this past weekend, the Sunday morning talk shows featured
Colin Powell on "Meet the Press" essentially saying
the Israeli settlements over 30 new ones have been built
during Sharon's tenure have
got to go. But one had only to change the channel over
to Fox News Sunday to hear National Security advisor Condoleeza
Rice instantly transform the official US position on the settlements
take one thing at a time. Settlements will eventually be an
issue. But I think we have to get the context right here.
We need to end the terror, create a situation in which there
is better security and no violence."
you tell me: what is the US position on the
settlements question? Damned if I know. Is anybody in charge?
If so, who?
We'll know the answer to this fascinating question by
the time Ariel Sharon winds up his
trip to Washington at the end of this week.
turn in US policy, away from unconditional support for
the Sharon's policies, and toward a more even-handed position,
is a gauntlet thrown in Sharon's path and he did not hesitate
to take up the challenge. A showdown is imminent. General
Sharon has mustered his troops especially the brigade stationed
in Washington, D.C. and I hope George W. Bush is prepared
for the all-out assault, because it is going to be merciless.
Washington gossips whisper that George W. Bush is liable to
agree with whomever he met with last. This may explain why
Sharon was so quick to take up the President's open invitation,
at the conclusion of his meeting with Crown Prince Abdullah,
to visit with the leaders of other Middle Eastern states.
The triumph of the Arabists, exemplified by the administration's
embrace of the Saudi peace offensive, provoked a counter-attack
launched from Tel Aviv. But something tells me this guided
missile is going to misfire, and badly.
all, the crusty old ultra-nationalist is not exactly the best
advertisement for his cause. Prolonged exposure to him Sharon is
certain to invite comparisons to Jean Marie Le Pen. Short,
squat, and constantly barking, the two of them resemble bulldogs,
or pit-bulls. i.e. potentially dangerous creatures that need
constant reining in.
from the abrasive personality of the Israeli leader, the bad
public relations of coming up against an American President,
especially one who is being tested as he hasn't been since
9/11, puts the Israelis at an automatic disadvantage. In spite
of Ms. Rice's Likudnik effusions, the administration has set
down certain parameters, chief among them being the legitimacy
of the Palestinian Authority and its chief executive, Yasser
Arafat. The Los Angeles Times reports
the view from inside the State Department:
don't have a whole lot of faith in Arafat. But at the same
time, there isn't any alternative,' said the senior State
Department official. 'He was chosen legitimately, if not totally
democratically, by the Palestinians. We can't pick the leader.
So our view is that he needs to be pushed, and we have to
rebuild the Palestinian Authority based on democracy and transparency.'"
State Department's proposal to build up the Palestinian Authority,
to transform it into a real administrative and sovereign entity
accountable to its own people and the international community,
is diametrically opposed to Sharon's program, which is to
destroy the PA and expel the Palestinians from the occupied
territories. Sharon's campaign to take out Arafat politically,
physically, and permanently has failed, due to US pressure,
but don't think the Israelis have given up.
by domestic political pressures, Sharon is coming to Washington
with a 100-page dossier supposedly proving, beyond the
shadow of a doubt, that Arafat personally ordered and planned
the suicide bombings. His "proof" comes, we are
told, from "captured documents" supposedly taken
out of Arafat's offices, left lying around by fleeing PLO
personnel. Uh huh. Very convincing, but, as the Los
Angeles Times had
the temerity to report,
officials say they plan to remind Sharon of Israel's attempt
to foster an alternative to the nationalist Palestine Liberation
Organization by encouraging Palestinians in the 1970s to turn
to their religion. One result was the growth of Hamas, one of three extremist groups behind the recent spate
of suicide bombings in Israel."
The last time I mentioned
Israel's past sponsorship of Hamas, we received at least
half a dozen letters saying, essentially, "how dare
you even imply such a thing!" Well then, here we have
it out of the mouths of our own officials and so, I ask
you, is the government of the United States run by anti-Semites?
Or by Americans who have decided, for once, to put America
first? We report. You decide.
was astonished to read, in the British Telegraph, a
story headlined: "Sharon
to take hard line with Bush." Oh really? Gee,
and here I thought it was Israel that was dependent on American
aid, and not vice versa: all this time I've been laboring
under the delusion that the US was the dominant party in the
US-Israeli alliance. Silly me, I actually believed that we
were the patron, and they were the patronized.
General Sharon is nobody's satellite, and he is determined
to yank American policy back into its familiar Israeli-centric
obit. What's more, he just may pull it off
W. BUSH TAKES CHARGE
certainly going to hear Sharon out," a State Department
official told the Los Angeles Times, "but the
president has provided a broad outline of what he thinks needs
to happen, and we're not going to back away from that."
