The Sharon government has lashed out with the full force of hatred, not only towards the Palestinians but towards all Arabs. Escalating its campaign of terror against the Palestinian people and their national authority is an affront to all humanitarian, not just Arab and Muslim, sensitivities. It has put paid to any possibility for a peaceful settlement in the region for the foreseeable future and is certain to sow a depth of rancour that will last for decades to come.
In the appalling events unfolding in Ramallah and elsewhere in the occupied territories we see the culmination of the scheme Sharon set into motion upon coming to power in Israel. The objectives of this scheme were to destroy the PA infrastructure, overthrow Arafat and bulldoze the Oslo accords so as to create new realities on the ground. The deliberately calculated escalation in brutality entailed in this scheme derived its impetus from the meteoric rise in influence of the Israeli ultra right and from the at least tacit support of the current administration in Washington. Simultaneously, it remained unchecked by those in Israel who purport to support peace.
The current Israeli offensive is not, as Tel Aviv claims, in retaliation for suicide bombings. It is part of a comprehensive plan to reoccupy the cities of the West Bank, quash the Palestinian resistance and supplant the current Palestinian leadership with a proxy government so as to impose Sharon’s version of a settlement. The plan was already in Sharon’s mind when he came to power. It already had a codename, Revolving Door, and set out the concrete steps for a staged incursion into West Bank, which was divided for this purpose into eight districts, complete with detailed aerial reconnaissance maps pinpointing Palestinian targets to be taken out in the event of a full-scale military offensive in response to what were described as renewed Palestinian terrorist operations. Israeli military strategists had estimated that the massive incursion into PA areas could be accomplished at the cost of no more than 300 Israeli lives.
There is reason to believe that Sharon had simply been waiting for the right time to put this plan into effect. Not long ago Israeli extremists reproached him for not having ordered the incursion into Palestinian cities when he first came to power. Sharon responded that his policy had been to “get the world used to” Israeli military operations against the Palestinians. He said that at the beginning of his term of office the world flew into a panic when he ordered Israeli forces to advance 300 metres into Area A; now it has adjusted to full-scale onslaughts into Palestinian territories.
It should come as no surprise that Israeli forces have targeted Ramallah, Bethlehem and Beit Jala, leaving a trail of bloodshed as they isolate the Palestinian president, round up “suspects” and terrorise the inhabitants with house to house searches for arms and activists. Sharon has further threatened that if this round of operations does not yield its desired political result within a week he will extend the reoccupation drive to other Palestinian cities.
Sharon propagates the illusion that this savage aggression will bring peace and security to the Israeli people, an aspiration that, in fact, can only be realised when Israel gives practical recognition to the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people, above all their right to establish a sovereign state in accordance with relevant international laws and resolutions. Unprepared and unwilling to acknowledge this reality, Sharon has set Israeli tanks and missiles against the infrastructures of statehood that the Palestinians have brought into being since Oslo. He has also narrowed his sights on the Palestinian president. Whether his aim is to isolate and humiliate Arafat, to expel him or force him to leave or, perhaps, to assassinate him, eliminating Arafat is clearly central to his strategy. Hence his repeated charges that Arafat is at the root of what he terms “Palestinian terrorism” and his calls to Washington to replace the PA with “true representatives” of the Palestinian people. Towards this end he has exploited the international climate prevalent since 11 September in a bid to brand the Palestinian national resistance as terrorism, a bid that Washington has abetted through its failure to differentiate between terrorism and the internationally sanctioned right to resist foreign occupation.
Sharon’s actions ultimately seek a more insidious objective: to decimate the chances for a viable peace. The Israeli prime minister is a vehement opponent of the Oslo accords. A proponent of the opinions of the Israeli ultra right, he believes these agreements undermine Israel’s power and status and represent a retreat from the goals of the Zionist enterprise. His idea of a deal with the Palestinians rests upon a lengthy interim period after which they would end up with a token state on no more than 42 per cent of their land.
In this context, Israel’s latest assault must also be perceived as an affront to the Arab peace initiative adopted during the Arab summit in Beirut. It was no coincidence that Israel unleashed this offensive the day after the summit ended, making explicit Israel’s dismissal of the olive branch the Arabs had extended. The last thing Israel’s extremist government wants is to set in motion international pressure to resume the Arab-Israeli peace process in accordance with the principles of international law and the relevant UN resolutions.
In light of the mindset of the current Israeli government, it is not farfetched to presume that it has a more sinister plan in store for the Palestinian people. The notion of “transfer” — the euphemism for the mass expulsion of Palestinians from the West Bank — is very much in tune with the racist attitudes of Sharon and the Israeli ultra-right. That this notion appears to be on the Israeli tables is suggested by Jordanian King Abdallah’s recent announcement that his country would not tolerate any attempt on the part of Israel to deport Palestinians to Jordan. The new Israeli offensive has increased the prospects of broader regional military escalation. Although Egypt, along with other Arab countries, has warned repeatedly that Israel stood to lose the most in such an event, the Sharon government appears determined to drive the region to the brink. However, rather than caving in to such blackmail, Arabs must rally all the international economic and political clout they can muster in support of the Palestinian people and to counter Sharon’s increasingly obvious intentions.