It was expected. Ariel Sharon said it, and he was neither joking nor making himself deliberately ambiguous. The man, as it is worldwide known, never has been a dilettante enjoying the high and fine subtleties of the diplomacy. His floppy language is an integrated part of his personality. You have to take it or to leave it as it is. Trying to find any hidden “pearl” of wisdom behind what he says would be meaningless and let you unsatisfied. A rash-headed man, that is what his own history reveals.
And now, his supporters in the Bush administration would have to accomplish a trapeze jumping in order to repair whatever he had damaged in the relations between Israel and its most important ally. Yet, with a little acumen they would have expected such a reaction from the Israeli Prime Minister. Since they did not warn him about making such incongruous remarks, neither did his own advisers in the Israeli Cabinet, they missed a good opportunity to save the face.
The reaction was expected, because not only of the substance of Mr. Bush’s declaration about the “vision” of a Palestinian state, but also – and above all – because of the international conjunction, not to speak of the current mood in Israel.
On the one hand, everybody acknowledges that there might be a shift in the American perception of international terrorism that could have caused a noticeable modification in the administration’s policy towards the Middle East. One of the areas concerned by that recent shift is likely the Arab- Israel conflict. On the other hand, it seems that Bush and Sharon had not had the same analyze as regards the September 11 attacks on America, and its causes and purposes, and its consequences. To be sure, Sharon envisioned an opportunity to continuing his own battle against his terrorists, as if the American tragedy gave him a blank check that he would cash as he likes. He hastened to point out to Arafat as his bin Laden, and in twenty-four hours readied the Israeli army to carry out any decision he would take. He would never recognize that Powell pressured him to allowing a meeting between Perez and Arafat. When he declared to the New York Times (Oct.7) that ” we have not been under pressure” adding that what worried him ” was what might be”, he did not seem convincing. For we know that he vetoed Arafat-Perez meeting, and when he was forced to accept it, he was likely sure that the cease-fire would not last. And it did not last.
Yet, Sharon tried to refrain from pushing the cork too far. Indeed, there were hints and well organized Israeli “leaks” about a so-called Palestinian-Iraqi-Lebanese-Syrian and- why not?- Saudi involvement in the terrorist strike on America, but who would take seriously all the whimsical wishes of Sharon’s intelligence service? Nonetheless, if Sharon could bear some pressure from Israel’s old allies, he seemed unable to bear more when Mr. Jack Straw sent in urgency to Iran by Tony Blair, allowed himself to write in a local paper: “One of the factors that helps breed terror is the anger that many people in the region feel at events over the years in the Palestinian territories.”
These words were quite unacceptable to Sharon who knew that Straw was accomplishing a mission on behalf of the British government in full agreement with Washington, aiming at getting the Iranian cooperation with the anti-terrorist coalition. Iran is the supporter of Hizbullah. In Sharon’s eyes, the Americans and the British have lost the marks and gone blind: They see America’s foes, but they do not see Israel’s – Sharon’s, that is! Then to make the water overflow the glass came the acknowledgement that a plan for a Palestinian state was under way. Was Perez really unaware of it, as he let us understand when he declared to the N.Y. Times (same day) that Sharon was reacting about the news of ” the mysterious plan”? Maybe!
Anyway, Sharon mistook the epoch and its personages, and his historic metaphor showed only his ignorance of history. For even with his own concepts, neither Bush could be Chamberlain, nor Arafat Hitler.
And the mighty and over-armed Israel is far from being 1938′s Czechoslovakia.
Hichem Karoui is a writer and journalist living in Paris, France.