“Sharon is Sharon is Sharon,” was the title given by Ha’aretz to a “comprehensive” interview with the Israeli prime minister last week. A short intro to the text of the interview summed up its salient points in this way: “Only those who believe that there is a ‘new Ariel Sharon’ and that only he will bring about peace have the right to be surprised: Sharon is the same Sharon and for him the War of Independence hasn’t yet ended. In a comprehensive interview, the prime minister describes the main points of his plan: Jerusalem, the Jordan Rift Valley and the Golan Heights are ours. Not even one of the settlements will be evacuated because they all have strategic and Zionist value. It is impossible at this time to bring about the end of the conflict, nor is separation from the Palestinians a viable concept. What then? Time is on our side.”
With time, the Palestinians will concede their enslavement and dispossession; the Arabs, by virtue of sheer force, will submit. This is the crux of Sharon’s plan. And, it is noted in the interview, his popularity within Israel is unprecedented for it.
The “war of independence” is, ironically, revealed for what it always was: the usurpation of the land from its original inhabitants, their dispossession and enslavement. There are no British occupation forces on Palestinian territory at the moment, as far as I know. And that particular war is not over.
Regional war? Sharon may or may not be itching for one. But a war needs an adversary, and as many gauntlets as Sharon may throw down, there do not seem to be many takers across the borders. The most obvious scenario is a strike against Syrian forces in Lebanon, which could develop into a full-scale war with Syria. The strike against the Syrian radar station seems to point in that direction. But the Syrians have always shown a great deal of “self-restraint” on similar occasions in the past. They continue to do so. And the Americans would not like it. This is not to totally discount such a possibility — the Israelis always manage to find a pretext for a “defensive” war; the Americans, the Europeans and their media always manage to swallow it — but it’s unlikely.
Reoccupation of the self-rule territories? Even more obvious — it’s already happening. But again, I believe, unlikely. It would entail massive bloodshed and destruction on such a scale as to make even the Western media’s steely cynical heart flutter, however faintly. Moreover, it would bring an end for all time to the possibility of having Palestinians police Palestinians on Israel’s behalf. And, it would upset the Americans. US State Secretary Powell, while making sure to blame the Palestinians for “provoking” the “hostilities” in Gaza (as he had Hizbullah for those in Lebanon), nevertheless remonstrated with the Israelis for their “excessive and disproportionate response” and called upon them to withdraw from the territories ceded to Palestinian self-rule by virtue of the Oslo accords. Reuters quoted an unnamed US State Department official as saying that the Israelis “made an agreement to withdraw and they should not reoccupy.” For their part, the Israelis stated that they “pay very close attention to what is said in Washington. It is very important to us,” as Sharon’s adviser, Dore Gold, put it in an interview with CNN.
For the moment, then, Sharon is fighting a war of intimidation, a brutal, vicious and inhuman war, which is, moreover, creating even more facts of occupation and dispossession while wreaking havoc on Palestinian life and livelihood, but a battle of intimidation nevertheless. Its fundamental objective remains what Oslo is essentially about: to force the Palestinians and the Arabs to accept a Palestinian bantustan under Israeli military, economic, political and security hegemony.
And he’s winning it. The prospect of another war in Lebanon or a reoccupation of the self-rule territories, or even aggressive winks in Egypt’s direction (with accusations of cross-border arms smuggling and Israeli soldiers’ bullets increasingly finding their way into the Egyptian section of the divided city of Rafah), have got the Arabs, to put it mildly, flustered. Our top goal at the moment is to prove to the Americans, the Europeans, to anybody who will listen, that we’re good guys, have no aggressive intentions, desire with all our hearts an end to the “violence,” practically at any cost. And, as I have argued before, Sharon has already won a decisive part of the battle by totally shifting its terms. We are no longer fighting to regain more occupied Palestinian territory, but to avoid losing the territory we already have some semblance of control over; no longer is the struggle about greater Palestinian sovereignty, but about winning back some of the paltry prerogatives handed over under Oslo’s “transitional” self-rule agreements. And the Intifada has become “violence.” The battle for Palestinian independence has been conceded as part of a cycle of violence that must be broken. “Security cooperation” has become the be-all and end-all of the “process,” to which even its most ardent advocates are shy to attach the word “peace.”
Security cooperation, too, means one thing and one thing only: ending Palestinian resistance to the occupation. Hundreds have been killed, thousands wounded, and thousands more made homeless; olive and citrus groves have been bulldozed; the dismembering and plundering of Palestinian land has gone further and faster; more settlements and more and wider connecting roads and byroads have been built. Still the “process” would have us cower in silence and docility in our ever shrinking “areas,” so that, maybe, we can get some of the tax money due to the PA under Oslo which Israel has been withholding for the past seven months.
We’re in for the long haul, and it’s time to recognise it. The accent is on time. To put time on our side, not Sharon’s, is what a new Palestinian strategy must be all about. Two absolute conditions for winning back time, in my view, are to turn our backs on the “process” once and for all (what in heaven’s name are we waiting for?), and to fight on a terrain of our own choosing, not Sharon’s. When we bargain with Sharon to stop the “violence,” we lose; and when we try to challenge him with his own bloodthirsty methods, he wins hands down. When we juggle the two, we lose twice. The writing is on the wall: let’s read it.
Mr. Hani Shukrallah is Managing Editor of Al-Ahram Weekly.