Tuesday, March 23, 2004

The War: Palestinians weeds

Bret Stephens is asking some interesting questions at the Wall St. Journal:

Are Palestinians weeds? It would seem many people think they are. Following Israel's assassination early yesterday morning of Ahmed Yassin, spiritual leader of Hamas,the gist of international reaction was that the strike would bring new converts to the Islamist cause and incite a fresh wave of terrorist violence against Israel. In other words, Palestinians are weeds: Mowing them down, as it were, only has the effect of making them grow back stronger and faster.

There are moments (Monday morning was one of them) when I find myself tempted by the metaphor. As I write, my TV screen is filled with images of Palestinian mourners thronging the streets of Gaza, praising Yassin as a martyr and vowing deadly vengeance. This looks like the reaction of an emboldened people, not a frightened one. So what's the sense, in purely utilitarian terms, of further Israeli attacks? Alternatively, what's the sense of showing any restraint at all? If the weed metaphor is right, either Israel should sue for peace on whatever terms the Palestinians extend or it should resort to extreme measures like population transfer. Anything else just fruitlessly prolongs a cycle of violence.

But of course Palestinians aren't weeds. They're human. They think in terms of costs and benefits, they calculate the odds, they respond more or less rationally to incentives and disincentives. And what makes us afraid can also make them afraid.

This is a trite observation, but it's one Palestinians would rather have us forget. Over 42 months of conflict, their strategy has been to persuade Israelis that they, the Palestinians, are made of different stuff. Why else the suicide bombers? Not because of their proven capacity to kill civilians in greater numbers than any other weapon currently in the Palestinian arsenal. That's only a second-order effect. The deep logic of suicide bombing lies in the act of suicide itself. People who will readily die for their cause are, by definition, beyond deterrence. By showing that Israel's tanks and fighter jets are just so much scrap metal in the face of the Palestinians' superhuman determination, they aim to disarm Israel itself.

How does one respond to such a logic? It helps not to be fooled by it.
Paraphrasing John Lewis, until the Palestinians equate war against the West with individual ruin, there will be continued bloodshed, because ultimately, the Palestinians want to kill Jews more then they want live. In the face of such a morality, there can be but one response--the utter destruction of the Palestinian's terror institutions and the will of the Palestinians to field them.

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