The Palestinian war of attrition

A perspective on the Israel-Arab-Palestinian conflict

Swastika hung next to Palestinian flag on Gaza border fence during March of Return June, 2018 (photo credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT)
Swastika hung next to Palestinian flag on Gaza border fence during March of Return June, 2018
Before treating the symptoms of a disease, one must understand what caused it.
Writing in The Jerusalem Post on July 12, in an article titled “Lessons from Israel’s most forgotten war,” Amotz Asa-El offers an insightful explanation.
“Wars of attrition are not decided by their parties’ balance of troops, arms or resources, but by their balance of spirit,” the article said. “The winner will not be the one left with more land, population or treasure, but the one whose spirit will last longer.”
This explains why Arabs and Palestinians continue to reject Israel’s legitimacy, regardless of the negative consequences and contrary to attempts to “make a deal” to resolve the conflict. The conflict itself defines their raison d’etre, their attempts to destroy Zionism and the State of Israel.
Seen as a “Palestinian war of attrition,” therefore, the conflict is not simply over land or people; it’s about essence – and spirit. For Arabs and Palestinians, any concession is an admission of defeat, humiliation and surrender. It means that all of their sacrifices were in vain, and that the ideal of being a “martyr” (shahid) was false. It means that the Palestinian narrative – “Free Palestine” and “End the occupation” – is a fraud, and that all the resources that were poured into supporting that ideology by the international community – e.g. UNRWA and the “two-state-solution” – were a waste.
From a Palestinian perspective, their war of attrition has been successful. Despite engaging in incitement and terrorism, they are recognized and supported by the international community, including their demand for statehood, and they control territory and major population centers – the basis for sovereignty and statehood. This is no small achievement. In the context of wars of attrition, it encourages the belief that they can win if they are committed and determined.
The Palestinian war of attrition explains why “peace plans” based only on Israeli concessions without any change in Palestinian behavior or ideologies have and will inevitably fail. Even if and when they lose a physical confrontation, Palestinianism – the goal of destroying Israel – remains intact. Support for their cause from the international community and anti-Israel NGOs does not diminish. Even pro-Israel organizations, such as AIPAC, and Israeli leftists still call for an independent Palestinian state. In the context of a war of attrition, therefore, that is perceived as victory.
SUPPORT FOR the Palestinian war of attrition, however, has three devastating implications for Palestinians: (1) it encourages unrealistic thinking, for example, that Israel will not adequately defend itself and can be defeated; (2) it encourages intransigence, intolerance, incitement and terrorism; and (3) it allows the PA/Hamas to function as brutal, corrupt dictatorships that suppress dissent and criticism and harm those under its control.
For Israelis, the most serious consequence of the Palestinian war of attrition is that it creates doubt, fear and confusion about the meaning of Zionism and the purpose and values of the State of Israel. It exacerbates the conflict between the Right and Left, which affects the political process and inhibits a sense of national unity. It exploits a natural “war-weariness” and a sense of frustration and futility in achieving peace.
Although wars of attrition are debilitating to both sides, paradoxically, they can also bring greater clarity about the struggle and its causes – and a resolution. The Israeli-Egyptian war, for example, ended with a peace treaty and under its current administration, albeit reluctant, Egypt’s acceptance of Israel. That happened because the Egyptians were defeated decisively in the Yom Kippur War and understood that continuing the war was not in their interest. They needed to operate the Suez Canal and they needed the oil from the Sinai. And – strategically, for Israel – the Sinai desert is an important protective “buffer zone.”
In another example, the American Civil War ended a traumatic social, cultural and economic dilemma: the institution of slavery. The victory of the North over the South was achieved not only on the battlefield, but by a moral vision – president Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution, which outlawed slavery. The result was a stronger and more unified nation.
The Palestinian war of attrition is based on the hope that applying pressure on Israel by the international community will force it to concede, and eventually surrender. Widespread support for the “two-state-solution,” condemnation of Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria (“settlements”) as “violations of international law” and acceptance of the claim that Israel is “occupying Palestinian territory” indicates that this strategy of demonizing Israel is working. Enhanced by the success of the BDS movement and anti-Israel organizations, the Palestinians can claim this as a victory.
The danger of supporting the Palestinian war of attrition and allowing it to continue, however, is that it creates instability in the region, especially by its alliances with radical Jihadism, ISIS and Hezbollah forces and militias. The ability of the Palestinians to sustain its ongoing confrontation with Israel, both militarily and psychologically, with virtually no resources of its own, is the unique aspect of their war against Israel. Aided financially and diplomatically by the international community, the Palestinians have never been held accountable or pressured to change. That explains why the Palestinians will continue to reject any plans to resolve the conflict, and why they will continue their war to annihilate Israel.
For 50 years, Israelis have been brainwashed into thinking that there is a “peace process.” That perspective is wrong; Palestinians are waging a war of attrition. Magical thinking in the form of a “two-state solution” led Israel to capitulate in the Oslo Accords and brought intense waves of terrorism, beginning with the “Second Intifada,” Hamas’ takeover of the Gaza Strip and on-going terrorist attacks. Despite defeats, they survived and continue to fight, their spirit intact. In the context of the Palestinian war of attrition, that is not only success, it is triumph.
The solution, as Asa-El points out, is to understand what the conflict is really about.