Israel: the state of the army

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In an earlier article, I discussed the iceberg faced by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his Palestinian counterpart Mahmoud Abbas. I said that if they did not understand that only a tiny part of the iceberg rises above the water surface, then they would hit the bigger and more dangerous part of that iceberg, i.e. the part hidden under water. It seems now that both Prime Ministers have hit that part of the iceberg they could not see.

Since issues such as the release of prisoners and partial Israeli withdrawal (already agreed upon) became more complex when their implementation neared then we can similarly predict more difficulties when core matters are discussed, mainly the end of occupation, the withdrawal to the 4th of June lines, the creation of an independent and fully sovereign Palestinian state and borders. Moreover, if Prime Ministers Sharon and Abbas continue to negotiate on their own under the “cooperation” banner that is so dear to the US, then a more dangerous collision with the bigger part of the iceberg will no doubt take place.

The American Administration must seriously look into sending international troops to replace Israeli troops in Gaza, the West Bank and on borders, so as to enable both parties to hold talks away from the daily complications created by the presence of Israeli troops on Palestinian land and borders. Such third party presence has already been implemented in hot spots around the world witnessing occupation, combat or military operations against the occupants. I have no doubt that the US administration is actually studying this possibility, even though Colin Powell, US Secretary of State dismissed it at the time being (most probably due to Israeli opposition).The US administration continues to observe the events unfolding on the land of Palestine, therefore, it is only logical for it to discuss the possibility of third party presence to push peace forward, before the dangerous collision I evoked takes place.

Moreover, the internal situation in Israel is grave and does not bode well, and so is the internal situation in Palestine. We might be able to control matters now (to a reasonable extent), but this might not be possible in the future if things become more complex and if the internal situation in Israel further affects both Israeli and Palestinian Prime ministers.

Ariel Sharon is facing a serious problem in Israel, as he has created and fed two violent beasts that he is no longer capable of controlling. Sharon has transformed Israel during his mandate from a state with a huge army to a state of the army, where the army controls matters inside both Israel and the Palestinian Occupied territories. This happened because Sharon’s program was based on “security only”.

Thus, the army’s program became Sharon’s too. Anybody who is well informed would tell you that the army leaders in Israel intervene in political matters on a daily basis, contrary to all Israeli customs and laws. Those leaders justify their interference by referring to “security”, a pretext used by General Ya’alon, Head of the commandment who menaced to invade Gaza at the time when Sharon was discussing with Abou Mazen the implementation of the road map.

Similarly, Sha’oul Mofaz, Israeli Minister of Defense, refused to liberate Palestinian detainees claiming that the Palestinians are not fighting terrorism and are not disarming militants, while the heads of the Israeli security apparatus refuse to go on with partial withdrawals, as agreed upon with the Americans.

This indicates that Sharon’s transformation of “Israel” from a state that has an army to a state of the army will encumber him if he does not find the courage in the future to abandon his idea to incorporate the West Bank to Israel.

The other beast created and fed by Sharon are settlers; Sharon defended heatedly their program, he gave them the green light to invade hilltops, he ordered the army to protect them and accepted that they should be armed. As soon as the dismantlement of settlements was tackled, it became apparent that this beast has become so ferocious and uncontrollable that it no longer abides by Sharon’s instructions. If Sharon abandons his past views and removes settlements, then settlers will turn to the army commandment for support. This we saw earlier when attempts were made to remove some secondary settler outposts. Amidst all this, the occupation army continues its military invasions of Palestinian cities and villages, arresting hundreds of Palestinians monthly, demolishing homes and shooting randomly.

Mr. Sharon must have enough courage to leave behind his past viewpoints and to change his stance towards peace. Again, the solution is to deploy international troops to replace Israeli occupation forces in the West Bank, Gaza and on borders.

Abou Mazen is facing a predicament born out of Sharon’s own dilemma. Furthermore, Americans believe that negotiations between Mahmoud Abbas and Ariel Sharon must be based on “cooperation” and on marginal steps before core issues are tackled. This creates a state of fear, of worry and of doubt for Palestinians who believe the results of this method depend on how much Sharon “yields” to Abou Mazen. This also means that Sharon, restrained by the state of the army, by settlers and by his own mentality controls Abou Mazen’s achievements, and that Palestinian prime minister has no effect at all unless backed by the US. However, the American role is hitherto weak because President Bush did not throw in much weight to convince Sharon that it was time to end occupation. Moreover, Sharon tries to cover up his refusal and that of the army and settlers to implement the road map by blaming Arafat for all delays and stalling. He is visiting European countries with on top of his priorities the “exclusion of Arafat” and not the implementation of the road map.

Sharon’s trying to “exclude Arafat” stems from Sharon’s knowledge that Arafat wants real peace based on international legitimacy and not the legitimacy of Sharon’s program.

Sharon’s accusing Yasser Arafat of hindering the work of Abou Mazen who wants peace, as Sharon says, comes only to justify his inability and non-willingness to move forward and implement the road map.

Yasser Arafat is the one who ordered the cease-fire and who convinced Palestinian factions to respect the truce. Through negotiations, Arafat wants to obtain certain national gains for Palestinians, i.e. the creation of an independent Palestinian state that is fully sovereign on land occupied by Israel in 1967. He refuses that settlements stay to cut up this Palestinian state, that the Jordan valley be an Israeli security zone or that borders remain under Israeli control. These issues that nationalists will always insist on created a conflict in the central committee of Fateh.

The American administration in general and President Bush in particular are fully aware of all these details. The reports submitted by John Wolf, the US envoy, are very clear. Mr. Wolf considered in his reports that there was a deliberate Israeli stalling in implementing the first clauses of the agreement.

Thus, it is up to President Bush to take an unambiguous stance, and he is provided now with the occasion to do so.

Mr. Sharon will visit Washington and so will Mr. Abbas. They shall discuss with President Bush the implementation of the road map. This time, President Bush has no excuse not to take a clear-cut position. He received reports from his special envoy to the region, Mr. Wolf; meaning that he has an alternative to Israeli and Palestinian reports, and no matter how much President Bush looks into matters from their various aspects, he will find no other solution but to dispatch international troops to the region. This will give both parties the environment they need to start negotiations without any complications imposed by the Israeli state of the army, or menaces by factions to withdraw from the truce.

Bassam Abu-Sharif is a special advisor to Yasser Arafat.

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