May 27 , 2002
I apologize to our non-American readers, but in the US its the Memorial Day weekend, and everyone is on vacation. So instead of writing a column that only half my regular readers will see, Ive decided to run an "oldie but goodie" written last year, when Ariel Sharon was running for Prime Minister. I dont want to toot my own horn too loudly, but in re-reading this piece, its clear that I called the two major developments that have since come to characterize the US-Israeli relationship: the divergence of US and Israeli interests in the Middle East, and the Likud partys growing anti-Americanism. One real test of a commentators worth is to go back in the archives and see if his work has stood the test of time: in this case, at any rate, I made the grade.
When Ariel Sharon visited an agricultural high school outside Beersheva in the final phase of his campaign to become Israel's Prime Minister, he was met by 16-year-old Ilil Komey, whose father has suffered from shellshock in the wake of Israel's illegal 1984 invasion of Lebanon. In a scene recorded by Israeli national television , Ms. Komey pointed her finger at Israel's premier warhawk, and said:
"I think you sent my father into Lebanon. Ariel Sharon, I accuse you of having made me suffer for 16 some odd years. I accuse you of having made my father suffer for over 16 years. I accuse you of a lot of things that made a lot of people suffer in this country. I don't think that you can now be elected as prime minister."
While Ms. Komey's outrage may be righteous, her future as a political pundit seems cloudy, at best: if the polls are correct, it looks like Sharon known as "the Bulldozer" for his policy (while minister of "infrastructure") of destroying Palestinian homes to make way for Israeli "settlements" will flatten Ehud Barak and emerge at the head of the Israeli government at a crucial time in his nation's history. They tell a story about Sharon's early career that helps to put his expected election victory in perspective, and gives us an idea of what makes the incoming Prime Minister of Israel tick: As the head of "Unit 101," the notorious terrorist squad, Sharon and his fellow thugs were camped out on a kibbutz near the Syrian border, having been ordered not to make a move unless provoked. One day, Sharon ran into the headquarters, yelling "Great news! They've just killed the guard!"
The history of this man as a moral monster as the mass murderer of Palestinians while a Haganah terrorist in the 1950s, as the man who presided over the massacres at Shatilla and Sabra, as the ethnic cleanser who forced the resettlement of 160,000 Palestinians from East Jerusalem is already well-documented, and I won't belabor the point here: Alexander Cockburn's recent article in the New York Press, spotlighted on Antiwar.com last week, covers those bases quite well. In any case, the crimes of Ariel Sharon are well-documented on the Internet, and I want to make a different though related point about the man they are calling "Arik, King of the Jews" that his triumph represents a growing Israeli anti-Americanism.
Having reached the apex of his military career after the Yom Kippur War of 1973 after having been disgraced in high military and political circles for refusing to follow orders and continually placing his soldiers in danger for his own glory Sharon joined Menachem Begin's Gahal coalition, a merger of the old Herut with the Liberal party, and with three smaller rightist parties later merged to form the Likud bloc. The party traces its origins back to the radical Revisionist Zionist movement of Ze'ev Jabotinsky, founded in 1925. In opposition to the secular and universalist conception of a Zionist state envisioned by the Labor left, Jabotinsky and his right-wing followers upheld a more down-to-earth philosophy of blood and soil clearly influenced by the rise of European fascism. Jabotinsky sang the praises of Mussolini, as did other Revisionist leaders: the Revisionist, as one writer put it, "maintains that the state is the highest expression of a people."
Jabotinsky regarded Palestinians as "alien minorities" who, in a future Jewish state, "would weaken national unity." Their transfer, if not accomplished voluntarily, would "have to be achieved against the will of the country's Arab majority. An 'iron wall' of a Jewish armed force would have to protect the process of achieving a majority," according to the Revisionist leader. To Jabotinsky, the Palestinian Arabs were a subhuman people who had contributed nothing to civilization: it was up to the Zionists to "push the moral frontiers of Europe to the Euphrates," he wrote. The ethnic cleansing of Palestine was a precondition for the success of the Zionist project, and the difference between the Israeli right and its Laborite-socialist utopian adversaries was that the former did not mince words or in any way shrink from this task. While the other Zionist leaders dithered and tried to conciliate their opponents, both in Israel and the West, Jabotinsky disdained incrementalism and boldly maintained that the Jews had the right to take the land of Israel, granted to them, of course, by G-d. In 1923, he summed up the Revisionist ideology and program succinctly and presciently: "Zionism is a colonizing adventure and therefore it stands or falls by the question of armed force. It is important to build, it is important to speak Hebrew, but, unfortunately, it is even more important to be able to shoot or else I am through with playing at colonization." This is a policy that the heirs of Jabotinsky in Israel, with Sharon at their head, intend to reaffirm.
