The Magazine


Apr 14, 1997, Vol. 2, No. 30 • By CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER
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Young Palestinians throwing stones at Israeli soldiers. Israelis responding with tear gas and ruber bullets. Firebombs thrown at Israeli vehicles. Terrorist bombs going off in Tel Aviv.

As these scenes of murder and mayhem are endlessly replayed, we are told in solemn voiceover that the Middle East is back to the days of the intifada. Not quite. There is one large difference, hardly noticed and hardly mentioned. These Palestinians throwing stones and hurling firebombs are not living under occupation. The single most misunderstood fact about the Middle East today is that of the 2,300,000 Palestinians living in Gaza and the West Bank, 2,250,000 live under the rule of Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority. Of the Palestinians who were formerly under Israeli rule, 98 percent now live under Palestinian rule.

Ten years ago, the world experienced an outpouring of sympathy and support for these stone-throwing youths because they were living under occupation. Well, they no longer are. They have long ago had their wild ceremonies celebrating their liberation from Israeli occupation. Nonetheless, the Western sympathy they enjoyed seems not to have abated. Why exactly are these young men throwing stones and firebombs? Answer: Because they are unhappy with what is happening outside their liberated zones. Specifically, they are protesting Israel's building Jewish housing in East Jerusalem. They are also protesting Israel's latest territorial concession. The Jewish state gave them only 9 percent of the relatively empty land remaining in the West Bank rather than the 30 percent Yasser Arafat says he is entitled to.

Thus the violence you see on your TV screen is not the work of an unjustly occupied people wanting to be free. It is the work of an already freed people trying to storm demarcation lines solemnly established by their own leadership to separate their territory from Israel's. Their aim is to attack Israeli soldiers and civilians on the Israeli side of the line as a way of protesting Israeli policies elsewhere. Were the Israeli soldiers not to fire back with tear gas and rubber bullets, these mobs would overrun the Israeli areas -- in Hebron, for example -- and no doubt kill and expel their Jewish inhabitants.

These are not Gandhi's Indians rising up against the Raj. The better analogy is Mexicans storming the border crossings at Tijuana, attacking American police and civilians with stones and firebombs to protest U.S. government actions in, say, Los Angeles.

It is important to understand that Palestinian violence is coming from a self-governing people. Otherwise, one cannot understand what the current turmoil is all about. Ten years ago, there was a great debate among Israelis whether or not to hold on, brave the intifada, and rule the Palestinians. There was a great debate whether or not to annex the land the Palestinians lived on and create a Greater Israel. There was a great debate whether or not to grant the Palestinians the essentials of sovereignty over the places they inhabit.

Those debates are over. The Left won. Greater Israel is dead. The Palestinians rule themselves. The only remaining argument between Israel and the Palestinians is over territory that is largely uninhabited. Like the Har Homa area in East Jerusalem, an entirely barren hill between two Jewish neighborhoods. Like the so-called Areas B and C, the relatively empty areas that Israel has promised in the Hebron agreement to turn over in part to Palestinian rule in three phased withdrawals.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has entered a historic, final stage. After a hundred years of war, the major political questions have been settled. The Jews have their own state. And the Palestinians have their own quasi-state that is destined, as no one doubts, to be sovereign Palestine. All that is unsettled is the size and boundaries of the two entities.

We are now entering the final battle for the disposition of the largely uninhabited lands between them. That is what the rock-throwing, the firebombing, and the terrorist attacks are about. The battle for the Jordan Valley, the Judean desert, and Jerusalem has begun.



After the start of the intifada in the late 1980s, but before the Oslo Peace Accords of 1993, there was a curious faction in the raging Israeli debate over the occupied territories. These were the unilateralists. These Israelis argued that Israel should simply get up from Gaza and the major cities of the West Bank and leave. Unilateral withdrawal, with nothing in return.