Two boxers enter the ring. One is a heavy-weight champion, his opponent is a feather-weight. Everyone expects a knock-out at the beginning of the first round.
But, miraculously, the first round ends - and there is no knock-out. The second round ends - no knock-out. When the feather-weight is still standing up after the third and fourth round, it is clear that he is the true winner. Not by a knock-out, not even on points, but just because he is still standing and fighting against such a formidable opponent.
This exemplifies the present confrontation between the IDF and the Palestinian people. The mighty Israeli army has not succeeded in breaking the backbone of the uprising. It has tried everything - gunship helicopters, tanks, cannons, liquidations, destruction of whole neighborhoods, closure, siege, demolition of homes, uprooting of plantations - and, in the seventh month, the Palestinians continue to stand on their feet and fight.
To the astonishment of the Israeli generals and commentators, the will of the Palestinian population has not broken, in spite of the terrible blows it is suffering.
In this fight, the Sharon-Peres government enjoys the overwhelming support of the United States, which provides it with arms and money and exercises its veto in the Security Council on Israel's behalf. (Indeed, a European diplomat has said that Israel is in practice the fifth permanent member of the Security Council with the veto power.) Europe does pay lip-service to the Palestinians, but that's all. The Arab regimes, which receive generous American handouts, are also content with merely donating kind words to the Palestinians. In Israel itself, all the media are totally enlisted in the service of the government, there is no real opposition in the Knesset, and - apart from the small radical peace-forces, which are boycotted by the media - there is no protest.
If so, are the Palestinians helpless against the vast superiority of the Sharon-Peres government? Not really. They pin their hopes on several factors.
First: the intifada itself. To the astonishment of the Israeli generals and commentators, the will of the Palestinian population has not broken, in spite of the terrible blows it is suffering. The economy has been demolished, life has become hell, but the entire Palestinian public supports the struggle.
Somebody has described the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a "clash between an irresistible force and an immovable object". The intifada has become a war of attrition. In such a war between occupier and occupied, the morale of the occupied is stronger, because he is fighting for his very existence. Napoleon said: "In war, moral considerations account for three quarters, the balance of actual forces only for the other quarter."
Israel, too, pays an immense price (nobody in Israel dares to calculate it), both in terms of money and the great damage caused to the quality of the IDF. Nobody knows when fatigue will overcome the will of the Israeli people to go on with this useless struggle. It will probably happen before the Palestinian side raises its hands in surrender.
Second: the Arab masses. True, the Arab regimes are not ready to lift a finger for the Palestinians and they cannot afford to provoke the Americans, who keep them going with their money. But the situation of the intellectuals and the masses is quite different. There the sympathy for the Palestinians is great.
This does not yet bother the kings and presidents. But if something were to happen that would infuriate the masses in a way that would endanger the stability of their governments, the situation would suddenly change completely. In all the Arab countries there are nationalist and Islamic opposition groups just waiting for such an opportunity. If Israel commits - even by accident - an atrocity like the 1996 Kafr Kana incident or an outrage in the Haram al-Sharif (Temple Mount) area, an explosion would follow.
A few days ago I had a conversation with Yasser Arafat in Ramallah. I got the impression that he pins great hopes on Arab support. He pointed out that a million people had taken part in one demonstration in Morocco, that for the first time a demonstration had been held in Saudi Arabia (and a women's demonstration at that!), and that even in distant Oman angry demonstrations had taken place. It seems that everybody is waiting for Sharon to commit the act of brutality that will blow the situation sky-high.
Third: there is a limit even to the total American support for Sharon-Peres. From the Palestinian point of view, the Bush administration may be the worst ever. But it has a definite red line: the oil. If an explosion were to occur in the Arab world and the kings and presidents were to send SOS messages to the White House, an American iron fist would descend on Sharon and Company.
In the meantime, in the 29th week of the fight, there is no knock-out.