A year after Sharon took office, all the developments indicate that the time has come to find a replacement for Sharon to take over in Israel é one who would be suitable as an honest partner in the Middle East peace process.
This need has been brought about by the consecutive developments which have accumulated, especially since December of last year. These have led to world, regional and local consensus that Sharon is the obstacle to finding a solution to the conflict in the Middle East.
In order to demonstrate this, we will discuss these developments through their main headings and their central implications. A few thousand peace supporters demonstrated in Tel Aviv in the square facing the museum. This time they held banners in addition to their old banners that called for peace – banners calling for an end to occupation and for Sharon to leave.
The significance of this event lies in the fact that it is the first of its kind since Sharon took power in Israel (in terms of the numbers of protesters and the slogans used). Also, this demonstration came immediately following the announcement made by fifty Israeli soldiers and officers that they refuse to serve in the army if their mission is to kill Palestinians and destroy their properties in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. These fifty were soon joined by other soldiers and officers, and the number of signatories to that statement has now reached over two hundred.
Israeli soldiers and officers had previously refused to carry out their military service in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and set up a protest tent on the side of the Karmel mountain in Haifa where they sat in protest against the military service. The statement of this new group was however a clear political statement, rejecting the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands, the mass crimes the occupation soldiers commit against the Palestinians, and rejecting the immorality of these soldiers’ acts against the Palestinian people.
This statement angered the war criminal Shaul Mofaz and he considered this mutiny a dangerous one because it was the prelude to a political movement that could threaten the security of Israel. As for the Israeli Right, it has lifted all restrictions, that were imposed by diplomatic formalities, on the public expression of the racist idea of Transfer; that is, the forceful eviction of Palestinians from their homes and lands. Thus they began talking of the Transfer and demanding that it be implemented both inside government meetings and outside of them.
This racist and fascist trend angered the right and center and some Israeli sectors went publicly against these ideas, which deprived Sharon of a certain percentage of supporters (regardless of how small).
During these developments, that contribute in an accelerating manner to reshaping Israeli public opinion and crystallizing this reshaping in a growing manner, the economic crisis in Israel continues to worsen. There are many manifestations of this worsening economic crisis, not the least important of which is the collapse of share prices on the Tel Aviv stock exchange.
The tourism sector has collapsed, and the heads of this sector are complaining of the total depression which has rendered this sector bankrupt. The same applies to the building, agriculture and transport sectors. This crisis is affecting wide sections of the Israeli society, but the section that is most affected is the middle class, which has begun to express its disgust at the situation in various ways the most important of which is by emigrating to European countries or to the United States in search of work, security and stability. The list of emigrants is headed by those with computer expertise. As for company owners, they have started to talk about the disaster brought on them by the settlers.
All these factors are packaged together in a general Israeli feeling that Sharon was not able to achieve the goals he had announced; that is, security and stability through using military might against the Palestinian people. This was clearly expressed by the head of Israeli intelligence who said, in a statement broadcast on Sunday the 10th of February, that the past year was the hardest year for the state of Israel, which suffered two hundred and eight deaths and one thousand and five hundred injured persons during this year.
The Israeli feeling that Sharon did not achieve security for them has grown, and with it another feeling is growing, that the use of military might will not bring any solution to the problem. These growing Israeli feelings prompted Sharon to hold meetings with Abu Mazen and Abu Alaa in an attempt to give the impression that he is also moving along the path of a political solution, under the guise of security discussions. (Naturally, the Israelis would have a clear idea that Abu Mazen and Abu Alaa are not related to security).
As Sharon still insists on continuing in his aggression against the Palestinian people and on using sieges and a war of starvation against them, then the upcoming internal developments will head towards more reshaping, reaching the point of searching for an alternative to Sharon é one who would be a suitable partner in the peace process.
As for the regional and international fronts, the developments are much clearer because their total has led to tangible and declared results. The European Union Foreign Ministers announced, in a statement issued at the end of last week, their complete support for the Palestinian people, President Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian National Authority. The European Parliament unanimously invited President Arafat to give a speech at the Parliament.
French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine, outside the framework of the statement issued by the EU Foreign Ministers, expressed what was on the mind of the Europeans when he directed harsh criticism at the American administration for its unlimited support for Sharon, and when he defined President Arafat as the elected President of the Palestinian people and the real partner in making peace in the Middle East.
