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ASHKELON & HAMAS-STAN

Dr. Dan Schueftan: 'Israel's New Security Zone Will Work Only In Short Run; More Radical Means Will Be Necessary To Halt Palestinian Rocketing of Ashkelon'

'Israelis Must Prepare For A Very, Very, Very Long Period Of Terrorism Because There Is No Responsible Leadership On the Palestinian Side'

'Anyone Who Expected The Roadmap To Work Must Have Been Very Naive'

Evacuating the Wounded IDF Soldiers

In reaction to the latest Qassam rocketing of the Israeli town of Ashkelon, Israel is adopting a new security zone policy along the border of the Gaza Strip. Israeli artillery, aircraft and naval vessels will be stepping up their operations. However, Israeli forces will not re-enter the Gaza Strip, which was evacuated last summer. Israel is adopting new measures after a number of IDF troops were wounded when Qassams launched from Gaza slammed into the Ashkelon area again, this time hitting an army base. Dr. Dan Schueftan, a Middle East expert at Haifa University assessed various aspects of the situation with reporter David Essing:

'The new policy of free- fire zones created by Israel in Gaza will perhaps work for a while, but Israel must prepare for a long period of Palestinian terrorism'. That's the assessment of Dr. Dan Schueftan, a Middle East expert at Haifa University who analyzes various aspects of the volatile situation.

Question: Dr. Schueftan, what do you think the Palestinians are up to? Because after the voluntary Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and four West Bank settlements last summer, the feeling was that this could pave the way to the Roadmap and their independent state of Palestine. But now they seem to be exploiting the areas evacuated as launch pads for Qassam rocketing attacks on the Israeli town of Ashkelon. Do they think they can drive Israel out of Ashkelon?

Dr. Schueftan: No, I don't think we can speak about THE Palestinians. Certainly not in terms of a leadership that has some responsibility. We must realize the problem was not personal with Arafat or with this or that leader. It is Palestinian society that is A - disintegrating and B- that always did, since the beginning of the Palestinian people about 80 -85 years ago. They're exhibiting a very high degree of irresponsibility. Let me explain- this society has been disintegrating as a result of what Arafat brought to the Palestinian people in general to the community in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. I refer specifically since the Oslo process. The whole idea was to create a situation where no one is responsible for anything that is happening. Violence is something the so-called extremists are perpetrating. Where the president or chairman of the Palestinians can say: 'I'm for peace and co-existence' and so on, while at the same time he can make sure that buses are blowing up in Tel Aviv. The tactic is used by him to force Israel into more and more unilateral concessions. It is not by accident that the Palestinians have started disintegrating because this is what Arafat wanted. He wanted a society that does not take responsibility for its decisions, that doesn't say: 'Well, on the one hand we will get A but on the other hand we will give up B'. They really say: 'We will get A as well as B, because everyone will be afraid of our terrorism'. The inevitable result is that this society now has a weak leader - basically what Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) is about is impotence. It's impotence that is elected as president of the Palestinian entity. The whole Palestinian society is ruled by local warlords, by hooligans, by local militias, families and extended families. Everybody shoots at everybody else and last year their own figures showed there were more Palestinian casualties, more Palestinians were killed by other Palestinians, than in the confrontation with Israel. So, what we have here is a society that is not willing to take responsibility for anything, and even if it wanted to at this stage which it doesn't. So, it's not as if some Palestinian strategist sitting in Ramallah or Gaza and saying: 'Let's do A and let's do B'. The violence and anarchy among the Palestinians are so deep seated that no national leadership can really determine any kind of strategy. Now if anyone expected the Roadmap to work, he must have been very, very naive. Again, if I were prime minister of Israel, I would say as Sharon is saying: 'Oh, we want to have the Roadmap implemented'. But Sharon probably knows this is not a reality because you cannot have a responsible Palestinian leadership. It is perhaps the duty of Israel to say that if such a leadership would have existed or if it can be produced, then Israel will be ready to discuss the Roadmap, that's okay. But realistically, you cannot expect the Roadmap to work because it starts with and depends on something the Palestinians cannot deliver - namely terminating Palestinian terrorism.

Question: In light of your analysis - can it be said the Palestinians as a people are bypassing their independent state of 'Palestine' and are today creating, or have created, a Hamas- stan or Hamas-land in the Gaza Strip and West Bank?

Schueftan: Not even that. If you had one leadership for Palestinians that takes responsibility, even if it were radical and anti- Semitic repulsive like Hamas; if you had one authority or leadership that you could deal with, then things would have been different. I'm not saying it would be easier for Israel because the strongest Palestinian element is indeed Hamas. And this again is a repulsive anti-Semitic organization whose ideology is based on the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and which speaks about the destruction of the state of Israel as well as being committed to terror. But at least you would have a leadership; what you have today is one group of hooligans fighting hooligans from another group with everyone firing at Israel while demonstrating how good Palestinian they are to other Palestinians. It's even worse than being dominated by Hamas; the Palestinian are dominated by their own irresponsibility. Question: Well, lets look at the situation on the ground. After a number of Israeli troops were wounded by the latest rocketing of the Ashkelon area, the IDF has been ordered to create a security zone, almost a free- fire zone inside the Gaza Strip to prevent the firing of Qassam rockets at Ashkelon. Do you think this tactic can work?

