The assassination of Hamas founder and spiritual leader, Sheikh Ahmed Yassine, should come as no surprise to anyone who has followed Ariel Sharon’s actions and has paid minimum attention to how he operates. His logic is straightforward and impeccable: Israel is an overwhelming military power; its strongest ally is the mightiest military force in the world; therefore, as long as Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians remains within the military arena, Israel will maintain a strong and steady upper hand.
The logic is tight and obvious, and yet, as glaring and enduring as the outlines of that strategy have been, we continue to be told that Ariel Sharon’s Israel does want to resolve the conflict equitably and peacefully, that it is interested in moving towards a political solution, if only it could find a serious partner on the other side of the table.
And so, yet another quick review to illustrate the obvious is in order.
Remember the Aqaba summit, back in early June, 2003? The summit followed the installment of the very first Palestinian prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, a man Israel deemed sincere and acceptable enough as a partner that President Bush invited him to the White House. Remember what Ariel Sharon did immediately after that ‘historic summit’?
Exactly five days after the summit, knowing full well that the worst thing Israel should do if it really wanted the new Palestinian Prime Minister to succeed was to assassinate a Hamas militant, the Israeli military daringly attempted to assassinate not only a Hamas militant, but went after the head of Hamas’s most senior political official and its spokesman, Abdel Aziz Al-Rantisi. Al-Rantisi escaped with light wounds, but the six rockets fired from two Apache Helicopters killed an old woman, along with Khadra Abu Hamada, 34, and her 3-year-girl, and Mostafa Saleh, 23, and wounded 27 other civilians.
The strike was so blatantly calculated to sabotage Abbas’s peace efforts that it prompted an unusually frank (but still very tame) response from the White House, saying in part, ‘The president is concerned that this strike will undermine efforts by Palestinian authorities to bring an end to terrorist attacks, and it does not contribute to the security of Israel.'
Fortunately, and ironically with no small help from influential Palestinian leaders inside Israeli jails, on June 29, 2003, Prime Minister Abbas somehow still managed to clinch a unilateral cease fire declaration from all the main Palestinian groups. The cease-fire was to last at least three months and the declared cessation of attacks applied to both sides of the 1967 Green Line.
But instead of jumping on the opportunity to politically strengthen Abbas with both symbolic gestures (such as the release of real political prisoners who were key in brokering the unilateral cease-fire rather than letting loose common criminals and prisoners who had days or weeks to go in their sentence) and concrete steps towards making the life of ordinary Palestinians a little bit less of a nightmare, Sharon chose the road of rejection and sabotage.
For instance, the truce was vehemently denounced from the very start by the Israeli government as ‘a trick engineered by terrorists to buy time to rearm’. Rannan Ghissin, Prime Minister’s spokesman, declared that, ‘arrangements with terrorist organizations are not worth the paper they’re written on.’ 
And yet, since then, Israel has not only negotiated with its biggest nemesis, Hezbollah, but in fact handsomely rewarded the militant group with the release of 400 Palestinians and 29 Lebanese and Syrian prisoners, including two senior Hezbollah officials, Mustafa Dirani and Sheikh Abdel Karim Obeid, in exchange for the return of an Israeli business man and the bodies of three Israeli soldiers held by Hezbollah.
Since then also, Sharon has declared his willingness to evacuate the whole of the Gaza strip and to dismantle most if not all of the settlements there.
Imagine if Ariel Sharon had released hundreds of Palestinian political prisoners and had declared his intention to begin the evacuation of Gaza immediately after holding talks with Mahmoud Abbas? Imagine the immense political capital Abbas would have instantly acquired as a result, illustrating that there is a way out through peaceful negotiations.
But Ariel Sharon is not interested in strengthening any political partner. He knows full well that the assassination of Sheikh Yassine will invariably be followed by suicide bombings, and quite likely the assassination of an Israeli official. He knows full well that such assassinations discredit all moderate Palestinians in the eyes of the captive Palestinian populations and strengthen the had of militants.
So, why is he so willing to escalate the violence?
The answer is no mystery and was best articulated more than a year ago by Yossi Sarid, chairman of the Meretz party, who wrote in January 3, 2002: ‘What does frighten Sharon … is any prospect or sign of calm or moderation. If the situation were to calm down and stabilize, Sharon would have to return to the negotiating table and, in the wake of pressure from within and without, he would have to raise serious proposals for an agreement. This moment terrifies Sharon and he wants to put it off for as long as he possibly can.'
AHMED BOUZID is the Executive Director of Palestine Media Watch and the author of ‘Framing the struggle’. He can be reached at: email@example.com