The statement angered Sharon and the Israeli government and the European’s announcement was severely criticized. As for Sharon’s reaction to the French idea aimed at having elections in Palestine, Sharon was quick to reject it, accusing France of wanting to renew support for Yasser Arafat.
The Europeans decided to continue in their efforts, only this time by exerting real pressure on Israel. This constitutes a new declaration that Sharon is not the right person for peace, and is not the suitable partner who wants to achieve this peace.
It was decided to send the British and German Foreign Ministers to convey the new European approach. This was because France had become unwelcome in Sharon’s circles because, according to them, they are trying to corner Sharon. Turkey plays an interesting role in this framework é it is Israel’s partner in massive military and economic projects. Despite this, Turkey is exerting certain pressures on the Israeli government in order to save the region from trouble. It publicly protested to placing President Yasser Arafat under siege, and demanded that Sharon end this siege.
What is even more interesting is that the Turkish Prime Minister disclosed what had gone on between himself and Sharon, who informed him that he wished he could eliminate Arafat. The other side of the Turkish Prime Minister’s revelations about what Sharon had said was that Sharon was a criminal and was not suitable as a partner in the peace process because he rejected any Turkish sponsorship of talks between Sharon and Arafat, even in a framework of total secrecy.
As for the United States, whose President took stands supportive of Sharon without calculating matters, things need to be scrutinized and not to head blindly towards the face value of the political statements that were released during and following Sharon’s visit to Washington which ended last Sunday the 10th of February 2002.
A thorough review of the talks that went on between Sharon and Bush and the other American officials is needed to avoid drawing wrong conclusions, whether this error be in an overly optimistic direction or in an overly pessimistic one.
Based on the private information that I received from friends in the know in Washington, and a thorough review of Sharon’s talks with President Bush, and based on the information I received from a number of Israelis in the know, we can point out the following results of Sharon’s visit to Washington (these are not necessarily all the results).
The first conclusive result is that Sharon’s demand that the American administration sever its ties with the Palestinian National Authority and Yasser Arafat was rejected, according to one of those in the know, for the time being.
Secondly, that in exchange for the American administration agreeing to continue in exerting pressure on President Arafat, the Palestinian Authority and the European Union, the American administration asked Sharon to ease the siege imposed on the Palestinian people and not to escalate the military attacks against the PA’s territories.
One of the Israelis in the know informed me that Sharon explained to his advisors how to meet the American demand by saying that the siege should be eased in any area that is calm. This means that the siege will not be eased in any PA area.
Thirdly, the American administration completely rejected Sharon’s plan to launch preemptive strikes against Iran and Iraq aimed at the nuclear reactors and the missile factories. President Bush informed Sharon that he was trying to build a coalition to confront the Iran-Iraq-Korea axis of evil, and that he does not want Israel to do anything that could harm the forming of this coalition.
Sharon discussed with President Bush Israel’s fears that it would come under an Iranian or Iraqi missile attack. President Bush replied that America understands that Israel would have to defend itself in such a case. The agreement that was made however was about strengthening Israeli-American intelligence cooperation regarding the axis of evil.
With this, Sharon lost the opportunity he was dreaming of and planning to seize, which was to bring back a regional role for Israel by having the United States charge Israel with directing strikes at other countries in the Middle East, as it used to do in the sixties, seventies and eighties.
Sharon returned to Israel as the Prime Minister of a government drowning in its conflict with the Palestinians and in its worsening internal conflicts. Sharon tried to get out of his trouble in the conflict with the Palestinians and the growing hostility towards him in the West by earning a role in the international and regional game, but he returned empty handed. He returned to find that the problem was the Israeli occupation of Palestinian and Arab lands, and that he did not, and will not, succeed in seizing these lands by entering the greater game under the banner of the war against terrorism.
Thus, Sharon’s role has to a great extent decreased because he insists that military might is what will bring about a political solution, and because his truth is now completely revealed to Europe and both the East and West. He is the one who is attacking the Palestinian people and who refuses to take any step to stop the violence and refuses a political solution.
Therefore, Sharon is in a tight spot. The Israelis are required to find a substitute for Sharon because he is not a partner and he is not suitable for establishing peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis.
Bassam Abu-Sharif is a special advisor to President Arafat.