April 5, 2001
Changes in Attitude
Poll finds Israelis increasingly hawkish, disappointed in Arafat
There were more police than customers in Jerusalem's Mahane Yehuda market last Friday morning, when Jewish families would normally stock up for the weekend. Downtown, the strolling, shopping and coffee-bar crowds had deserted the Ben-Yehuda pedestrian mall for the fashionable German Colony.
Six months after the outbreak of the intifada, Israelis are quietly making adjustments. Palestinian suicide bombers have targeted the market and the mall before and could target them again. People ask themselves, why take the risk? If they can afford to use private cars or taxis, they avoid traveling by bus, another prime target.
There is no hysteria, but the same prudence shows elsewhere. The highway from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is jammed as never before during the morning and evening rush hours. Drivers have stopped using the alternative route that runs from Modi'in, south of Ben-Gurion International Airport, and enters the capital through the northeastern suburb of Ramot.
This road strays into Israeli-controlled areas of the West Bank, though it was built to bypass the few Arab villages along its way. The army maintains checkpoints and patrols, but there have been isolated shootings. Motorists have been killed or wounded. Again, why take the chance?
Despite an air of business as usual, the intifada has changed the way Israelis live and the way Israelis think. The only difference between doves and hawks now is that the doves mourn the death of the Oslo peace process, while the hawks dance on its grave. Even if Ariel Sharon eventually tempts Yasser Arafat back to the negotiating table, it will take years to rebuild the minimum public confidence necessary to make a deal work.
An opinion poll published last weekend in the daily Yediot Aharonot logged the depth and the range of the disenchantment. Half the sample said the uprising had reduced their belief in the chances of making peace. As many as 58 percent of Israelis said their opinion of the Palestinians had changed for the worse during the intifada. Even more, 66 percent, had lost faith in Arafat.
Asked whether their political positions had changed, 37 percent said they were more hawkish. In reply to separate questions, more than 70 percent supported the assassination of Palestinian leaders who were linked to terrorism and the imposition of economic sanctions on the Palestinian population.
The left, which hoped for more, is in despair. The same Yediot poll found 36 percent of left-liberal Meretz party voters taking a worse view of the Palestinians and 59 percent disappointed in Arafat. Assassinations and sanctions drew 31 percent and 28 percent respectively among Meretz voters, who would have taken to the streets against such policies six months ago.
The Meretz leader, Yossi Sarid, a pillar of the peace camp, has publicly warned Arafat that he is playing with fire. "He would do well," Sarid said, "to stop flitting from country to country and to stay in Gaza and Ramallah to begin making order. This anarchy is bringing both his people and ours to a terrible disaster. Arafat should beware of arousing the suspicion that he is more interested in an armed struggle to establish the Palestinian state than he is in the Palestinian state itself."
Disabusing the Palestinian leader of any illusion that Meretz would buck the consensus and champion his cause, Sarid added, "As a group that has displayed understanding and solidarity for the Palestinian people and that has demanded an end to the oppressive occupation, it is important for us to make clear to Arafat that we live among our people, that our people's suffering is our suffering, and that we do not intend to accept this blind terror."
So far, all the signs are that Arafat is not impressed. After a brief interlude of "peaceful" marches on Israeli army checkpoints, the Palestinians have reverted to shooting and bombing. Snipers have become more lethal and more accurate, killing not only a 10-month-old baby in Hebron, but soldiers near Nablus and Bethlehem.
The sharpshooters are not "rogue elements." They acquired their weapons and learned their skills in the mainstream militias, or in Arafat's security services. Some are still in uniform.
In response, Sharon's national unity government is abandoning its policy of relative restraint (which is not, of course, how it looked to the Palestinians) and renewing the rocket attacks and assassinations pursued by Ehud Barak before the February election. Monday's helicopter liquidation of an Islamic Jihad bomber in the Gaza Strip was the 15th in the series. Israel is no longer putting up a smoke screen of deniability.
Gloomy commentators are predicting a long, uncertain haul. Escalation is the watchword, a war of attrition the prospect on both sides. It looks as if it will be a while before the shoppers go back to the Mahane Yehuda market.