Israel wreaks havoc in the region

Washington – So Israel is planning to wage a war against the Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip in a bid to expel Yasser Arafat and his men in the Palestinian National Authority because they have not yielded to the demands of Ariel Sharon, the longtime war monger-turned-prime minister.

But what does one call the nightly Israeli incursions into Palestinian territory, the kidnapping of Palestinian militants, the assassination or “targeted killings” of Palestinian activists, the demolition – en masse – of Palestinian houses, the ethnic cleansing (now under way among Hebron’s shepherds) and the continued settlement construction – to cite a few examples of Israeli actions, but a full-fledged war?

And now comes Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres to say straight facedly, after a meeting in Egypt with President Hosni Mubarak and Chairman Arafat, that “war is not an option” and the Palestinian leader remains a negotiating partner as if we should indeed trust the esteemed holder of the Nobel Peace Prize who was responsible for the massacre of Qana where tens of Lebanese women and children, hiding in a UN compound, were killed by cross-border Israeli shelling.

This “war of nerves”, Israel’s generals ought to know from the experiences of others in Vietnam or South Africa, will not manage to sweep the Palestinian issue under the carpet even if they were to succeed in inflicting, as they have reportedly anticipated, “thousands of Palestinian and hundreds of Israeli casualties”.

Moreover, the esteemed American ambassador to Israel, Martin Indyk, who will now be ensconced at the Brookings Institution rather than Foggy Bottom, has publicly admitted in a farewell talk in Israel last week: “We’ve been through many efforts to create a Palestinian leadership that is more to (Israeli) liking” but without any success. But, like the Israeli generals, the onetime Israeli lobbyist opined that “the threat of terrible consequences” might make Arafat and his people more pliable.

Despite the loud drums of war, heard everywhere in the Middle East and Europe, the unimaginative Bush administration remains deaf and mum. This irrespective of the well-timed news leak, reported by the influential New York Times, that former President George Bush, in the presence of his son, George W., described as a “novice” in foreign policy, has recently reassured Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Abdullah that the American president’s “heart is in the right place” when it comes to the Middle East, and that he is “going to do the right thing”.

Prince Abdullah has recently criticised the one-sidedness of US policy in the Middle East, and Saudi officials felt slighted by the US indictment of Saudis allegedly involved in the Khobar explosion which cost the lives of several US servicemen based there since the Gulf War more than 10 years ago.

Whether this American reassurance should assuage Arab critics, who are in turn growing louder, of US policy in the Middle East remains to be seen. In the meantime, the verbal onslaught against the Palestinians, especially Arafat and his closest aides, will gather steam this week with the arrival in Washington of Ehud Barak, the embittered former Israeli prime minister who is bound to whip the American Jewish community and its vast supporters in official Washington to get “the world … (to) adopt the policy of the Bush administration – not to deal with Arafat”.

In his first American press interview after his downfall, Barak described Sharon as doing “the right thing” vis-é-vis the Palestinians and agreed that an Israeli military invasion of the occupied areas “should be a last resort, an option we are willing to contemplate only if all other options have not worked and we have gathered international support …”.

But few in the American Jewish community or elsewhere in the country are aware that Barak’s offer at Camp David II is now generally recognised – even in Israel – to have been less generous than was claimed or leaked. Indeed, Baruch Kimmerling wrote in Haaretz on July 12 that the Palestinians were offered “impossible terms” for an “end to the conflict”.

In fact, Kimmerling lamented the “vacuum of political and ideological opposition” which he attributed to the “unprecedented dominance” of the political scene by the radical religious and secular right – “so much so that now it seems there’s nobody and nothing that can stop the slide down the slippery slope to total conflict”.

What is true in Israel seems equally true in America which remains toothless and tongue-tied while Sharon’s Israel, not much different from Barak’s, wreaks havoc in the region.