Double Talk

True Colors

Fearing Fear Itself


A Rabbi Wrestles with the Koran

The Real Facts About Terror

The Challenge of the Left

Palestinan Authority and Congressional Doubt

Anti-Semitism Arab Style

In the Wake of Violence: Some Israeli Encounters



Vol. LXVIII, No. 2 (642)

The Real Facts About Terror

By M.J. Rosenberg

This article was circulated on April 26, 2002, by the Israel Policy Forum, a nonpartisan think tank devoted to exploring Israeli policy matters.

Remember the term "fuzzy math." It's back. At least, it should be, because discussions about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are full of it. Unfortunately, and sometimes even offensively, the math is essentially a body count used by all sides to explain their position. Apologizing in advance, this column is about those numbers.

An op-ed piece by Yoram Hazony in last Friday's [April 19, 2002] New York Times relied on numbers to bolster the argument that the Oslo process has been a disaster from its inception. In fact, without the math — in this case the number of Israelis killed in acts of terror before and after Oslo — there is essentially no argument at all. All that is left is the opinion of the writer.

Hazony writes: "Israeli casualties at the hands of Palestinian terrorists since the Oslo agreement amount to 774 dead and 10 times as many wounded — numbers that dwarf anything Israel has ever known. At the height of Yasir Arafat's terror-state in Lebanon from 1970 to 1982 (the years of the Munich and Ma'alot massacres and the Entebbe raid), Palestinian terrorists claimed only 162 Israeli lives. In the last 18 months alone, terrorists have taken 469 Israeli lives."

Hazony's point is simple, and if the math supported him, would be unassailable. Oslo produced terror. The peace process, designed to end violence, increased it.

The facts tell a different story.

Hazony's figures of 162 Israelis killed in acts of terror from 1970-1982, and 774 since Oslo, are correct. But then comes the fuzzy math, when he says that "in the last 18 months alone, terrorists have taken 469 Israeli lives." In other words, 469 of the 774 deaths occurred not during Oslo but after the failure of the Camp David summit, Ariel Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount, and the outbreak of the Al Aqsa intifada. That means that most of the 774 (all but a still horrific 30$) were killed not as a result of Oslo but as a result of Oslo's collapse. The question then is when the 305 were killed. After all, Prime Minister Rabin embraced the Oslo process, in large part, because he believed that Israel would only be able to end terrorism once and for all when it had Palestinian partners (i.e., the PLO) working with Israel in that fight. The Oslo agreement was in essence a trade: the Palestinians got the territories (or most of them) for joining Israel in the war against terror.

That was no small task. During the early years of Oslo, as today, Islamic Jihad and Hamas were dedicated to thwarting any Israeli-Palestinian cooperation and to destroying Arafat. They believed that terror against Israelis would cause the Israeli government to end its partnership with Arafat and would eliminate the "threat" posed by peace. Under Oslo, the Palestinian Authority had the responsibility to fight them. And they did — no responsible Israeli government official ever claimed they did not.

But it was slow going until Prime Minister Netanyahu insisted that the American CIA monitor PLO compliance and instruct it on how to improve its tactics. At that point Israelis and Palestinians began meeting, under CIA auspices, to adopt and implement a clear antiterror strategy. Within a very short time, Israeli and Palestinian security officials were working so closely together that the American role became almost superfluous.

It is at this juncture that Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation succeeded in thwarting the terror operations which Islamic Jihad and Hamas were launching with regularity. The Palestinian Authority both tipped the Israelis off on operations before they happened or stopped the operations themselves. Haaretz and the Jerusalem Post both reported that the PLO's confrontations with Hamas and Islamic Jihad were so intense that they raised the specter of civil war. And, according to the Israeli government, between September 1997 and the outbreak of the Al Aqsa intifada in November 2000, not a single Israeli civilian died in acts of terror. (One soldier was killed in 1998.)

In other words, there was a three-year-period when Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation succeeded in securing Israel from terror. That period ended with a car bombing perpetrated by Islamic Jihad 4 months after the failed Camp David summit and $ weeks after Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount. By then, IsraeliPalestinian security cooperation was over. The IsraeliPalestinian partnership was history.

Today it is hard to imagine three years without terror in Israel, but back then it was almost taken for granted, along with the booming economy, expanded trade and diplomatic ties with formerly hostile nations, and hotels bursting with tourists.

Sometimes, depressed about the situation in the Middle East, I allow myself to recall the memory of those days. I remember an afternoon our family spent in Tel Aviv in February 1999. After visiting the fascinating Ben Gurion museum in north Tel Aviv, our little group strolled over to the beach. It was a wonderful sunny day, the kind of day in which Tel Aviv has the aspect of winter days in Miami Beach or Santa Monica. We found an outdoor cafe right near the Dolphinarium, ordered lunch — including wine and beer — and sat talking and laughing in the sunshine for three hours.

Involved in the cause that is Israel is my entire life, and having visited dozens of times, I knew enough to savor the moment even as it was happening. Israel had never felt that gloriously safe. Peace was here. It would finally be possible not to worry about Israel. My wife, born in a Displaced Persons camp in Germany after World War II, recalls wishing that her parents. Holocaust survivors who never knew an Israel at peace, could have lived to see the day.

It started getting dark and a little cold. We gathered ourselves up and headed back to the hotel. Tomorrow would be another day.

M.J. Rosenberg, director of policy for Israel Policy Forum, is a long-time Capitol Hill staffer and former editor of AIPAC's Near East Report.

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