Caesar’s Favor


George Caesar, the Imperator of the new Rome, likes Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen). He has invited him to the White House and showers him with compliments.

As in ancient Rome, the likes and dislikes of the Emperor shape the policy of the Empire. All the ministers, eunuchs, officials, proconsuls and local rulers act accordingly, while mouthing words of flattery and praising the wisdom of Caesar, irrespective of whether he is really wise, like Julius Caesar, stupid like Tiberius or downright mad, like Caligula. Caesar is Caesar.

George Bush is a simple man. His mental world, like a Western, contains Good Guys and Bad Guys. His impressions are personal and come "from the gut". They have nothing to do with logic or political analysis. Arafat made Bush angry, he is a Bad Guy. Abu Mazen is a Good Guy, mainly because he is not Arafat.

Like King Herod, who lived in Jerusalem but whose ears picked up the slightest murmur in Rome, Ariel Sharon listens to every whisper in Washington. In order to influence Bush, he always has to know exactly which way the wind is blowing. If Bush likes Abu Mazen, so Sharon, too, likes Abu Mazen.

More than that, he lays out a blue-and-white carpet for him to walk on. He invites him to his Jerusalem office, exchanges smiles and handshakes over the emblem of the State of Israel, publicly orders his people to strengthen Abu Mazen in every possible way, watching over him like a good father over a promising son.

But with friends like this, one has no need of enemies. I would advise Abu Mazen not to turn his back when Sharon is around. Definitely not.

Because Sharon’s hidden agenda is far removed from his public one. As we have said many times before: don’t listen to what Sharon says but pay attention to what he does.

From the day Abu Mazen was appointed Palestinian Prime Minister, Sharon’s sole aim has been to topple him from his rickety chair as quickly and as forcefully as possible.

It started with statements from Sharon and his henchmen that made Abu Mazen look like an Israeli stooge, a sub-contractor for Israeli security. It is continuing by denying him any political achievement at all, making him look like a "featherless chicken", as Sharon has called him.

Sharon’s many statements about releasing prisoners as a gesture of generosity have been loaded with so many "no"s as to become meaningless. No prisoners with "blood on their hands". No Hamas and Jihad members. No, no, no, until only 300 remained, including common criminals and prisoners about to be released anyhow.

At the same time, Sharon has fulfilled almost none of his obligations under the Road Map. The removal of some 60 settlers’ "outposts" has become a joke. Only one single inhabited outpost was removed in a dramatic struggle before the cameras, and two new ones were put up in its place. The freezing of all the settlements has been "forgotten".

The building of the "separation wall", whose main aim is the drawing of a new border deep in Palestinian territory and grabbing as much land as possible, is going rapidly ahead, contrary to Sharon’s obligation not to do anything that may change the situation on the ground. He is about to spend almost two billion (billion, not million) dollars on this monstrous enterprise, while the education and health systems in Israel are collapsing for lack of funds and single mothers are sitting in protest tents next to his office.

The withdrawal from the Palestinian territories is a sham. The Israeli army has left some areas in the Gaza Strip which it wanted to leave anyway. The central road has indeed been opened, but not completely, and it can be shut down again at a moment’s notice. The army has also left parts of Bethlehem, but continues to build walls in other parts of the town. Withdrawals from all the other Palestinian towns "are not under consideration for the time being".

All over the West Bank, the checkpoints continue to make the lives of the population hell. Every night more people are arrested.

The Chief-of-Staff boasts that the hudna (cease-fire) constitutes an Israeli victory, thereby inciting Palestinians to break it. The commander of the Central Sector accuses the Palestinian security services of not having cooperated in securing the release of a kidnapped Israeli cabdriver, after refusing to give them the least scrap of the necessary information

And most importantly, all Sharon’s spokesmen announce day and night that Abu Mazen has failed in his job. Israel, they say, will not make any gesture towards him until he begins to disarm Hamas and Jihad–that is to say, initiates a civil war that will cause Hamas and Jihad to end the hudna and start a new conflagration. This would allow Sharon to wriggle out of his obligation to dismantle settlements.

Abu Mazen is also told that he must replace Arafat, who is vastly more popular than him. The ongoing imprisonment of Arafat in his wrecked Ramallah compound is, of course, weakening Abu Mazen and strengthening Arafat.

Putting together this pattern of behavior, there is only one possible conclusion: while praising Abu Mazen , Sharon is doing everything possible to bury him. He is not fighting against Arafat alone, he is also–and primarily–fighting against Abu Mazen.

Unlikely? Strange? Not at all. Like Herod in his time, Sharon knows the vital importance of keeping in Caeasar’s favor, so as to be able to manipulate him and take advantage of him. Arafat does not disturb Sharon in this pursuit. Bush hates him. But Abu Mazen has turned out to be a dangerous competitor for Bush’s favor. He must be eliminated. And quickly.

But this is a sensitive job. Care must be taken to avoid suspicion in Washington. Annoying Bush must be avoided at all costs. Therefore, when Sharon hears dissatisfied murmurs from the White House, he is quick to make concessions. Not 300 prisoners will be released, but 400, including some Hamas and Jihad members. They want the removal of another "outpost"? OK, bring on the TV cameras to witness another dramatic struggle. In any case, one can rely on the settlement rowdies to come back in the night. The main thing is to satisfy Caesar and his eunuchs.

Hail Caesar, those who are about to kill Abu Mazen salute you.

URI AVNERY is an Israeli writer and peace activist with Gush Shalom. He is one of the writers featured in The Other Israel: Voices of Dissent and Refusal. One of his essays is also included in Cockburn and St. Clair’s forthcoming book: The Politics of Anti-Semitism. He can be reached at: avnery@counterpunch.org.

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