Ever noticed that just when you think events are as bad as they can possibly get, they sink to even greater depths? That is just what happened in Israel last week. However, there may be a glimmer of hope on the horizon now that Ariel Sharon has been forced to call for an early election, set to take place in February.
Palestinians were alarmed at the announcement of Iranian-born Shaul Mofaz accepting the post of defence minister vacated by Labor Party leader Binyamin Ben-Eliezer. He is a hardline dinosaur, advocating the expulsion of the Palestinian President Yasser Arafat and, during his stint as Chief of Staff, led the charge to re-occupy West Bank cities.
Mofaz is, in fact, being investigated by Britain’s Scotland Yard for alleged warcrimes committed by the IDF while under his control. These crimes include using Palestinian civilians as human shields, extra-judicial assassinations, the torture of detainees and the wanton demolition of homes.
We can only imagine the horrors which would have awaited the Palestinian people if Sharon and Mofaz were allowed to go their merry way for any length of time. Sharon was accused by an Israeli commission of being indirectly responsible for the massacre of Palestinians in the Lebanese refugee camps Sabra and Shatilla, and Mofaz displayed his brutal methods in Jenin earlier this year.
There was worse. Benyamin ‘Bibi’ Netanyahu tentatively agreed to become one of Sharon’s cohorts in the position of foreign minister. He has spent his years since his ouster from the post of prime minister travelling the world lecturing on the “evils of Yasser Arafat and the PNA (Palestinian National Authority)” to pro-Israel groups.
The egotistical and power hungry Netanyahu probably thought long and hard whether or not to play second fiddle to Sharon but deigned to offer his services on condition that early elections are called.
On November 5, Sharon announced his failure to form a new right-wing coalition government, saying that ‘his desire to maintain the special relationship with Washington’ was his main concern and that he would not give in to political arm-twisting. No doubt, the Palestinian leadership breathed a sigh of relief.
At a time when Israel and the world commemorates the demise of assassinated Israeli Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin, Arafat’s partner in the Oslo peace process, the Israel people now have a chance to re-evaluate Israel under Sharon’s leadership and to choose peace or war.
As up to 100,000 Israelis gathered in a Tel Aviv square last Saturday to pay their respects on this seventh anniversary of Rabin’s death, King Abdullah of Jordan and Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak conveyed pre-televised tributes to the former Israeli leader who was genuinely committed to peace.
Former American President Bill Clinton said that Yitzhak Rabin had been his friend, and the fact that “peace seems so far away” should not be understood that “Rabin’s life had been in vain”.
Clinton continued: “His death did not bring the end of his cause. The troubles in the Middle East and other parts of the world remind us how important it is to follow the example of Yitzhak Rabin, and never, ever lose hope even in the face of the greatest tragedies.”
A recent statement by the PLO’s legal adviser Diana Buttu could indicate that the Palestinian leadership is, in fact, losing hope. Buttu indicated that the PLO might be forced to rethink its support for a two-state solution. Her proposed alternative is to incorporate the Palestinians into the State of Israel and offer them citizenship.
Buttu said: “The leadership is going to have to start reassessing whether it should be pushing for a two-state solution, or whether we should start pushing for equal citizenship and an anti-apartheid campaign along the same lines as South Africa”.
Such a course is extremely unlikely to be hailed by either the Palestinians or the Israelis and is just as unattainable as a two-state solution in this climate of mutual hatred. Far too much blood has been shed on both sides with the death toll standing at approximately 1,700 Palestinians and 600 Israelis killed since September 2000.
Palestinians are fiercely proud of their nationhood, protective of their rights and determined to have their own state with Jerusalem as its capital. Sharon and other right-wingers are just as committed to safeguarding Israel’s Jewish identity and concerned at the demographic time bomb when, by 2020, Palestinians and Palestinians in 1948 areas will outnumber the country’s Jewish population.
It’s no secret these days that Sharon’s ideology demands a Greater Israel. He doesn’t want Israeli-passport carrying Palestinians. He wants them gone, one way or another.
Sharon isn’t the only one. An advertisement recently featured in a Palestinian newspaper offering free help and advice to anyone wanting to emigrate from the West Bank and Gaza. A right-wing Israeli party called Moledet paid for the advertisement. Its motives are far from being altruistic. It wants the Palestinian territories ethnically cleansed.
Deprived of basics
America, under the leadership of George W. Bush, has shown itself to be unconcerned that illegal settlements on the West Bank are expanding, Palestinian towns and cities are under occupation, and Palestinians are being deprived of life’s basics: shelter, food, and security.
Instead the Bush administration has a one-track policy: fighting its so-called War on Terrorism and effecting a regime change in Iraq. Anything, which interferes with these aims is a mere annoying irritation. Bush and his Washington hawks want the Arab world on board if and when the U.S. attacks Baghdad, an extremely tall order while Arabs watch their Palestinian brethren struggling to survive against all odds.
A dazed Arab world is gradually coming to the conclusion that the U.S. is no impartial friend to both sides of the dispute and is currently re-evaluating its individual and collective positions vis-a-vis both Israel and America.
Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi’s recent threat to pull out of the Arab League spurred that erstwhile union to adopt a more unified and decisive stance. We have yet to witness the result of this new resolve.
Yet while the world looks on askance at Israel’s ongoing crimes, Sharon’s popularity grows among Israelis, who tend to equate any criticism of their leadership with anti-Semitism. They don’t view their government as riddled with possible war criminals. Instead, they perceive Sharon and Mofaz as the guardians of their security.
Israelis have somehow forgotten that it was Sharon who led the Israeli army into a protracted invasion of southern Lebanon decimating their economy; they ignore the fact it was Sharon’s calculated visit to Al Haram Al Quds Al Sharif, which triggered the second Intifada.
Most ordinary Israelis refuse to acknowledge that since Sharon came to power, more Israelis have lost their lives than ever before in a similar period, or to lay that death toll at Sharon’s feet.
Israelis also seem to manage to brush aside studies from human rights groups, such as the one recently published by Amnesty International, which suggest that Israeli officials could be responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Instead of studying and addressing the findings of such reports, the Israeli government attempts to discredit their authors.
Thanks to their beloved leader’s bellicose attitudes towards the Arab world, Israelis may soon have a lot more to worry about than the attentions of Palestinian militants.
Sharon has been threatening Lebanon with another war if it doesn’t stop pumping water for irrigation purposes from its own Wazzani River, which flows onward into Israel.
In reply, Hezbollah has begun to stockpile rockets, missiles and other artillery near the Israeli border, while its leader Hassan Nasrallah has more than hinted that this time around the Lebanese group is well-placed militarily to inflict maximum damage on its belligerent neighbour.
Israeli experts believe that the two sides are destined to clash sooner or later and predict that Hezbollah might launch attacks while America wages war on Iraq and restrains Israel’s military arm.
Ticket to purgatory
With a disinterested self-absorbed U.S., a politically ineffective Europe when it comes to the region, a weakened PNA and a new extremist Israeli government, the only people who can influence the future of the Middle East right now are the Israelis themselves.
Instead of commemorating the death of Rabin, the Israeli people would do better to celebrate his life and work to further his life’s mission – peace and prosperity for the entire Middle East. Applauding Sharon and his warmongering ilk is a one-way ticket to purgatory. Israelis now have the chance to stand up to be counted. They must set aside their fears and get Israel back on the path of peace.
LINDA HEARD is a writer, editor and Arabist, who has lived and worked for most of her life in the Middle East.
She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org