Despite international condemnation for its violation of all distinctions between civilian and military targets in war, the Israeli government has brought to bear its most advanced weaponry against a defenceless people in its determination to impose a form of apartheid.
Yet, just as apartheid came to an end in South Africa, so too must Israel’s version. Sharon may have opposed Camp David I and all subsequent agreements with the Arabs, but he is deluding himself if he believes that the international community can tolerate the continuation of his expansionist policies. The Palestinians will not be turned into refugees again.
In Israel itself there is a growing realisation that Sharon’s war is futile. The steadfastness of Palestinian youth in the face of F16s and tanks is proof that fear is no longer part of the Palestinian lexicon, that for them life has no meaning under existing conditions of oppression and degradation.
As Israeli documents have confirmed, Barak’s inability to display sufficient courage and flexibility to reach a viable settlement when the climate was propitious was the primary cause of the collapse of Camp David II. His failure precipitated the chain of events that brought to power in Israel a man notorious for the amount of blood on his hands, from Egyptian POWs in the Sinai and the victims of Sabra and Shatila to the Palestinians today. Suddenly, after peace agreements were concluded with Egypt and Jordan and after negotiations had begun with Syria, Lebanon and Palestine, the prospect of war looms again.
Sharon has not only failed to deliver on his electoral pledge to end the Intifada in 100 days, he has generated a climate of fear that has affected Israel itself. Tourism to Israel has plummeted drastically and international airline crews refuse to spend the night there. According to a recent poll, moreover, 71 per cent of Israelis now feel that their national security has eroded under Sharon and that he is the primary cause of this.
In The Point of No Return: The Deadly Struggle for Middle East Peace, Geoffrey Kemp and Jeremy Pressman warned that the reduction of the American deterrent may increase the likelihood of renewed conflict in the region. Their warning came in 1998, when Netanyahu was in power in Israel. With Sharon the warning needs to be made more forcefully than ever.
The Bush administration’s hands-off policy towards the region has certainly been counterproductive. White House statements blaming the Palestinians for the violence have only encouraged Sharon to press ahead with his designs to wriggle out of all previously concluded agreements.
Not only does the US tacitly condone Sharon’s violence, it actively promotes it. In addition to opposing international monitors, a spokesman for the State Department has declared that Israel’s use of US weapons against Palestinian activists does not violate laws regulating US arms exports and stipulating that such weapons be used only for self-defence.
No US administration has been so shortsighted, even regarding the US’s own strategic interests. The US is becoming increasingly isolated internationally because of its complicity with Sharon. Nor does it appear to heed the cautions of its own envoys to the Middle East. Following his recent visit to the Gulf in order to promote the blockade against Iraq and other Gulf security issues, the US under-secretary of state for the Middle East reported that “talks with Gulf leaders were restricted to what is happening between the Palestinians and the Israelis. They stressed that the Arab people support the Palestinians and that, consequently, it was difficult to discuss any other matter.”
Could there be a clearer message that Bush’s position on the Middle East diametrically opposes Arab priorities? The US’s unmitigated pro-Israeli bias, its needless persistence on sustaining the blockade against Iraq, its intervention in the domestic affairs of Arab nations, have far-reaching ramifications for US strategic interests.
Bush appears blissfully unaware of the true nature of the current Israeli government, which he supports so unreservedly, more so, indeed, than many Israelis. Voicing the concerns of a growing segment of Israeli opinion, Yediot Aharanot cautioned: “With Sharon it is never important what he says, but what he does. In order to understand where he is going, we must close our ears and open our eyes wide. Our eyes will see that the path Sharon has chosen is the path of war for the sake of Greater Israel, towards which end he hopes to annihilate Palestinian nationalism and redraw the borders of the state. … Sharon will make room for a thousand Mitchell and Tenet reports, but in the end he will implement his own interpretation of a ceasefire. The Palestinians will have to stop carrying firearms (including cigarettes) and not violate the calm even to protest the greater Zionist dream or to demand a stop to the settlements. The end of the path he wants to push the Palestinians down is obvious: phase one, unconditional surrender; phase two, the other bank of the Jordan River.”
Sharon invaded Jenin only to be rebuffed by resistance forces. He tried again in Beit Jala, in Nablus, Tolkaram and Rafah. To Sharon all UN resolutions are up for negotiation in his determination to press ahead with a spurious Talmudic vision and drive the region to war.
One might think it sobering for Sharon to observe that his invasions of Palestinian towns are backfiring tragically in the heart of Israel. Jenin, alone, produced nine martyrs in response to Israeli aggression, among them Ezzeddin Al-Masri, whose bombing of a Tel Aviv restaurant resulted in 15 dead and more than 100 wounded. Will Sharon absorb the fact that Jenin is not the only “factory of martyrs” that his policies have produced, that his policies will not bring peace and security to his country?
President Hosni Mubarak recently sent a high level delegation to Washington in an attempt to prevent the situation from snowballing. Unfortunately Washington continues to obstruct all efforts to send international monitors while insisting on a complete halt to violence — on Israeli terms — before proceeding with the Mitchell plan. Since this policy only gives the green light to Sharon’s belligerency, it is all the more imperative that the EU, along with Russia, China and Japan, intervene. Then, perhaps, the US and Israel will come to understand that peace in the Middle East is a matter that concerns the world.