The Sharonizing of America

The holiday was nice, touch wood. The Israeli instinct for normality, which has been so badly buffeted, was celebrated as though the intifada were over. Israelis showed how thirsty they are for tranquillity by flocking to the bed and breakfast places in Galilee and to shanti in Sinai. However, all this was no more than a renewed meeting with a sweet delusion; in fact, the situation has not changed, and therefore has become worse.

If anyone took the time to interest himself in the troubles of others, he encountered an ironic spectacle: the Americans have supplanted us in the headlines. Their air force carried out targeted assassinations, letting the chips of civilian casualties fly where they may as they lop off the arm of terror. In a confusion of historic images, the Iraqi quagmire was dipped into the Lebanese quicksand with a touch of Vietnam jungle.

Apart from the pleasures of the moment, there was no good reason for any true contentment from the temporary comeback of normality. Here’s why:

* The jubilee of Dien Bien Phu: The struggle between the occupation forces and powerful national currents hasn’t changed–not in Nablus and not in Baghdad. France this month recalls one of the formative events of this struggle. Fifty years ago, on the Ides of March, the Vietminh launched their offensive on the legendary French compound at Dien Bien Phu in Vietnam, near the border with Laos. America, whose Vietnamese nightmare is now recurring as the election campaign begins, learned nothing from the fall of the hopeless incarnation of French pride. Ten years later they hurled themselves into the same–seemingly unavoidable–mix of blindness and strategic miscalculation. The terrible lesson: something in the genes of strong nations, despite all they have learned, continues to lead them into the same ambushes that exact their blood and plunge them into defeat. The Israelis who were using matza to fan their barbecues over the Pesach holiday will be able to repress this fact for only a few days.

* Contempt for common sense: Noble ideals have also been engraved on the standards of occupying countries. In some cases they were forced to defend against wicked aggression. However, the main interest of the colonial powers and their successors in our time has been control. In the face of the powerful temptations of treasure (oil) and the urge for international hegemony, enlightened regimes have insulted their own common sense. Israel was not exempt from considerations of this kind. Even as tens and hundreds of thousands are picnicking in the parks as though a new leaf has been turned, they would do well to remember that their leaders have missed many opportunities to promote a settlement. Without it, true normality will never return to this country.

* Yankee hug: In its new quagmire, America is a lame duck despite all its good will to extricate us from our quagmire. The Bush administration stated a quasi-ideology: A neoconservative administration was not willing to lead Israel along the track that was tried with such determination by Jimmy Carter, the first President Bush and Bill Clinton. And it continued with a full nelson: the war against Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein led the bewildered administration to adopt the methods patented by Sharon-Mofaz-Ya’alon. This is a dangerous connection on Washington’s part, because its struggle against terrorism–and for the manifestation of its might–doesn’t resemble the tangled problem between us and the Palestinian people. Thus the Bush administration isn’t doing us any kind of favor by its Yankee hug; it’s both giving support to Israel’s pseudo policy and releasing itself from any sort of serious initiative to help us help ourselves become disentangled.

* Schmoozing and its drawbacks: Next week Sharon will visit an American president who is going through his most difficult period. Instead of the conquest of Iraq generating the momentum for the emergence of a new Middle East, it has hammered another nail into the coffin of a regional settlement. Oh, how the Israelis love schmoozing in Washington, another delusion of normality. And how harmful it is to them.

* Visit of the aged mentor: One major piece of damage that the Bush administration caused Israel, even before the quagmire, is the loss of precious time. Two survivors, Bush and Sharon, worked together to delay a vigorous move to advance a settlement. It was convenient for both of them. Bush was afraid of putting pressure on Israel and the Palestinians. Sharon exploited that fear craftily, even succeeding in making the road map collapse. However, the peak of the coordination between the two countries is the current situation, in which for the last few years we have been witnessing a kind of Israelization–or Sharonization–of America: in its attitude toward the threats of terrorism, America is talking and behaving in Iraq like the last of the hawks on the Israeli General Staff. Instead of giving Jerusalem an example of political daring, Washington has become a huge version of the Israeli army’s “we’ll show them” approach. Sharon’s visit there next week will look almost like the hosting of the aged mentor by his slightly maladroit disciple.

Calm? On the way to normality? A lot more barbecues will emit a lot more smoke before that happens.

GIDEON SAMET writes for Ha’aretz.