Ariel Sharon has declared war on the USA. It can’t be defined any other way.
He has not declared war on the Palestinians, because that is not necessary. The military confrontation between Israel and the Palestinian people has already been going on for a long time, and nothing has changed this week. But in Israeli-American relations there has been a dramatic change.
Thursday, a plane flying from Tel-Aviv to Siberia was brought down. When the terrible news arrived, Sharon at once ordered a press-conference to be called at prime television time, to be broadcast live on all Israeli television and radio stations. As usual, the media stood to attention and followed orders.
Sharon was sure that the plane was brought down by terrorists (who else?) and intended to exploit the incident for a dramatic indictment of Arafat, “bin Laden’s twin brother.” But the bad Americans spoiled the performance out of sheer spite: at the very last moment they announced that the plane was actually shot down by a Ukrainian missile.
But Sharon was already on his way to battle. When this happens to him, no force on earth can stop him. Like a bull, he charges forward.
This time he had prepared something special. “He has written the speech himself,” his assistants announced proudly. And, indeed, nobody else could have, except the loonies of the extreme right.
Addressing the “Western democracies, headed by the United States,” Sharon compared the present situation of Israel to that of Czechoslovakia in 1938. The comparison is obvious: Arafat is Hitler, “the Arabs” (all of them) are the fascist axis, George Bush is Neville Chamberlain, the Americans are about to sell Israel down the river in order to appease the Arabs. Munich 2001.
Pedantic historians could point to some faults in this comparison. At that time, Germany was a mighty military power facing little Czechoslovakia. While in today’s Middle East the situation is the opposite: Israel is the mighty military power and the Palestinians are a small and weak people. Furthermore, Germany was not living under a Czech occupation. Bush is not waving an umbrella, like Chamberlain, but a sword. He is building a great coalition for starting a war.
But Sharon does not pretend to be a historian. Like his companions and partners, he lives in the world of his own images, cut off from international reality. He does not care two hoots about America’s geopolitical considerations, particularly when they are trying to build a coalition with the Arabs and other Muslims. To make this possible, the Americans must bring about an end to the Palestinian uprising, which inflames the masses in all Arab countries. They must prove that they are striving for a peace that will satisfy the national requirements of the Palestinians.
Because of this Bush declared that the Palestinian state is a “vision”, and Colin Powell is preparing a peace plan for the Middle East, after consulting with the Saudi prince.
Israeli peace activists see this as a positive development. They know that at this point in time only foreign intervention can put an end to the violence and promote the peace. The daily bloodbath, the calls for vengeance on both sides and the mutual lack of confidence prevent an Oslo-style face-to-face Israeli-Palestinian dialogue without intermediaries.
But for Sharon, any such intervention would be a disaster. It would lead to a cease-fire that would compel him to stop all the settlement activity that is so close to his heart and is also the basis of his government coalition. These days, thinly disguised new settlements are being set up at a frantic speed, dozens of others were set up in the last few months under the auspices of the IDF.
In this situation, Sharon must choose between to options: either to be flexible and then quietly sabotage the American initiative, or to stand up and fight the Americans. Shimon Peres, his close associate, counsels him to choose the first option. After all, since 1948 there have been dozens of American “peace plans” and all of them were buried by Israel with the help of the Jewish lobby, the members of Congress and the American media. So why not now, too?
But Sharon is made of different stuff. He is starting a head-on attack on the Bush administration, at a time when the Jewish lobby does not dare to open its mouth and Congress, as well as the media, are marching obediently behind the President.
One thousand eight hundred and sixty nine years ago, the Jewish leader Bar-Kochba declared war on the Roman Empire and brought about the total destruction of the Jewish people in Palestine. Now the new Bar-Kochba challenges the American empire. It will be interesting to see what the result will be this time.