in India. In the present instance, it is hard for both Israelis and bewildered outsiders to understand why still another dose of vague promises of eventual statehood are not enough of an incentive to keep rock-throwing Palestinian school kids off the streets and Arafat at the bargaining table.

As in all past colonialisms, to repeat, a point is reached where its victims just refuse to be rational' anymore. When that point is reached, sweet reason falls by wayside. That is what has happened in Palestine today.

It wasn't always that way.

Israel did not start out as a colonialist state. The role was thrust upon them by outrageous circumstance. At the time of the country's birth in 1948, Israel was victim, not perpetrator. Let us recall that her creation was bitterly contested by the entire Arab world. The Palestinians, spurred on by extremists like the Mufti of Jerusalem, were in the vanguard of the Muslim armies that would have obliterated Israel at the moment of her creation had not the Israeli people's resolve and heroism prevented it. In the aftermath, they were compelled for a generation to endure endless threats to their survival emanating from terrorists in their midst, and by Jordanian, Syrian and Egyptian troops on her borders.

The June War of 1967 was the turning point. Victory transformed Israel from a state under siege to a conquest state. Israel for the first time acquired control of populations that were outside the purview of her natural socio-political boundaries. Controlling conquered territories in the name of security became the country's supreme preoccupation. Out of this preoccupation, unfortunately, there developed the disdain and contempt for a conquered and occupied people that has been the progenitor of colonialist structures everywhere. The colonialist culture brings out the bully in one!

Israel's reluctance to evolve policies leading to an eventual termination of its imperium culminated in the first Intifada and now to the even worse conflagration we are currently witnessing in Palestine.

None of this had to happen.

To be sure, dangers to Israel's survival persisted, as the Yom Kippur War and persistent terrorist attacks from beyond her borders attest. But Israel repeatedly demonstrated that she was strong enough and secure enough to more than successfully cope with these threats. It was at this point that Israel could have and should have pursued reconciliation with the Palestinians, putting an end to the colonialist style of governance which for so long had fueled, and continues to fuel, Palestinian rage. Palestine sorely needed a Mahatma Gandhi to stress the need to pursue reconciliation lovingly and nonviolently. But neither side produced such a figure.

Israel approached the threshold of doing so in 1995. Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres saw that reconciliation was imperative. They avidly and sincerely sought a way out of the impending tragedy. They understood that the colonialist structure had to end. The mainstream of both Israeli and Palestinian society were ready for reconciliation. But the effort ended in a fusillade of assassination and suicide bombings.

Fundamentalists and extremists on both sides destroyed the dream.

The Israeli elections of 1996, which narrowly brought Likud back to power, brought with them a revised version of the colonialist model. The new Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, employed obfuscation and endless nit-picking as a means of indefinitely prolonging Israeli dominance by stringing out interminably negotiations that were supposed to lead to Palestinian statehood. The silent majority on both sides were sold out by these tactics not only because they once more postponed the inevitable but because they re-energized the fundamentalists and extremists lurking on the fringes of both societies. Jewish and Muslim fanatics knew that reconciliation and equality between the two people would put them out of business. No more latitude for orthodox Jews to continue confiscating Arab land and building settlements where they had no business doing so. No more latitude for Hamas and Hezbollah to continue murdering and maiming innocent people.

The coming of Ehud Barak appeared to offer one more opportunity for the Rabin-Peres model to reassert itself. Especially with the powerful support accorded the effort by the Clinton administration. Camp David seemed to offer hope. But it has in turn failed, not because Chairman Arafat refused to shake hands with Prime Minister Barak and President Clinton, but simply because time has run out.

What leaders on all sides of this crisis have got face is that the Palestinian masses have gone over Arafat's and Barak's heads and declared that the only acceptable solution is immediate Palestinian statehood. Nothing less than this will successfully dissolve this crisis because nothing less will terminate the colonialist structure that is fueling it. If the conference at Sharm-el-Sheikh does not establish this fact, then civil disobedience on the streets of Ramallah and in Gaza will.

We are witnessing the end of the Israeli Raj just as in 1947 the world witnessed the end of the British Raj.

[Harold Gould is Visiting Professor of South Asian Studies at the University of Virginia]

End of Gould Essay

Chuck Spinney

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Reference #1

Arafat's Strategy

By Charles Krauthammer
Washington Post
Friday, October 20, 2000
Page A33 



The Palestinian strategy is open and clear:

* Use violence to bring international pressure on Israel.
* Keep Israel mobilized, draining its resources and exhausting its will.
* Bleed Israel as in Lebanon, but this time in the very suburbs of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
* And thus force Israel back to the negotiating table from a position of weakness.


If Israel is brought to its knees, what terms does Arafat dictate? …

First, Jerusalem.

Second, a return not to the 1967 borders, but to the borders drawn by the 1947 U.N. commission …

The third is … the return to Israel of the descendants of the 700,000 Palestinians who left Israel in 1948-49.  With a million Israeli Arabs already in open revolt against the Jews, imagine adding another 3 million to 5 million to Israel's population 


Arafat sees his opportunity now—for fulfillment of maximal Palestinian dreams. The means is this war, and the world is behind him. Only a fool would forgo such an opportunity. Arafat knows exactly what he is doing. The fools are those who think he doesn't.

© 2000 The Washington Post