Schueftan: Perhaps for a while yes, but I think we will need more radical means. It will take time until we draw the inevitable conclusions, but even that will help only partially. You see, it's very difficult to create deterrence with a society that lacks responsibility. You cannot say: 'If you do this or that, we will do this and that to you' because they don't care what happens to their society. They don't care what happens to their own children. They send children to be killed not even when they're not fighting Israel just by letting their children, ten and twelve year olds, run around gunmen shooting at each other or at Israel. A society that does not care about its children will not be easily deterred. From an Israeli point of view, I would say this is a problem without a solution. You can keep the level of terrorism at a tolerable level, but you cannot stop it and you cannot bring it to a minimal level. This is because there is no Palestinian leadership, no responsibility. Not even parental responsibility on the other side. I'm not saying all the parents but its enough that there are so many who don't care about their own children. Question: What about the sanction of cutting off electricity. The Israeli power plant in Ashkelon supplies electricity to the Gaza Strip, as many people around the world might not know. What if Israel pulled the plug as a sanction?

Schueftan: I don't believe even that would help in the long run. Perhaps Israel should do it, but it will not help because the people in Gaza don't care if their society lacks electricity. They would be so delighted with the propaganda gains - they would immediately, with the help of a hostile press, take journalists to hospitals and say: 'You see the incubator and the baby who died because the Israelis cut off the electricity'. If the Palestinians cared about their future they would have reached a settlement with Israel long ago. They would have accepted the Israeli offers that gave them practically everything they asked for. But they don't care about their own society. So, I suggest that all of us prepare ourselves for a very, very, very long period during which Palestinians will perpetrate terrorism even if it counters their most basic interests.'

Question: Well on the other hand, I think it's fair to say that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has been restrained in the Israeli reaction and this is linked to the Palestinian general election coming up in January 25th. He doesn't want to make things tough for Abu Mazen. But, do you think now that this is going to change after we've had these continuous rocketing attacks on Ashkelon?

Schueftan: First of all, if I were the spokesman of the government, and G-d forbid, it's some governmental responsibility, this is how I would put it. But because I'm an analyst who's not committed to a governmental position, I would put it in a somewhat different light. I think Ariel Sharon knows that nothing good can come out from the elections, but he has two constituencies, that he has to convince, and this is the Israeli public opinion, and the American administration. And therefore, what he is doing - and I think very smartly, is the following - He says: 'I'm going to give them the best possible chance that I could have given Abu Mazen, so that when Abu Mazen inevitably fails, it will be very clear that it's not my responsibility. Let me give you a good example: How is it that Maruan Baraguti has such perfect access to the Palestinian political mechanism? He is sitting in an Israeli jail! He's a terrorist, he's a murderer, he's a repulsive terrorist and murderer. And yet, he acts from jail. Because the Americans are probably saying: 'Look, perhaps Baraguti can have a restraining affect,' and the Israelis are saying: 'OK, lets see if he can help.' Even when we know that he cannot help, we want to make sure that Israel has made a bona fide and I want to stress bona fide attempt to do whatever it could to help Abu Mazen. I think that Sharon is experienced and smart enough to know, that Abu Mazen cannot be helped because Abu Mazen is an impotent. Because he is as irresponsible as the rest of his people, and he has been elected as president only because he's impotent. Because had he not been impotent he would have dismantled the terrorist organizations, and had he dismantled the terrorist organizations he would not have had the support of his own society, because his own society behaves in an irresponsible way. So Israel should demonstrate that when the Palestinians fail, it is not for lack of Israeli help. When Abu Mazen fails, it is not for lack of Israeli help to Abu Mazen. And this is very necessary, even if you want to use very tough measures against the Palestinians, you have to demonstrate to your own public opinion, and you have to demonstrate to the American administration that these structural problems inside the Palestinian community, that made it impossible.

Question: So at week's end it's pretty well time up for Mahmoud Abbas...

Dr. Dan Schueftan

Dr. Dan Schueftan is a senior Israeli academic and deputy director of the National Security Studies Center at the University of Haifa, where he also serves as a senior lecturer in the School of Political Sciences. Schueftan has served as an advisor to Israel's National Security Council, and to former Prime Ministers Yitzhak Rabin and Ariel Sharon.

Schueftan: Well there has never been a time for Mahmoud Abbas because there was never a window of opportunity with him because an impotent cannot be a national leader. If Mahmoud Abbas would not have been an impotent, it would be a great opportunity, even so we shouldn't confuse ourselves, Abu Mazen is very radical when it comes to the crucial issue of the 'right of return'. Abu Mazen doesn't want to TERMINATE terrorism he wants to SUSPEND terrorism. But having said that, which disqualifies him as a serious partner for final-status negotiations, he wants to bring down dramatically terrorism now. He understands that the suspension of terrorism is very important for the Palestinian people. But from the beginning he couldn't do anything about it, because he is so impotent. So in terms of an opportunity, it was never an opportunity because he never even considered and never even claimed to consider the option of crushing the terrorist organizations. And if you don't dismantle the terrorist organizations, and you can do it only by force, not by persuasion, then, there has never been a window of opportunity and therefore it's not an opportunity lost. It's a lack of opportunity demonstrated and not an opportunity lost.

Question: Dr. Dan Schueftan, thank you very much for talking with us today.

David Essing

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