Ariel Sharon should be taking a victory lap – albeit in a tank or a bulldozer.
On the week that marks the Israeli pre-emptive strike against Egypt, Syria and Jordan and its occupation of the West Bank (including East Jerusalem), Gaza, the Golan Heights and the Sinai peninsula in 1967, it is in East Jerusalem and the West Bank where settlement expansion continues under Sharon’s leadership.
How else to explain his ability to carry the Israeli consensus on the Disengagement Plan which calls for the evacuation of Gush Katif, three other Gaza settlements and four encampments in the West Bank?
As the father of the settlement movement, no one is better positioned than Sharon to beat back the far right forces that exist in the settlements, the religious parties and his own Likud Party, in order to carry out the unilateral withdrawal project. It is ironic that when the settlers hold hands along the highway from Gaza to Jerusalem to protest the withdrawal, they are levelling criticism at Sharon and when the left gathers 100,000 in Tel Aviv weeks later they are doing it indirectly in support of him.
He, after all, is not a man of the center – everything in his history suggests that he’s a front man for the right. Much has happened since the Second Intifada erupted in September 2000 with his own provocative visit to the Temple Mount, that the Israeli consensus has shifted to the right and the left has folded its cards in an unforgivable and cowardly act. Sharon has given them ample ammunition – he is, after all, building a Separation Wall that annexes Palestinian territory which further exacerbates the worst excesses of the Occupation.
The Hebrew word ‘hasbara’ means information, but in today’s incarnation it represents the interests of state propaganda. And in the ‘war of position’ fought in the public realm, even his enemies concede that he has been a survivor.
The real story behind the Gaza withdrawal has been the West Bank settlement expansion, redrawing Jerusalem and the Negev Development Plan, all carried out under the Sharon government.
In the months ahead his leadership will be tested on many fronts as thirty thousand troops make their way to Gaza to join the battalion stationed there.
But what is passing on Sharon’s watch in this new era of peace?
Some would say the settlers are getting an average of $250,000 US per family, while the Palestinians are getting a kick in the ass.
The municipality of Jerusalem intends to demolish 88 houses with 1,000 residents outside the gates of the Old City in East Jerusalem in a neighbourhood the Arabs call Silwan and the Israelis call "The City of David" in an operation called "The Cherry in the Crown" – it would be the largest demolition of homes in Jerusalem since 1967.
It would be the continuation of a policy using urban planning measures as a tool of ethnic transfer and continuing on a tradition of discriminatory practises since the days of Mayor Teddy Kolleck. Together with policies such as construction of the Separation Wall in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Abu Dis and the expansion of outlying settlements, one cannot look at the larger conflict without understanding what is happening in Jerusalem today.
In the past several years, the non-profit Elad organization has carried out eviction notices with the help of private security in the middle of the night, displacing dozens of Arabs. Over the past decade, fifty homes have been settled in the neighbourhood by Elad.
"We break up Arab continuity and their claim to East Jerusalem by putting in isolated islands of Jewish presence in areas of Arab population," said Uri Bank, a leader of the pro-settlement Moledet party. "Then we definitely try to put these together to form our own continuity. It’s just like Legos – you put the pieces out there and connect the dots…Our eventual goal is Jewish continuity in all of Jerusalem."
There are other more disturbing signs evident as well such as the push by extremist ultra-Orthodox Jews to build the Third Temple on the Temple Mount on the Al Aqsa complex.
As the consensus has shifted to the right, it has inflamed the public airwaves with the kind of thinking that has given a platform for the right wing parties to openly call for the ethnic transfer of Israel’s Arab citizens who comprise 20 percent of the Israeli population. Even Binyamin Netanyahu has called the Arab Israeli population a demographic time bomb.
In the form of government policy, it has included discriminatory practises such as home demolitions, inequitable treatment by government authorities and legislation such as the Citizenship Law which denies the partners of Israeli Arabs who reside in the Occupied Palestinian Territories the right to become Israeli citizens.
The Disengagement Plan has also fast-tracked the Negev Development Plan which will result in the establishment of settlements and the displacement of some of the Bedouin minority from their traditional lands in the Negev desert.
Ariel Sharon must be a student of political physics in establishing his ‘war of position.’
Newton’s First Law of Motion states that every object in a state of uniform motion tends to remain in that state of motion unless an external force is applied to it.
Without Sharon initiating the Disengagement Plan, the rest of the dominoes would not topple.
Under Newton’s Second Law of Motion, an object with a certain velocity maintains that velocity unless a force acts on it to cause acceleration. The US, with its foreign policy agenda in the region, together with Sharon’s willingness to act unilaterally has set the stage for deeper, long term schisms in Israeli and Palestinian society.
Newton’s Third Law of Motion states that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.
The Disengagement Plan and its unintended consequences could very easily derail the ceasefire hammered out in Sharm El Sheikh with Mahmoud Abbas, Hosni Mubarek and King Abdullah of Jordan in February this year.
While there, Sharon said in a speech:
"We have an opportunity to break off from the path of blood which has been forced on us over the past four years. We have an opportunity to start on a new path. For the first time in a long time, there exists in our region hope for a better future for our children and grandchildren.
We must move forward cautiously. This is a very fragile opportunity, that the extremists will want to exploit. The want to close the window of opportunity for us to allow our two people to drown in their blood.
If we do not act now – they may be successful in their scheme."
Perhaps Ariel Sharon should apply his own advice to the situation in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.