Since his election to office, Prime Minister Sharon has been repeatedly and unequivocally asserting that he would not negotiate a final settlement with the Palestinians, he would not stop the building of settlements; (enlargement of existing settlements is exactly the same as building new ones); he would not allow the return of the Palestinian refugees, he would not accept any Palestinian Arab rights in Jerusalem; and he would not give the Palestinians more than 42 per cent of the West Bank and Gaza.
Many amongst us, gave him, in fact themselves, the benefit of the doubt, and chose the convenient alternative of not believing him. “After all” they argued, “the hardline Likud leaders were in fact the peacemakers”. Menachem Begin was the one who made peace with Egypt, and Shamir was the one who went to Madrid. “Sharon in office will not be the same as in opposition,” the argument went on.
Indeed so. Sharon in office is definitely not the same. As prime minister, he has all the authority he needs to follow the word with the deed, to resume a notorious history of crimes and bloodshed, and to strive to fulfil his campaign promises, guaranteeing Israeli security by crushing the Palestinians.
From the very first moment in office Sharon waged a devastating war against the Palestinians, uninhibited by any moral, ethical, human, legal, rational or civil consideration. In his war, Sharon wants to make sure that no atrocity or war crime will be left uncommitted, in flagrant disregard of international law, world opinion and the most evident principles that govern international relations.
As I write these words television screens are showing the worst and the last atrocity so far, the heart-shattering scene of the innocent four-month-old infant Iman Hajjo, whose young soul and tender body were mutilated by an Israeli artillery shell which directly hit her family’s home, instantly killing her and critically injuring her mother who was embracing her and running for cover… an expert repeat of the former tragic murder of Mohammad Al Durra few months earlier.
During today’s round of deliberate, indiscriminate punitive Israeli shelling of residential neighbourhoods in Khan Younis, twenty more Palestinians, mostly women and children, were wounded, some of them critically, including Iman mother’s two sisters, aged 21 and 6, and her brother. Dozens of houses were destroyed or severely damaged.
Israel’s standard justification, often unquestioned by the US is the usual feeble claim that it is acting in self-defence and responding to Palestinian shooting and mortar shells which, mysteriously, do not cause one Israeli casualty or damage one stone in the allegedly targeted Israeli illegal settlements.
Alas, and except for occasional meek bleats of benign expressions of concern, and multi-meaning calls for ending violence, the world, including the Arab world and the United Nations, remain emotionless and virtually silent while watching this escalating and deepening tragedy.
In his determined effort to drive the nail of the sore truth in the reluctant heads, and further to his rejectionist pronunciation against any possible settlement, Sharon rushed to turn a deaf ear to the Jordanian Egyptian document which provided a unique opportunity to end the cycle of violence and to reconstruct the shattered grounds of dialogue. Only when the initiative gathered speedy strength and created its own diplomatic momentum, as it acquired broad international recognition and support, did Sharon resort to a shady tactical manoeuvre by dispatching his veteran foreign minister to Cairo and Amman loaded with killer amendments and brazen lies that Israel had reached a ceasefire agreement with the Palestinians (soon, to be denied and blamed on translation after creating bizarre and embarrassing scenes in Cairo); and that Israel would unconditionally and instantly end the closures and allow tens of thousands of Palestinian workers to return to their jobs. Not only did none of the foreign minister’s promises materialise or last the duration of his few-hour visit, it turned out that the Palestinians were subjected to harsher measures and more ferocious attacks.
Further, Sharon rejected the report of the international fact finding committee, under the chairmanship of Senator George Mitchell, a report which, much to the surprise of many, turned out to be even handed and potentially promising. Even Sharon’s foreign minister was quoted by Israel radio describing the report as “fair and balanced” (The New York Times, May 6). Nevertheless, the report was renounced by Sharon who was obviously infuriated by the reports’ recommendation that Israel freeze settlement activity and by it saying “that it will be difficult to sustain any lull in violence if Israel does not freeze settlement constructive activity.” (The New York Times, May 6).
This comes at a time when Sharon is about to seek $400 million for settlement expansion, and as he declares that by the year 2010, most of the Jews of the world will be living in Israel. Recently, he revealed his plans to bring hundreds of thousands of Jews from Latin America into Israel. This should leave no doubt in anyone’s mind that Israel’s priority, specifically under Sharon, is more towards the fulfilment of the Zionist project and much less towards peace based on any form of justice or recognition of Palestinian rights. Sharon’s pretension that he would only agree to negotiate with the Palestinians when they put an end to violence is rendered void and redundant in the light of what he would offer should any negotiations be resumed soon.
The seriousness of the situation and its rapid deterioration towards an actual deadly and total war requires a totally different approach, an approach that puts an end to the current state of inaction and political vacuum if the grave dangers of such deterioration are to be arrested, and if the entire region is to be saved an additional certain catastrophe.
The vicious formula, and the sad reality, is that Israel controls the United States’ Middle East policy and therefore steers it almost completely in the direction that suits its dangerous political ambitions and expansionist plans, regardless of the amount of damage this phenomenon has been causing the US interests in the region, the US image, and the Arab American relations over the years.
As a result, Israel has become a “special case state”, exempt of all the rules and laws that apply to all the others. It is the only state in the world that has been freely defying the United Nations and ignoring its resolutions, occupying other countries’ territories, building its huge nuclear and weapons of mass destruction arsenal, away from international supervision and control, violating international law and international conventions, abusing human rights and waging a war of indiscriminate destruction, with full impunity and without fear of any of the sanctionary actions the UN would impose on other countries for doing much less. Even any verbal blame, when it comes to Israel, is vague, general and gently mild.
This exceptional impunity has been a primary factor in encouraging an Israeli expansionist, and rather counterproductive, policy which deprived our region of any peace or stability for the last five decades. It did cause significant damage to the effectiveness and credibility of the United Nations, which has been left no choice but to apply double standards, to secure a special status for Israel mainly at the Security Council where the US veto is a decisive factor; and it did critically harm Arab American relations which should, otherwise, have been entirely different.
This same Israeli policy, which is clearly turning self-destructive, had threatened world peace on many occasions in the past, and will remain a potential threat, not only to peace but to the very interests of Israel, if it is not firmly checked.
The only well placed power to break this formula is the United States which, as a new administration, is still weighing its options as to how much involvement it should undertake in the Middle East mess. Encouraging signs are apparent though, as the escalating nature of the conflict, its dangerous implications and Israeli intolerable excesses are gradually motivating a more active US objective involvement.
There are already two opportune windows for a grand US re-entry. One is the Jordanian-Egyptian document which provides the mechanism for exiting violence and entering meaningful negotiations based on the relevant UN resolutions and justice. The other is the Mitchell Committee Report which firmly confronts one of the major obstacles on the road to peace and a principal source of violence – the settlements.
A US re-entry now, on the basis of objectivity, neutrality, international legality and justice, would not only save the region, the peace and US’ vital interests, but will save Israel from itself as well.
The writer is former Permanent Representative of Jordan to the United Nations. He contributed this article to the Jordan Times.