It was a putsch. Like any classic putsch, it was carried out by a group of officers: Sharon, Mofaz, Ya’alon and the army top brass.
It is no secret that the military party (the only really functioning party in Israel) objected to the hudna (truce) from the first moment, much as it opposed the Road Map. Its powerful propaganda apparatus, which includes all the Israeli media, spread the message: “The hudna is a disaster! Every day of the hudna is a bad day! The reduction of violence to almost zero is a great misfortune: under cover of the truce, the terrorist organizations are recovering and rearming! Every terrorist strike avoided today will hit us much harder tomorrow!”
The army command was like an addict deprived of his drug. It was forbidden to carry out the action it wanted. It was just about to crush the intifada, victory was just around the corner, all that was needed was just one final decisive blow, and that would have been that.
The military was upset when it saw the new hope that took hold of the Israeli public, the bullish mood of the stock exchange, the rise in value of the shekel, the return of the masses to the entertainment centers, the signs of optimism on both sides. In effect, It was a spontaneous popular vote against the military policy.
Ariel Sharon realized that if this went on, reality would overturn his long-term plans. Therefore, right at the beginning of the hudna, he adopted three immediate goals:
First, to topple Abu-Mazen as soon as possible. Mahmud Abbas had become the darling of George Bush, a welcome guest at the White House. The unique standing of Sharon in Washington was in danger. The pair Bush-Sharon, which was mutating into a single Busharon unit, was in danger of becoming a triangle: Bush-Sharon-Abbas. There is no greater danger to Sharon’s plans.
Second, to wipe out the Road Map in its infancy. The Map obliged Sharon to remove immediately about 80 settlement outposts, freeze all settlements, stop the building of the wall and withdraw the army from all West Bank towns. Sharon never dreamt of fulfilling even one of these obligations.
Third, to put an end to the hudna and give the army back its freedom of action in all the Palestinian territories.
The question was how this could be achieved without a trace of suspicion attaching itself to Sharon. The great majority of Israelis, who had greeted the hudna, could not possibly be allowed to suspect that their own leaders were responsible for extinguishing this glimmer of hope. Even more important, it was imperative that no such pernicious idea should enter the innocent head of the good George W. All the blame must fall on the Palestinians, so that the affection for Abu-Mazen would turn into contempt and hatred.
The means for attaining this goal were selected with great care, taking into account the simplistic world of Bush with its Good Guys and Bad Guys. The Bad Guys are the terrorists. Therefore, it was advisable to kill Hamas and Jihad militants. That would not upset Bush. In the eyes of the President, to kill terrorists is a Good Thing. And as a result, the Palestinians would be compelled to break the hudna.
This is how it happened:
On August 8, Israeli soldiers killed two Hamas militants in Nablus. But the retaliation was restrained: on August 12, a Hamas suicide bomber killed one Israeli in Rosh-Ha’ayin and another bomber killed one person in the Ariel settlement. Both suicide bombers came from Nablus. Hamas announced that the hudna would continue. On August 14, the Israeli army killed Muhammad Seeder, head of the military wing of Hamas in Hebron. Five days later, on August 19, a suicide bomber from Hebron blew himself up in a Jerusalem bus, killing 20 men, women and children. Two days later, on August 21, the army assassinated Isma’il Abu-Shanab, the fourth ranking leader of Hamas.
This time it was not even possible even to pin on the victim the appellation “ticking bomb”, as is usual in such cases. The man was a well-known political leader. Why was he of all people chosen for assassination? A military correspondent on Israeli TV made a slip of the tongue: Abu-Shanab was killed, he said, because he was “available”. Meaning, he was an easy target because he did not go underground after the bus bombing, as did the leaders of the military wing.
This time, at long last, the aim was achieved. The Palestinian organizations announced that they were calling off the hudna. Sharon and Co. rejoiced. Within hours the Israeli army had again penetrated into the centers of the Palestinian towns, starting an orgy of arrests and house demolitions (more than 40 in a single day).
The addict leapt for the drug. His crisis was over, the officers could do all the things they had been prevented from doing for nine long weeks.
But the situation will not revert to the status quo ante intifada, so to speak. The attacks and killings will be more numerous and more cruel. The construction of the Wall deep in the Palestinian territories will be accelerated, along with the building activity in the settlements.
The army propaganda machine is already preparing the public for the “expulsion of Arafat”. “Expulsion” is a euphemism produced by the “verbal laundry” section of the army, one of its most creative departments. The intention is not to expel the leader from his Ramallah compound, nor from Palestine, but from this world. The reaction of the Palestinians and the whole Arab world can be predicted. It would be a historic point of no return, perhaps eliminating the chances of peace for generations.
And the Americans? Never has the Bush administration looked so pathetic as here and now. The unfortunate Colin Powell arouses compassion with his stuttering and his emissary, John Wolf, a wolf without teeth, will go the way of all his predecessors.
After the implosion of the new order in Afghanistan and the classic guerilla war now engulfing the universally hated occupation regime in Iraq, the collapse of the Road Map will put an end to any presidential pretensions. It is much easier to have one’s picture taken in the uniform of a glorious victor with a background of army extras than to steer the ship of state.
The renewal of the cycle of violence will, of course, exacerbate the economic depression in Israel. The crisis will deepen. Together with the hudna and the Road Map, tourism, foreign investment and the recovery will also die.
The economy, too, is an addict who needs his drug: nine billion dollars in US government loan guarantees are waiting for Sharon in Washington. That should be enough for the political and military elite. Only the poor will become poorer. But who cares?
All this is being done without consulting the Israeli public. There is no open discussion, no debate in the tame media, the silent Knesset and the cabinet of marionettes. That’s what makes it a putsch.
To sum up: The road Map is dead, because Sharon was against it from the beginning, Bush saw it only as a photo opportunity on a nice background and Abu-Mazen did not get from Israel and the US anything that he could present as a Palestinian achievement.
What will happen now? After the shedding of yet more blood and many tears, the two peoples will arrive once more at the conviction that it is better to come to an agreement and make peace. Then they will be compelled to learn the lesson of the last chapter: It must all start from the end. Only after the picture of the final settlement clearly emerges can one deal with the immediate problems. Anything else would be a road map to the abyss.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org.