(Captain's log): Returning to the dispassionate voice (after abandoning it last night) I wanted to try to explain why I said this:
I am hard pressed to think of any example from history of a war of liberation which has been so ineptly run, and which has used its tactics in a fashion which has so badly harmed it. The Palestinians have set a world record for own-goals. In fact, they've retired the trophy.
But to do that I have to review the basic theory behind how terrorism serves as a low level form of warfare. The analysis is fundamentally amoral; it assumes that you've decided that you are willing to do whatever is required in order to win, so the question of whether, for instance, deliberately attacking civilians is acceptable is moot. You've already decided that it is, or you wouldn't be using terrorism.
Terrorism is a tactic which can be used by groups who are highly motivated but who number few and who have negligible resources with which to work. There is a much larger group on whose behalf they fight, but the larger group is apathetic and unmotivated. There is an enemy who occupies or otherwise dominates the friendly group. There are seven critical groups in the discussion: your combatants, the enemy's government and military, your people, their people, your allies outside, their allies outside, and everyone else in the world.
There are a number of goals that terrorism is intended to accomplish. First, you want to polarize the situation and in particular to make your people cease to be apathetic and to become committed to the struggle. By so doing you gain substantial resources, human and otherwise, which can be committed to the war. Second, you want to try to gain as much external support as possible, while eroding external support for your enemy.
Initially the primary goal of your attacks is to provoke reprisals. Your attacks will fall on your enemy (either his government/army or, more effectively, against his people), but your enemy will respond against your people because he can't find you. Your people will get angry, hate the enemy, and become active participants in the war. This gives you recruits, money, supplies, spies, safe areas, all of which are good.
Also, what you want is for the reprisals to be viewed externally as more cruel and harsh than your own attacks were, because that will make outside parties sympathetic to your cause. You gain external supporters who will provide money and weapons and supplies and who may maneuver diplomatically on your behalf. Your enemy may find his supporters becoming cooler, weakening him. They may even switch sides.
Terrorism is rarely capable of winning directly; its primary purpose is to make the situation improve by increasing your strength so that you can switch to other approaches which have a better chance of success. Most commonly, a successful terrorist campaign will eventually transition into guerrilla war.
Which means that your earliest attacks are probably the most brutal; early on you attack enemy civilians because that is most likely to cause harsh reprisals. But as you grow in strength, and as your forces become larger and better armed and more disciplined, increasingly you will attack enemy government facilities and military resources, which is how you transition to guerrilla action. Part of why this is valuable is that it preserves that all-important propaganda edge, because if you are successful in hiding your guerrilla assets then your enemy is still in the position of having to respond with attacks against your own people. It also makes you seem more legitimate in international eyes, since you've switched to fighting an honorable war.
This leads to the image of the underdogs, fighting valiantly for their freedom, attacking the oppressor's government while the government beats up on defenseless innocents – or so you would portray it in your propaganda. What you then hope happens over a period of time is that you become ever stronger and your enemy weakens, and then either a solution is imposed from outside (to your favor) or your enemy eventually gives up. You win.
I think it's apparent that I did not just describe how the Palestinian campaign has been waged. They've totally loused it up; they're doing virtually everything wrong. There has been no attempt to maintain the moral high ground; no attempt to accumulate strength, no attempt at gradually transitioning away from brutal attacks against enemy civilians. In fact, there really hasn't been any change in tactics at all. There's no sign whatever that there's even any long term strategic plan. No one seems to be in charge.
The Palestinian people have long since polarized and have come to support the struggle. That part's fine, so provoking Israeli reprisals now could only benefit the terrorists if that helped to make Israel look worse than the Palestinians, aiding them in world propaganda. They've been trying to do that, but the kinds of individual operations they've been carrying out are difficult to defend; it's hard to talk about "principled freedom fighters" when they're murdering sleeping children in their beds.
How the struggle plays, and how the two sides are viewed, varies enormously. In the Arab and Muslim nations, and in large parts of the Third World, the Israelis are automatically the villains. Those nations are pretty much firmly in the Palestinian camp no matter what.
Europe has, for various reasons, largely aligned with the Arab view of things. America has aligned with Israel. Everyone has been sending money and weapons, but to a great extent it has always been America which was the most important because we were the only outside power capable of actually imposing a solution, and even if the Palestinian attacks have played well with the Arabs, and even if the Europeans condemn them but; the attacks have almost completely demonized the Palestinians in American eyes. You will find Americans who try to argue their cause, but the majority here have little or no sympathy for them, and last year American foreign policy took a decidedly negative turn for the Palestinians when Bush refused to even negotiate with them.
None of what the Palestinians are doing makes sense in terms of a war of liberation, but that's because they aren't really fighting a war of liberation. The terrorist campaign is being targeted at Israel, but not really because of Israel. There may have been a time when the goal of the Intifada was to gain an independent Palestinian homeland on acceptable terms, but that's not what it's about now.
What is really going on is that various Palestinian factions are trying to position themselves to take power once Arafat dies. What you're seeing is the byproduct of a Palestinian power struggle. The Palestinian civil war started about a year ago.
Arafat is unquestionably the most powerful single Palestinian, for a number of reasons. He is the international face of Palestine. He is the "legitimate" head of the Palestinian Authority (at least, as legitimate as any despot ever is), and controls a vast budget much of which is manipulated for graft and patronage to maintain Arafat's influence.
Arafat leads Fatah, but Arafat's own power will not automatically devolve to Fatah after he dies. Like al