"Eating Palestine for Breakfast"

On the morning of the day Ariel Sharon had his stroke last week, Ha’aretz ran an analysis — aptly titled “Eating Palestine for Breakfast” — that captured the real Ariel Sharon. It may be the last honest analysis ever to see the light of day in the mainstream media, now that Sharon is being lionized so widely as a heroic peacemaker, a man “who could deliver real peace,” and other such absurdities. The Ha’aretz article, elaborating on a prediction by a leading political commentator and an Israeli think tank, laid out a scenario said to be Sharon’s vision for Palestine following his expected electoral victory in March. According to the scenario, Sharon would set Israel’s borders and reshape the West Bank by formally annexing the major Israeli colonies there (colonies in Palestinian East Jerusalem have already been annexed) and establishing the separation wall as the official Israeli border.

The major West Bank settlement blocs outside Jerusalem house approximately 80 percent, or about 190,000, of the West Bank settlers and are rapidly expanding. In addition, the nearly 200,000 Israeli settlers in East Jerusalem, whom no one in Israel intends to remove, would also remain in their colonies, under full and permanent Israeli control. Sharon would also annex a strip of land in the eastern West Bank along the Jordan River and would then dismantle the colonies remaining in between the two annexed areas, evacuating their 40,000-50,000 settlers. This scenario would incorporate into Israel 90 percent of the total of approximately 425,000 Israelis now living in occupied territories on confiscated Palestinian land.

The result of this maneuvering would of course be the permanent end of any hope for true Palestinian independence in any kind of decent, defensible state. The areas left to the Palestinians would constitute perhaps 50 or 60 percent of the West Bank, plus Gaza — something between ten and twelve percent of the Palestinians’ original Palestine homeland — and that small area would be surrounded on all sides by Israeli territory and broken up by Israeli fingers of land jabbing deep in to the West Bank. Other astute analysts have seen a similar scenario unfolding, most particularly Israeli activist Jeff Halper, whose article “Setting Up Abbas: Yet Another ‘Generous Offer’ from Sharon,” appeared on CounterPunch October 8-9, 2005.

According to the scenario, Sharon would have sought massive additional aid from the United States to pay for the costs of establishing a border and compensating the evacuated settlers. The scenario-writers, recognizing the Bush administration as a willing accomplice and paymaster in this naked expansionism and as the most supportive administration ever likely to come along, were operating on the assumption that, while Bush remained in office, Sharon would have a three-year window of opportunity to accomplish his plan to devour Palestine.

Although Sharon will almost certainly either not be around, or will not have the faculties, to implement his vision, the major commentators and editorialists of the U.S. and Israel have already decreed that this plan to break Palestine, or something very like it, is the future for Palestine-Israel — and either explicitly or by implication have pronounced their approval, bestowing on Sharon the mantle of peacemaker and savior of Israel. The adulation has been overwhelming: Sharon the warrior turned peacemaker, Sharon the war hero who dedicated his life to Israel’s preservation, Sharon the bold pragmatist, Sharon the sensible compromiser, Sharon the man who sought reconciliation with the Palestinians and preserved Israeli security at the same time, Sharon the seeker after truth and justice.

Never mind that Sharon has a history of quite literally massacring Palestinians, in numerous instances dating from the 1950s up at least through the refugee camp massacres in Beirut in 1982; that his military forces kill and steal from Palestinians daily; that he was until his last conscious thought planning a land theft in Palestine on a scale not previously seen; that he and his henchmen openly touted the small Gaza withdrawal as a means of facilitating the near-total absorption of the West Bank and the permanent demise of any prospect of genuine Palestinian independence. Never mind that, as he was eating his last actual meal, he was contemplating the prospect of eating Palestine for breakfast the next day.

Most Israelis loved this, because Sharon made them feel secure. He was brutal and strong enough to keep them safe. He hated Arabs, as most Israelis basically do, and he wanted them gone — out of sight, out of mind, out of Palestine — as most Israelis essentially do. He had a voracious appetite that they knew would not be sated until he had packed away all of Palestine. This was fine with Israelis.

Israeli novelist David Grossman, who usually comes from a leftist perspective, recently wrote describing Sharon as “much loved by his people,” for whom he had become “a kind of big, powerful father figure whom [they] are willing to follow, with their eyes closed, to wherever he may lead them.” Grossman himself, writing with no small measure of approval, seems to have fallen for the Sharon myth. Asserting that “we cannot but admire his courage and determination,” Grossman contends that Sharon “set Israel on the road to the end of the occupation.” Others, of varying political stripes, have similarly labeled Sharon “the best hope for peace” (Israeli historian Benny Morris); “the man who could deliver real peace” (Palestinian-American leader Ziad Asali); “a great statesman and leader [who] has brought new hope to the region” (leftist Israeli analyst Gershon Baskin); and the man who appeared to be pursuing “the one viable way” to bring peace “to Israel” (Tikkun’s Michael Lerner).

It all depends, of course, on what the definition of “is” is. What does Grossman mean by “occupation,” a word Sharon used only sparingly and a concept he never truly recognized; as a matter of fact, what precisely does “end” mean — complete, partial, half-hearted? And what does “peace” mean, or “real peace”? The kind of peace that Sharon and most Israelis and Americans imagine is quite different from the kind of peace Palestinians envision. Does it come with justice, and for whom? Will it give the Palestinians freedom, or only give the Israelis the safety from which to continue oppressing Palestinians? Would “peace” be a peace of conquest for Israel but of subjugation for Palestinians — like the peace imposed on American Indians? Or would peace, in the Sharon conception, come with a real state for the Palestinians — a genuinely independent, viable, defensible state with borders and an economy and a polity the Palestinians themselves could control?

