The Palestinian-Israeli conflict presents a unique case study in the fallibility of asymmetry and the arrogance of power. The status of this conflict today places one country - Israel - with overwhelming military, political and financial power as well as backing from the world's most powerful country (the US) and community (EU) against a people without an army, living under siege, with its employees not being paid for months and its economy in shatters.
With such overwhelming power, Israel has no incentive to negotiate. It is very happy to dictate and the world community, by and large, goes along with that. The Israelis (people, government and army) can do what they want and extract whatever they want from the people under their occupation.
Well not everything. One tiny thing they can not get the Palestinians to do: offer them peace without obtaining their land back.
Even this apparently insignificant issue - in Israeli eyes - has been resolved. The newly elected Israeli government has apparently decided that it does not need the Palestinians to make peace with it.
The historic compromise of two states along the pre-1967 borders that Palestinians are willing to accept seems way too steep for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and the majority of Israelis who voted for him. So instead the Israelis have decided to live with a low-intensity conflict, give up some insignificant land - Gaza and parts of the West Bank, minus Jerusalem and the Jordan Valley - and everyone can live happily thereafter.
WELL, AGAIN there is a little tiny problem with this seemingly open and shut case. The other side, the Palestinians, is refusing to roll over and call it quits. And in the middle of this internal debate (Israelis only negotiate with themselves) a little glitch appears. Some renegade group actually dares to challenge the mighty Israeli machine, carry out a military operation and capture an Israeli soldier. And although two other soldiers were killed along with two Palestinians, the fact that Palestinians have captured a live soldier has left Israel sleepless.
All of a sudden, this dominant country with its powerful army, penetrating intelligence apparatus and a long list of international and regional friends, actually wants something from the Palestinians. Not that it is willing to negotiate for what it wants. A prisoner exchange is a non-starter: According to Israel he is a kidnapped Israeli, not a prisoner of war, just like the 10,000 Palestinians are also not prisoners of war.
In response, the powerful Israeli army is put to work with little direction and focus and the only goal is havoc and destruction.
This is the Israeli thinking. Mass tanks on the borders of Gaza, destroy a few bridges, take out the electric plant - we have plenty of international friends so no need to worry that this is a collective punishment and therefore a war crime. Use political muscle to get the Americans and Egyptians to press the Palestinians. Threaten the lives of the Palestinian government, the Palestinian president.
Even kidnapping a Palestinian minister (just like the Hizbullah sheikhs held illegally for more than 20 years) and hope that the sum of all this pressure will result in the freeing of the Israeli corporal.
Nevertheless, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is correct in his condemnation of the kidnapping of the Israeli soldier at the time of serious negotiations for the prisoners' document, which clearly forbids any attacks beyond the Green Line. The aim of this clause, which has now been agreed by both Hamas and Fatah, is to make it clear that Palestinians are opposed to the 1967 occupation of Palestinian lands and not against the State of Israel within its internationally recognized borders. If ever there was an opportunity for Israel to come down off its high horse of refusing to hold substantive talks with Palestinians over something as simple as a cease-fire, this would be the time. But the arrogance of power and the notion that any such talks will weaken the Israeli deterrence is simply a formula for more bloodshed and an unending cycle of violence.
In the past, Israel has always refused to talk to what it calls terrorists so as not to reward them. At the present time, the Israelis have no right to use the term "terror" to describe a purely military operation that targeted a military location.
Instead of this escalation of violence and collective punishment, and in light of the Palestinian agreement not to attack the State of Israel, both Olmert and Abbas should use this crisis to agree on a genuine cease-fire that can be monitored by neutral international observers while simultaneously strengthening it through direct face-to-face negotiations.
For years the Israelis have been consistently rejecting all Palestinian offers of a cease-fire.
While the asymmetry between Israel and Palestinians will continue to frustrate any possible negotiated agreement, sometimes single acts like the Karm Abu Salam military operation can drive home the basic fallibility of a powerful nation not willing to understand the limits of its own power. Countries that are drunk with power are liable to trip on a small stone.
The writer is founder and director of the Institute of Modern Media at Al-Kuds University in Ramallah. www.daoudkuttab.com