Sharon Is Winning

Despite facing serious challenges within his governing coalition, Israel’s Prime Minister Ariel Sharon appears to have succeeded in implementing another phase in his plan to unilaterally impose an Israeli solution to the Question of Palestine.

For four years now, Sharon has been moving methodically toward this end. On the ground, he has acted quite deliberately to define the limits of what might be available to the Palestinians. The route of his Wall, the reinforcement of settlement blocs, and the areas left after his planned redeployment–”all fit the 40% of the occupied territories Sharon indicated four years ago he might be willing to cede to Palestinian control.

The key for Sharon was that this be done unilaterally, on his terms, and not through any negotiating process with Palestinians. This required both destroying the Palestinian Authority’s capacity and delegitimizing its leadership. All this was done while feigning commitment to a series of US-led efforts to restart the “peace process” (from the Mitchell-Tenet-Zinni efforts to the “road map”), while, at the same time, resisting any engagement in negotiations or even contact with the Palestinian leadership, unless he was required to do so by the White House.

This has clearly been the situation in the Gaza redeployment. Israel talked to the US, the World Bank and even, regarding the “Philadelphia corridor,” with Egypt. But there were no substantive discussions with Palestinians and, as a result, critical issues remain unresolved and there will be no ceremonial hand-over–”no formal recognition of Palestinian sovereignty.

If there were any doubts as to Sharon’s ultimate intentions, these were made clear by recent Israeli actions in the West Bank: continued development of the Wall, especially in the Jerusalem area, and steps being take to insure that there is physical contiguity established between Ma’ale Adumin and Jerusalem, thereby severing the West Bank in half.

All this is reported in the Israeli press. Last week, one respected Israeli analyst who reported on these very moves concluded this piece noting that, “While the Left stands and cheers for its new hero, Sharon is taking steps to complete his move, and create facts in another place. Like a practiced magician, he is using the sleight of one hand, counting on the audience not to see what the other hand is doing.”

And yet in spite of this, the Western media and political leadership ignore these realities preferring instead to utter hopeful, though banal, comments about “more opportunities for peace” and “Sharon’s courageous sacrifices for peace,” etc.

And this is the point that needs to be made: Sharon could not have succeeded in his efforts without the complicity of other actors who have helped to make this unfolding tragedy possible. Let me list a few who share the blame:

  • 1. The US Administration is saying the right things about “two states,” the need to negotiate. They criticize the route of the Wall and settlement expansion, but they appear incapable of acting forcefully to challenge the fact that Israel ignores all their entreaties.
  • 2. The US Congress has made it clear that they will not only reject any Administration pressure on Israel, but they have also resisted the Administration’s efforts to provide even modest support for the Palestinians. One reason Sharon has the confidence to act unilaterally is that he knows the US Congress will back him.
  • 3. The other Quartet Partners have either fallen mute or adopted a delusional “all is rosy” posture to absolve themselves from taking action.
  • 4. The US Media has functioned like public relations organs for the settler movement. While much of the Israeli press roundly criticized the hysterical theatrics of the cult-like young fanatics, who staged their resistance for the cameras, the US press provided readers with daily front page photos and stories focused on the heartbreak and loss of the settlers. No such treatment was given when Palestinian homes were demolished in recent years in Rafah, Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
  • 5. Hamas, Islamic Jihad, & Co. are also to blame for their insistence over the past several years in carrying out horrific attacks on Israeli civilians, causing untold damage to the Palestinian cause and winning tremendous support in the West for Sharon and his policies. Their activities played right into Sharon’s hands, providing him with the justification for further repression and deligitimization of the Palestinian Authority.
  • 6. The Palestinian Authority must also share blame for this situation. During this entire period, especially in recent months, they have made virtually no effort to engage the US public with a sustained campaign to make their case. During this critical time the PA’s Washington office, for example, has been non-functional. While some effective efforts were made in the region by some PA personalities and offices, the continued absence of an effective presence and information campaign in the US is inexcusable.

The list is by no means complete. But the point should be clear. Sharon is winning. He decided to act unilaterally to define an outcome he would find acceptable. He knew the weaknesses of both his opponents and other relevant players in the field. And he acted accordingly. The only price he may yet pay will be to his far-right opponents in Israel, who feel he has gone too far. Short of that, however, he will continue to impose his plan, creating unbearable hardships on yet another generation of Palestinians.

What remains to be seen is at what point the Arab leadership and the PA will recognize the need to enter the fray by organizing mass non-violent resistance to Sharon’s efforts.