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Ariel Sharon is like one of those sleight-of-hand tricksters you see on the pavements of European cities. They mix three cards before your eyes, ask you to pick on of them, turn them upside down and ask you to guess which one is the card you have chosen. You are absolutely sure that you know where the card is ? and you are wrong. Always.
How does the man do it? Elementary, dear Watson: he keeps up an incessant prattle and diverts your attention for the fraction of a second ? and at this moment he changes the layout of the cards.
Therefore, never (but never!) pay attention to what Sharon says. The sole object of all his utterances is to divert your attention. One has to watch his hands and not avert one’s eyes from them for a second.
If Sharon had been a contemporary of Voltaire, one could have thought that the great French philosopher meant him when he said: “Men use thought only to justify their wrong-doings, and words only to conceal their thoughts.”
This has not changed since Ben-Gurion, the first patron of Sharon’s career, wrote in his diary that Sharon is a habitual liar. But the word “liar” is out of place. The sleight-of-hand artist on the pavement is not a liar. He uses words as an instrument of his craft, the way a soldier uses smoke bombs.
For three months Sharon prattled about his strong desire to set up a National Unity Government, in which the Labor Party would serve as a cornerstone. This is necessary, he repeated again and again, in order to allow him to set out on the road to peace. This slogan was the centerpiece of his election campaign. Many voted for him in order to have him as the head of a government in which Labor would be a major component. (Many others voted for the Shinui party, which also promised a “secular” government headed by Sharon and Labor.)
Now everybody can see that Sharon’s promises were nothing but a smoke-screen. At the end, Sharon has created exactly the government he intended to set up right from the beginning: a government of the radical right that will do the things the words were designed to hide. At most he was ready to imprison the Labor party in this government, shackled hand and foot, to act as a fig-leaf.
Amram Mitzna has to be commended for refusing to fall into this trap. When Sharon tried to divert his attention by his prattle about peace, Mitzna demanded that he put his words in writing and sign them. Sharon threw him out.
If there had been a competition for the nomination of the four most extreme anti-Palestinian chauvinists in Israel, the winners would surely have been Ariel Sharon, Effy Eytam, Avigdor Liberman and Tommy Lapid. And here they are, wonder of wonders, by sheer accident, the four senior partners in the new government. (Other candidates for the title would have been Benny Eilon, Binyamin Netanyahu, Ehud Olmert, Tsachi Hanegbi and Uzi Landau, all of them ministers in the new government.)
The story does not end with the launching of the government. It is only starting. Witness his speech in the Knesset, introducing his new government to the Knesset. He concluded with a touching personal confession: entering the 76th year of his life (it was the day after his birthday), he has no greater desire than to bring tranquility and peace to our people. When Sharon speaks about peace, it is time to run for cover.
Now, when the cards lie again on the pavement with their faces up, all the commentators in Israel and the world realize that their guesses were wrong again. Because this is the most rightwing, the most nationalistic, the most extreme, the most war-like government Israel has ever had. If someone would set up a government consisting of the French Jean-Marie Le Pen, the Austrian Joerg Haider, the Russian Jirinowsky and the Dutch Fortuyn in Europe, it would have looked like a bunch of bleeding-heart liberals compared to this one. The Europeans can only incite, but Sharon and his partners can act.
This is a government of the settlers. The most prominent representative of the settlers, General Effy Eytam, a man so extreme that even the army could not stand him, got the ministry that is the most important for the settlers: housing. He will build thousands of new homes in the settlements. Sharon will neither “freeze” the settlements nor dismantle them. Quite to the contrary, the settlement campaign will get new impetus.
Some people compare the settlers to the “tail wagging the dog”, they believe that this small minority imposes its will on the government. That is an utterly false way of judging reality. In the Sharon era, the government views the settlers as its shock troops. The settlements are the most important weapon in the war against the Palestinian people.
Also wrong are those who believe that Sharon has no vision. He certainly has one. And what a vision it is! He does indeed want to enter history as the man who realized the dream of generations. But this is not the dream of peace, about which he prattles day and night. Peace interests him as last year’s snow. He strives for an aim that seems to him vastly more important: to fulfil the aim of Zionism as he understands it: to create a Jewish state that will comprise (at least) all the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan river, and if possible without Arabs.
When one understands the aim, the composition of the new government is eminently reasonable. It is custom-made. Sharon at the helm. The army in the hands of Shaul Mofaz, the most brutal Arab-fighter of them all. The police in charge of Tsachi Hanegby, a rowdy whose career began with pogroms against Arab students at the university. Eytam building housing units in the settlements. Liberman, himself a settler, responsible for the roads. The treasury, that must finance all this, in the hands of Netanyahu.
In his maiden speech, Mitzna asked of Sharon to stop comparing himself to de Gaulle. For decades, Sharon has encouraged commentators at home and abroad to spread the legend that at any moment this tough, battle-scared general will turn out to be the Israeli edition of the great Frenchman who ceded all of Algeria to the “terrorists”, while evacuating a million French settlers.
Sharon ? a de Gaulle? Stop listening to the prattle. Just look at his hands!
URI AVNERY has closely followed the career of Sharon for four decades. Over the years, he has written three extensive biographical essays about him, two (1973, 1981) with his cooperation. Avnery is featured in the new book, The Other Israel: Voices of Refusal and Dissent.