The President's men are not only drawing a line in the sand,
they are drawing three of them, telling the Israelis they
peace plan this is the basis of the President's
proposal, which essentially trades regional recognition
of Israel for a viable (territorially contiguous) Palestinian
state. The Saudis have thrown Bush a lifeline, and he and
his State Department have decided to grab it and hold on
to it for dear life.
must be negotiated between Israel and Arafat this
flies directly in the face of Israel's campaign to discredit,
isolate, and possibly kill the PLO leader.
expansionism must end, there is no military solution
the policy implications of this stance amount not only
to a general condemnation of Israeli incursions, and a reiteration
of the US demand that Israel immediately cease "Operation
Defensive Shield," but an indictment of Israel's continuing
policy of pushing into Palestinian territory with new "settlements"
(i.e. armed outposts of the ever-expanding Israeli
good to me. The whole thing is supposed to come together at
an international conference, including the Europeans, the
Russians, and other regional players: the Israelis, naturally,
are unalterably opposed, citing a Euro-Russian-"anti-Semitic"
world conspiracy and vowing never to take part.
A FREE MARKET PALESTINE
Times, citing their State Department source, lets us
in on the plan to build up the PA, albeit in a new and unfamiliar
is now determined to ensure that a new Palestinian state is
built on democratic and free-market principles.
can't imagine that Israel will not find that attractive,'
the official said."
can. The last thing the Israelis want is a free market Palestine
on their border. That socialist
Sparta won't allow
free enterprise in Israel proper why should they permit
it in the occupied territories?
GREAT WALL OF SHARON
for his part, is coming to the US armed not only with his
Arafat dossier, but also with plans to build a "security
fence," Israel's version of the Great Wall of China
although perhaps the Berlin Wall is a more apt architectural
precedent. It will be interesting to see just how far into
the occupied territories this proposed barrier is slated to
extend. This may have something to do with the alleged "concessions"
Sharon is purportedly willing to
make being touted
by Time magazine. As to what, exactly, these consist of, Time
is inexplicably mysterious, revealing only that:
officials say the concession will involve a new map for a
potential Palestinian state."
the Israeli view, you see, even admitting the potential legitimacy
of a Palestinian state is an enormous "concession,"
even if it's only a series of disconnected South African-style
bantustans, as was offered by the Israelis last time around.
while this kind of arrogance is applauded in Congress, it's
not going to go over well in the White House. Time
cites "a senior US official close to the talks"
as saying of Sharon:
got to be willing to say that the [Palestinian] state will
come in a reasonable time frame; it has to be viable [that
is, territorially contiguous], and even if it's established
on an interim basis, it's got to be linked to a final settlement."
OF THE AMEN CORNER
of this is acceptable to Sharon, who, even if he agreed to
Bush's terms, wouldn't last long enough in office to sign
his name to an agreement. In order to prevail, Sharon must
go over the head of the American President and make a political
appeal to Likud's supporters in this country to put the pressure
on and keep it on. The campaign took off well before Sharon's
plane, with non-binding resolutions passed by both houses
of Congress pledging unconditional allegiance to Israel. Mary
McGrory had it right. With the fate of the Middle East
hanging in the balance, and the President's policy teetering
on the edge of either glorious success or utter failure,
did seem an ideal moment for adult inaction. But the die was
cast at a Tuesday meeting at the White House. Senate Democratic
leader Tom Daschle announced the restiveness among his horses,
who were hot to trot for Israel; Tom DeLay announced he couldn't
hold his, and the derby was on."
interesting is McGrory's analysis of how the Republicans engaged
in an amazing stunt of political doublethink
to explain away openly undermining the President. By opposing
him, you see, they were really supporting him:
Republicans, usually sticklers for loyalty, quite easily rationalized
resistance to George Bush's objections. They took a cue from
Binyamin Netanyahu, who, on a recent U.S. tour, announced
that George Bush, whatever he was saying, was on Israel's
side. He might talk evenhanded 'on the days he talks to
Colin Powell,' in the cloakroom formulation but he wasn't
kidding when he called Ariel Sharon 'a man of peace.'"
Bush wasn't kidding next to Netanyahu, Sharon is
"a man of peace." Bush understands well that Sharon
operates under certain political constraints, just like he
does: the question is, whose constraints will prove
tighter? Israeli public opinion seems, so far, solidly behind
Sharon's intransigence, but in America the picture is more
Israel's poll numbers are
rapidly falling, albeit not out of any real sympathy for
the Palestinians so much as disgust with both sides, the Likudnik
strategy is to make an end-run around the majority. If Israel
can touch all the right pressure points, rally its small but
vocal cadre of American
Likudniks, and mobilize the far right wing of the President's
own party against him all the while openly courting the
Democrats the President's new policy can be effectively
sabotaged. That would suit putative presidential candidate
Joe Lieberman, author of the Senate resolution, just fine.
It would also suit the President's enemies in the conservative
movement, especially the neocons still seething over
the alleged "dirty tricks" that supposedly cheated
their man McCain out of the nomination.
W. Bush, famous for "bonding" with world leaders
Fox to Tony
Blair to Crown Prince
Abdullah, has his work cut out for him in Ariel Sharon.
When he butts heads with that old soldier, we'll see what
kind of stuff this President is made of: marshmallow or granite.
For those of us who want to see peace in the Middle East,
let us hope and pray it is the latter.
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