Israel’s extremist, right wing Prime Minister Ariel Sharon seems to think that his mandate includes formulating US policy towards the whole region as well as drawing up the list of acceptable guests to the White House.
His first visit to the US (March 18, 2001), Sharon and his advisers made full use of the policy vacuum, immediately supplying the new US administration (let alone the media, think tanks, and special interest groups) with ready made and facile talking points.
Suddenly, the discourse emanating from Washington DC was loaded with exhortations such as “stop the violence” (with sole reference to the Palestinians, of course) and “Arafat must publicly and unequivocally address his people in a clear language they can understand.”
Just as suddenly, the basic components of the equation began to shift; the most glaring examples include the disappearance of the actual fact of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories, and the extraction of the Palestinian Question from the heart of its Arab context as a decisive factor in determining regional realities. As expected, the real horror of Israeli brutality and violence directed in the main against a captive and besieged Palestinian population is rarely, if at all, addressed. Accountability and the global rule of law continue to be dismissed where Israel is concerned.
Thus Sharon managed not just to turn the tables by twisting the facts around so that Israel is presented and perceived to be in a state of “self defense,” but also to maintain an American “wait and see” stance with the “appropriate” distance between Washington and Palestinian-Israeli realities-let alone peace-making efforts.
Israel, consequently, bought time and space-time to create more facts on the ground and to inflict the worst type of unbridled military violence against the captive Palestinians, and space that would ensure sufficient room for political maneuvers to distort the issues even further.
When the Egyptian-Jordanian initiative was launched, Sharon’s first response was an outright rejection. Presumably at the advice of more media-savvy advisers, he later carried out a series of public amendments that began with “once we see it we’ll study it,” through giving it “serious or positive consideration,” and finally to the notorious “yes, but” response.
The “reservations” subsumed under the “but” have become clear as “serious modifications, amendments, and additions” that strike at the core of this very hesitant and minimalist initiative.
Once again, Israel is depicted as not willing to “negotiate under fire” regardless of the degree of shelling, shooting, and willful destruction of lives and property that it inflicts on the vulnerable Palestinian population under occupation. Ironically, he wants a prolonged period of “quiet” to put the Palestinians on “good behavior” without any curbs on the occupier’s provocations and violence.
Once again, settlement expansion is non-negotiable regardless of the glaring illegality and destructive impact of all settlement activity on any prospects of peace-now and in the future.
Once again, Sharon balks at any hint of permanent agreements or binding timeframes that would restrict his license to dictate a prolonged transitional period, with partial interim agreements, that would allow him to annex 58% of the West Bank, build more settlements, annex Jerusalem, and totally destroy the Palestinian refugees’ rights.
In other words, Sharon wants an unfettered license to perpetuate conflict and legitimize hate and hostility.
The end result of such illogical “logic” is an Israeli willingness to accept the Egyptian-Jordanian initiative provided it conforms to Sharon’s extremist policies, i.e. an Arab title with pure Israeli substance.
Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, during his media and political blitz mission to the US, was assigned the task of diplomacy by more smoke screens and mirrors.
Having indulged in double-speak with the Egyptians and Palestinians, he became fully engaged in presenting the “civilized” and media friendly image of the Sharon government’s ugly policies and measures.
Therein lies the danger. When a Nobel Peace Prize recipient turns on his charm and invests his remaining credibility and contacts in the service of a government with an anti-peace agenda, he is not only indulging in political cosmetics. He is compounding the injustice and rendering any real solution even more distant.
With enough deceptive verbiage, both the US and the international community can evade the responsibility of dealing with the actual reality of a horrendous tragedy continuing to unfold before their very eyes. Israel, in the meantime, can escape accountability and the consequences of its own actions.
Any criticism of Israel is presented as “encouraging terrorism.” Thus it should continue its siege, assassinations, shelling, destructions of homes and cold-blooded assassinations with impunity.
To Sharon, the Palestinians must also be excluded from the discussion. An American invitation to Palestinian President Yasser Arafat to visit the White House would be “rewarding terrorism.”
Hence both Sharon and Peres are attempting to initiate and maintain an exclusive Israeli access to the highest levels within the American administration, and to guarantee the widest exposure, reinforcing even further the built-in pro-Israeli bias among American policy makers.
Furthermore, the mere fact of an Arafat visit to the White House is being manipulated as a bargaining chip for the purpose of putting pressure on the Palestinian president to do the bidding of the US and Israel-to “end the violence” their way.
Such an attitude is entirely counterproductive and short sighted. Other than betraying a glaring bias and a one-sided policy, it severely hampers any US role in peace making in the region while undermining its credibility and standing. It is also being viewed by the Palestinian public as a national insult and a form of thinly disguised political blackmail. It does not take much intelligence or political astuteness to understand that the Palestinian component is the key and indispensable requirement for any peace making effort as well as for any stability throughout the region.
In addition to the guest list, Peres is busy also determining the nature and degree of US involvement in “peace” according to Israeli priorities. The Americans are given permission to deal with security issues, to initiate security coordination and decrease the level of violence, while keeping a proper distance from political negotiations.
Instead of being a sponsor or mediator, the US has been relegated the task of facilitator as the need arises, in other words when Israel deems American intervention necessary.
The “don’t call us-we’ll call you” Israeli approach to the US is the ultimate in unchecked political arrogance.
Nevertheless, such hubris is liable to backfire. Sharon has already forced the hand of the US repeatedly, despite all American intentions to comply with Israeli admonitions for non-interference.
The stepped-up settlement drive, the use of American gun ships and weapons to shell Palestinian homes and carry out a policy of assassinations, and the latest re-invasions and incursions into Palestinian territories, with the wanton destruction of Palestinian homes, crops, and trees all forced the US administration to sit up and take notice.
After all, the US has strategic interests in the region with major Arab allies, as well as European allies who had made it clear that American standoffishness and Israeli excesses are undermining both American and European interests in the region.
Having long been an occupier with impunity, Israel is exhibiting typical symptoms of power intoxication. Like the neighborhood bully whose parents refrain from any exercise of discipline, Israel will ultimately overplay its hand with its own American patron.
It is time for the US to set the limits and to rein in Israel before it inflicts permanent damage-not only on the chances of peace but also on the US and its allies globally.
Even American patience (let alone acquiescence) has a limit, while Israel has already overstepped its limits as well as all bounds of acceptable norms of civilized behavior.
The tragedy lies in the painful price being paid by innocent people on both sides and by the Palestinian people as a whole.