Not likely. You can call a sow’s ear a silk purse, but it will always remain a sow’s ear. There was no silk purse for the Palestinians on Ariel Sharon’s political horizon.

Aaron David Miller, a leading member of Bill Clinton’s peace team, recently wrote that Sharon had abandoned the dream of Greater Israel, of ultimately extending Israel’s writ over all of Palestine from the sea to the river. David Grossman claims that finally, in his eighth decade, Sharon came to realize that force is not a solution, that concessions and compromises are necessary. But this is all nonsense, the silly blather of otherwise sensible commentators who desperately wish it were true. In fact, like the pragmatist he was, Sharon had simply stopped talking about Greater Israel, stopped actively planning for it, in the hope that people like Miller and Grossman would be fooled. And he succeeded. None of the Indian reservations Sharon was in the process of creating, in either Gaza or the West Bank, would give the Palestinians any assurance of permanence or freedom from future interference.

Ariel Sharon had become a comfort station for those who positioned themselves squarely in the middle on Palestinian-Israeli issues, those who tried to strike some kind of artificial “balance” between the two unbalanced sides — people like Tikkun’s Michael Lerner, who has espoused a “progressive middle path” as the best way to achieve Palestinian-Israeli reconciliation, as if moral right lies anywhere near the middle in this conflict. Sharon the pragmatist allowed these people in the middle to think he had joined them, to think that he wanted genuine peace for Palestinians as well as Israelis, and to think that they therefore did not need to press any further for justice or equity in Palestine-Israel.

Because Sharon recognized that, at least for now, Israel had to trim its vision of exerting sovereignty and control over all of Palestine and therefore decided to shuck responsibility for administering Gaza and squeeze West Bank Palestinians into multiple small enclaves where Israel would have no responsibility for their daily needs, the Michael Lerners and others of the so-called progressive center have declared victory and shucked their own responsibility. Unable to see the utter futility, to say nothing of the immorality, of their effort to achieve “balance” between one helpless party with no power whatsoever and one all-powerful party holding all the cards and controlling all the territory, and unable therefore to achieve anything toward true peace and justice, Lerner had already turned away from activism on behalf of peace in Palestine-Israel and is concentrating his efforts on domestic politics in the U.S.

His latest word on Sharon is a typical up-the-hill, down-the-hill Lerner effort: Sharon “has systematically ignored the humanity of the Palestinian people, violated their basic human rights,” etc., etc. “Yet the loss of Sharon will be mourned by many of us in the peace movement because his current moves, insensitive as they were to the needs of Palestinians, seemed to be the one viable way to build an Israeli majority for concessions that might eventually create the conditions for a more respectful and mutual reconciliation with the Palestinians, thereby bringing peace to Israel.” (Emphasis added.) In other words, Sharon was a bastard, but there is no one better in Israel, and because he was a pragmatist, he might, just might, someday have done something to satisfy the Palestinians, which we in the peace movement hope for because we so desperately want peace for Israel.

Another centrist peace organization, Brit Tzedek, which espouses a position on what it calls the “moderate left,” issued a statement after Sharon’s stroke that is almost identical to Lerner’s in tone and import. The overweening concern for Israel put forth in this position demonstrates clearly why, despite what the organization calls “deep disagreement” with Sharon’s tactics, so many so-called leftists have embraced his overall strategy — because ultimately it is, they think, good for Israel. Applauding Sharon for his “unwavering commitment to safeguarding the future of the Jewish homeland,” Brit Tzedek accepts the myth that Sharon and his new political party intended “to bring the necessity of further withdrawals from the West Bank and the creation of a Palestinian state to the front and, more importantly, the center in Israel’s political landscape.” No one else in Israel “could have galvanized Israeli popular opinion” as Sharon did.

And so the myth grows: Sharon may be a bastard but he is our bastard — our American, our Israeli bastard — and if he wants to eat Palestine for breakfast, so be it. As long as he preserves Israel’s security, devouring Palestine is fine. We’ll simply call it a silk purse. And if we’re lucky, Mahmoud Abbas will go along, will capitulate to Sharon’s kind of peace. He has little choice, after all. The United States, the EU, Israel, and now most of the U.S. peace movement are marching in unison, carrying out Ariel Sharon’s legacy. Only Abbas’ own Palestinian people object, but what power do they have?

Ariel Sharon, at least at this emotional moment of his political incapacitation, when the myths about him are at their strongest, has come to be the standard bearer for the hypocrisy of much of the American peace movement, which is interested not in peace or justice for Palestinians in any objective sense, but only in peace and security for Israel. There are objective measurements of what constitutes justice for both Palestinians and Israelis, but the peace movement seems to care less than ever that neither Sharon nor any of his legatees have ever intended to come anywhere near meeting these standards. Today, the spread of myths about Sharon is the single most damaging factor for any prospect of achieving greater justice for the Palestinians.

Kathleen Christison is a former CIA political analyst and has worked on Middle East issues for 30 years. She is the author of Perceptions of Palestine and The Wound of Dispossession.

Bill Christison was a senior official of the CIA. He served as a National Intelligence Officer and as Director of the CIA’s Office of Regional and Political Analysis.

They can be reached at kathy.bill@christison-santafe.com.


Bill Christison was a senior official of the CIA. Kathleen Christison is the author of Perceptions of Palestine and The Wound of Dispossession.