September 5, 2002
There has been no official declaration, no formal surrender, but the Al Aqsa
intifadeh, launched by Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat two years ago, is over.
As usual, the Palestinians have lost.
“All forms of Palestinian violence have to stop,” Arafat’s military chief, Abdel
Razak Yehiyeh, told an interviewer. “All resistance acts that are characterized
by violence, such as using arms or even stones … are harmful.”
Only six months ago, Palestinian military leaders thought they had an
unstoppable weapon – suicide bombers. But Operation Defensive Shield,
March’s much-maligned Israeli invasion of the West Bank, changed the situation
“When we began Defensive Shield, there were roughly 70 senior
terrorists in the northern West Bank,” says an Israeli security analyst. “They
were the hard core, responsible for hundreds of killings. Today there are fewer
than 10 left, and it’s just a matter of time before we catch up to them.”
Success is largely a matter of intelligence. “Six months ago, we didn’t really
know who we were fighting,” says the analyst. “Then we reoccupied the
territory, started capturing and interrogating people, and the picture became
clearer. These days, it’s practically transparent. We know exactly who we’re
Transparency has made it much harder on Palestinian bombers; they haven’t
staged a successful hit in more than a month. Threats haven’t stopped – Israeli
authorities receive and act on an average of 50 warnings a day – but the
terrorists’ efforts have become markedly less professional. “There could be
another bombing tomorrow,” cautions an intelligence officer. “You can’t
prevent everything. But we aren’t at the mercy of the bombers anymore. We
These answers include a range of harshly effective measures. Whole cities in
the West Bank have been put under prolonged curfew. Access to Israel is cut
off. Travel between West Bank towns is difficult. Family homes of suicide
bombers are being demolished. Yesterday, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that
complicit relatives of suicide bombers may be legally transferred to the Gaza
Such strictures, widespread unemployment and a lack of American diplomatic
pressure on Israel are forcing Palestinians to reevaluate their situation.
“Let’s admit it … we have lost a lot,” says Yehiyeh.
This kind of candor, once taboo, is increasingly common. Mohammed Dahlan,
military strongman of Gaza, has been equally realistic in recent public
appearances. Even the Arafat-controlled press is not immune to realism. “The
Palestinian intifadeh that has been regarded … as a way to liberation is now
looked at as a disaster,” wrote Palestinian commentator Hazim Asad in the
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, the architect of Operation Defensive Shield,
has refrained from gloating or declaring victory. He still wants Arafat replaced
by a Palestinian leadership willing to make a deal on Sharon’s terms.
Arafat, for his part, is conceding nothing. He doesn’t need to. His failure is
apparent in the rubble of his headquarters and on the streets of Jerusalem.
During two years of bombings, the business district of the Israeli capital was a
virtual ghost town. Last month, desperate merchants staged a downtown
festival. To their amazement, tens of thousands of no longer fearful
Jerusalemites turned out for opening night, and the crowds kept getting bigger
and bigger throughout the month. Even more revelers are expected for the
upcoming Rosh Hashanah holiday.
And so the Al Aqsa intifadeh has come to its predictable end, with Israelis once
again dancing in the streets and Palestinians, the eternal victims of Arafat’s
leadership, confined to their quarters, watching on TV.