Probe Sharon’s biggest worry

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There is no doubt that what Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon fears most right now is for the American peace mission led by General Anthony Zinni to push for serious political negotiations based on lifting the siege on Palestinians, an end to Israeli aggression against the Palestinian people, a total halt to settlement activities and an international force providing protection to the Palestinian people.

As such, Sharon is relying on the Palestinian Authority’s inability to meet his unending and multiplying security conditions. Sharon will use all his might to maintain the state of military confrontation because this maintains his image as the anti-terrorism “warrior” (the title he chose for his biography). A shift to political issues will expose the charlatan peacemaker Sharon as what he really is – an avid opponent of the peace process. Only this will produce the breakthrough necessary to create new political trends inside Israeli society that are separate from the right- wing fascist and racist trends seen today.

Now that the United States administration has commenced a diplomatic initiative and followed it up with Zinni’s visit, this breakthrough is in American hands. Zinni’s visit could be one means of exposing the positions of both parties, demonstrating who truly desires peace. But to do this, Zinni’s mediation in practice must be based on the specific principles outlined in Powell’s speech – opposing illegal occupation, settlement expansion, restrictions on movement, as well as violence and terror.

Further, Zinni could help frustrate Sharon’s plans by supporting the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) in dispelling the false and prominent impression among Palestinians that a ceasefire is the same as acquiescing to occupation. The PNA must refute the idea that Palestinian internal politics is at its breaking point, as well as address the national movements that resort to gunfire only to mask their inability to lead the public in marches against occupation. (It is important to note that the absence of widespread participation in the Intifada gives Israel the wrong impression that the Palestinian people are worn out and exhausted and cannot continue to resist occupation much longer. Indeed, the Palestinian will remains unbowed.)

After September 11, the new international climate provides both opportunities and dead ends. For Palestinians, it has now become impossible to rely on the Arab states or international intervention, since all are pressing for negotiations at all cost. This has been demonstrated through US and European pressure, starting with US demands of the Arab countries following Powell’s speech. It has also been reflected in letters sent by President George W. Bush to several Arab leaders, calling on them to exert pressure on the Palestinian leadership to “get serious” about restoring calm and ending violence.

These American demands are not new, however they gain power and influence following Secretary of State Colin Powell’s speech – and herein lies the real danger. The American administration must realize that is does not aid its cause in using the Arab countries to pressure Palestinians. Doing so only solidifies Palestinian desperation. The Arab states, too, must shoulder their role as a source of support for the Palestinian cause and a just solution according to international law. This should be translated into a unified Arab stance and an action plan that responds to American attempts at division.

While some Palestinians expressed the sense that Powell’s speech contained new, hopeful elements, more must soon be on the way. The visit and mission of Zinni is a test for whether the principles offered in Powell’s speech were serious or only pretty packaging.

Indeed, US integrity in mediation is at stake. Palestinians will measure the seriousness of the United States position in talks with the US administration over the nature of its mediation; its understanding of United Nations Resolutions 242 and 338 and the mechanics of the US role in the negotiating process.

Only after these discussions will we be able to monitor how the United States moves forward regarding United Nations Security Council resolutions, the negotiations process and pressure applied to Israel to respect international law. The way in which Zinni fulfills all of these will be the true test of American intentions.

Hanna Amireh is a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Executive Committee and the Politburo of the Palestinian People’s Party.

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