It’s time to start saying that the Sharon government is irresponsibly cooperating in the slaughter of its citizens. True, no statement can be more damning. But for some time now, the prime minister has practically been inviting it. His guilt for not preventing more casualties reached a new climax this week. The Palestinians, of course, bear their own share of the blame. But the Israeli leader makes their despicable work all that much easier.
Since his unique resurrection from someone who was banned from a decisive role in government to prime minister of the country, Sharon has done everything in his power, over and over again – and with determination – to miss every opportunity to calm the situation. The list of proof of this is long, very long, and meanwhile, as the old poem goes: our corpses are piling up. There is no need to recollect the periods of sharp declines in the violence that could have enabled Sharon, if he had only wanted, to use the relative quiet to talk instead of shoot; nor to remind anyone that even with a forgiving interpretation, if his actions were not meant to preserve the tension, they nonetheless certainly contributed to unnecessary bloodshed.
This week’s new record was the response to Arafat’s acquiescence to Israel’s demand that he arrest Rehavam Ze’evi’s murderers. From Sharon’s point of view, it could have been considered an achievement: his pressure on Arafat squeezed the arrests out of the Palestinian leader. If only he had wanted to, he could have carried the momentum into consolidating the security talks. Nothing prevented him – as General Wellington once recommended – from declaring victory and withdrawing from his boom-boom line. That line, which he promised would put security with peace just around the corner, has not brought either. More unnecessary casualties have fallen on both sides.
Under European Union pressure (and disappointing ongoing American apathy) it briefly seemed that the arrest of the assassins could breathe life into the dying security committee. But after a useful meeting of that committee, Sharon returned to his Temple Mount Syndrome: at the critical moment always do something that obstructs any chance for understanding, and guarantees a riot instead.
So, he announced another humiliation for Arafat. He can leave his prison cell, but only to walk around in the yard. The movements of this irrelevant man are so relevant in the eyes of Sharon that he is ready to endanger our lives for them. Security intelligence experts agreed that the continuing humiliation of Arafat serves no security purpose. Arafat, the spiller of Jewish blood, may deserve it in a court headed by his historical enemy, Sharon. But for a stunned nation, the prime minister’s moves have no result other than worsening the violence and the killing. Under these circumstances, the historic conflict with the Palestinians is reduced to some kind of personal obsession between James Bond and the head of SMERSH.
Based on Sharon’s behavior at the various opportunities to reach at least partial calm, reasonable assumptions can be made about his real position on wider developments that might be able to change the situation. He has asked for clarifications about the motives for the statement by Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah. Sharon has nothing but contempt for any chance for an agreement, but he’s no fool, heaven forbid. He’s clever as a fox. Someone who isn’t ready to exploit any chance for calm can not be suspected of readiness to genuinely discuss a much more far-reaching initiative. He’ll kill it with politeness. The blood will flow in the streets and the prime minister will go on, accompanied by his entourage of sycophants from the Labor Party.
He’s apparently convinced that his wrong way is the right way, but he is taking a huge political risk. Over time, the Israelis who bear the burden of that risk will not be ready to follow him. They will gradually reach the point where they have to decide between fear for their lives and support for a leader who seeks only to survive politically by satisfying his extremist right-wing partners.
As crazy as the Israeli public can sometimes be, it is not stupid. This week, the prime minister took a another hasty step toward the signpost on the road to a bitter choice for many of his citizens: between the political life of a leader who fans the flames of a deadly conflict, and their fears for the lives of their dear ones.
Gideon Samet writes for the Israeli daily paper Ha’aretz.