Sorry to say, I have to apologize. And to myself, of all people.
This is how it was. A short time after the destruction of the Twin Towers, on September 11, 2001, I wrote: A basic change in the American attitude towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is going to take place. The US is going to impose a settlement which will satisfy the Palestinian demands, too.
This assessment was not based on any leak, but on logic. The terror that brought the towers down came from the Arab world. It sprang from the anger and hatred that has accumulated among the Arab masses. The oppression of the Palestinian people by the Israeli government is the main (if not only) cause for these feelings. In order to fight against terrorism, the US must remove this cause. This is such a basic American interest, that even the power of the Jewish and fundamentalist-Christian lobbies will not be able to overcome it.
I was completely convinced of this logic. So I wrote articles, some of which were published in many countries. I repeated it in dozens of lectures in the US and at a press-conference on Capitol Hill.
And indeed, it seemed that I was right. President Bush suddenly began to talk about the “vision” of the Palestinian State. Colin Powell made a speech indicating that the US was prepared to meet many of the Palestinian demands.
But then it stopped. The US went to war in Afghanistan and won an amazing victory, destroying the rule of the Taliban with almost zero losses, with only money and bombs. It seemed that it did not need the help of anyone anymore, certainly not the Arabs.
Instead of looking for a solution to the Palestinian problem, Bush gave the green light to Sharon, so that he could run berserk in the Palestinian territories, re-conquer, kill, destroy, uproot, besiege, surround and cut off. It seemed that Bush was lending unqualified support to Sharon’s objectives: to break the Palestinian national entity and its leadership, to bring the Palestinians to their knees, to enlarge the settlements and annex the territories. As usual, the blame was placed on the victims. Arafat, according go Bush, was to blame for everything.
All this ran contrary to the analysis I voiced after the September 11 outrage. I started to have doubts. I asked myself: Where did I go wrong? Where is the weak link in my chain of reasoning?
And then something dramatic occurred. When Sharon escalated his actions and invaded the refugee camps and towns, the Americans shut the door in his face.
What has happened? Simple: the basic logic of the situation started at long last to assert itself.
After Afghanistan, Bush looked for a new place to employ American power. He invented the “axis of evil”, consisting of Iraq, Iran and North Korea. (What is the connection between them? Perhaps God knows.)
The most reasonable target would have been Iran, because its territory is best suited for laying the Caspian Sea pipeline to the Indian Ocean. Sharon tried hard to push the US in this direction. But Iran is a hard nut. Iraq is an easier target.
But Iraq is not Afghanistan. It cannot be brought down by a few bombs. Moreover, if it does go down, it is liable to break up into three parts: a Shiite protectorate of Iran in the South, a Kurdish state in the north and a small Sunni state in the middle. That would completely destabilize the whole region, expose the Arab world to the Iranians and Turkey to Kurdish irredentism.
Even the US cannot start such a complex action without the support of the Arab world. But when it put out feelers, the Palestinian cause raised its head.
In order to understand this, one has only to look several times a day at the newscasts of al-Jazeera television, which reaches almost every home from Oman to Morocco. They show what happens, and what happens is awful. The daily killing of Palestinians, the wanton destruction wrought by tanks and bulldozers, the crying, tears and funerals, are shown every hour together with Palestinian guerilla exploits and suicide bombings. Every newscast is a ticking bomb under the seats of the kings and presidents, who are being compared by their subjects with the imprisoned lion in Ramallah.
The Arab governments are worried that the situation in Palestine may cause “instability” all over the region, endangering all the regimes, one after the other. They tell Washington: In this situation we cannot help you to attack another Arab country. It would break the camel’s back.
All this was already clear six months ago, but now it has entered the consciousness of American decision-makers. In the meantime, the real Sharon and his claws have been seen by all. In Washington it is now understood that the Arab masses have to be won over. That is the reason for the ultimatum delivered to Sharon, which compelled him to evacuate his troops from the center of Ramallah, to lift the blockade against Arafat and to give up the slogan of “seven days without (Palestinian) violence.” It explains the President Bush’s speech, in which he attacked Sharon in no uncertain terms; the Security Council resolution inspired by the Americans, which speaks about “the sates of Israel and Palestine”; the declaration by the UN General Secretary expressing an international consensus, which denounces the occupation and Israeli humiliation of the Palestinians.
So it transpires that what was needed was only patience. It takes only minutes to conclude a train of thought, but a super-power needs half a year to change its policy. Like the mills of justice, the mills of reason work slowly. Many slow-thinking officials have to get used to a new idea. Many think tanks have to arrive at new conclusion (and experts do not like to reach conclusions contrary to the wishes of the Boss). International pressures and opposite internal pressures have to be balanced. In short, it’s a process.
However, the basic national interest of a Great Power will overcome the obstacles, if the leaders do not want to appear in books similar to “The March of Folly”.
The question remains: How serious are they? Americans leaders may again be seduced into believing that hollow phrases and token actions are sufficient é a withdrawal of Israeli troops from one hill to another, another journey of General Zinni, saying “phoooya” to Sharon, in order to pacify the Arab governments and their peoples. The decision of Vice-President Cheney to ignore President Arafat while visiting all the other Arab kings and presidents does not bode well. Bush may decide to do as little as possible against Sharon in order to avoid drawing flak from the Jewish and Christian lobbies back home. That is where the Israeli peace movement has a role to play.
In the end, the political logic will win out. But it may take time é and in our county, time means blood, tears and bereavement.
[The author has closely followed the career of Sharon for four decades. Over the years, he has written three extensive biographical essays about him, two (1973, 1981) with his cooperation.]