The merger of numerous right-wing parties under the banner of Likud, in the early sixties, represented the culmination of a developing trend: the consolidation of a majority program around a somewhat watered-down version of Jabotinsky's original vision of a Greater Israel. Menachem Begin, the leader of the largest Likud component, Herut, had been the leader of the terrorist Irgun, an offshoot of Jabotinsky's Revisionist movement. The Irgun carried out numerous attacks on civilians British, Jewish, and Arab in their struggle to "liberate" Israel, planting bombs in Arab markets and other public facilities. On July 22, 1946, they carried out their most spectacular raid when they blew up the King David Hotel, killing ninety-one people. While the Irgun was outgunned by the British, as Michael Palumbo, author of The Palestinian Catastrophe: The 1948 Expulsion of a People From Their Homeland, points out:
"The government in London, however, feared that the Americans would retaliate against a firm anti-terrorist campaign by holding up a much-needed loan. The British army was not allowed to use the tough tactics required to halt the Irgun and Stern Gang. Execution of captured terrorists was rare, house searches were limited and roundups unusual."
Begin and his fellow post-Revisionists, Sharon among them, were determined not make the same errors that forced the British out of Palestine. They maintained Jabotinsky's vision of a Greater Israel sustained by military power and a strident nationalist vision that, even today, echoes the admiration of their founder for the swaggering authoritarianism of Il Duce. "Our forefathers did not come here in order to build a democracy but to build a Jewish state," brayed Sharon in answer to his liberal critics [Menachem Shalev, Forward, May 21, 1993]. The incompatibility of Zionism and liberal democracy has long been recognized by the Palestinians and some elements of the Israeli left. That this is now openly proclaimed by the soon-to-be Prime Minister of the Jewish state is a development that Israel's friends in the West did not foresee.
The foreign policy of a Sharon government will carry out the Revisionist program of a Greater Israel, with an accelerated program of "settlements" surrounded by Israeli military facilities. We all remember his plan, as Begin's minister of agriculture, to "Judaize the Galilee" driving out the Arab Israelis, whom he denounced as "foreigners" and his scheme to colonize the Sinai. As Flore de Preneuf pointed out in Salon,
"More than any other politician, Sharon has been the engine behind Israel's thinly disguised annexation policy. Whatever ministerial portfolio fell into his hands, Sharon made sure to direct massive state funds toward building houses, roads and water pipes that would consolidate Israel's grip in the occupied territories. Not for nothing have Israelis nicknamed Sharon 'the bulldozer.'"
But it isn't just the occupied territories that will be annexed, and the inhabitants expelled, because the rationale for a more aggressive expansionism is religious: "In the same day the Eternal made a covenant with Abram, saying, Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates." [Genesis 15:18] Zionists cite the Bible as the source of their view that the actual borders of Israel must extend from the Nile to the Euphrates, and that will be the operative principle of Israeli foreign policy under the heirs of Jabotinsky. This presents certain problems for Israel's amen corner in the US, which, slightly queasy at the prospect of an outright nutcake at the Israeli helm, is now putting out the "Nixon-to-China" line, which goes something like this: only a hardliner like Sharon could sell an agreement to the troublesome Israeli right-wing, while still maintaining his nation's security. Besides, they assure us, once he's in power, he'll be forced to moderate his position. Whether this is an outright lie, or else represents wishful thinking, matters little: it is, in any event, a crock.
After all, it isn't as if we have no knowledge of how he might act once in office: as Israeli Foreign Minister, in 1998, days before he was scheduled to negotiate with the Palestinians over the final status of the occupied territories, Sharon "urged Jewish settlers to seize more land in the occupied West Bank," the BBC reported. He declared that Israelis "should enlarge existing settlements because everything they did not occupy would revert to Palestinian control." In a speech to one of Israel's far-right parties, Sharon exhorted his audience to seize the time: "Everyone should take action, should run, should grab more hills," he told the political gathering. "We'll expand the area. Whatever is seized will be ours. Whatever isn't seized will end up in their hands. That's the way it will be...That's what must be done now." [BBC 11/16/98]
"Whatever is seized will be ours" this is the principle of Zionism in practice, particularly of the Revisionist variant upheld by Israel's far-right, and it has been the underlying premise of Israel's foreign policy since its founding in 1948. Kept in abeyance by the political predominance of the Labor party until recently, this overriding expansionist impulse puts Israel on a collision course with the United States, which has every interest in averting another all-out Arab-Israeli war. An important factor in the rise of Sharon is his often flamboyant anti-Americanism, which thrills Israel's right-wing nationalists, who see more clearly than anyone in the US that the interests of Israel and its chief benefactor diverge. They cheered Sharon's letter to then-secretary of state Madeleine Albright, in which he defended his outrageously provocative visit to the Temple Mount:
"I wish to emphasize, Mrs. Secretary, that Prime Minister Barak has already stated very clearly that every Israeli citizen, be it Arab or Jew, has a right to visit any place which is under Israeli sovereignty. The united city of Jerusalem, which you are all very familiar with, as well as The Temple Mount, are under full Israeli sovereignty. Neither I, nor any Israeli citizen, need to seek permission from the PA or from any foreign entity to visit there or any other site which is sovereign territory of the State of Israel."
Who are you Americans to tell us what to do in our own country? A reasonable enough question for anyone to ask except when it comes from a citizen of Israel. Paraphrasing Ronald Reagan, the answer is: we paid for that country! From 1949 through October 31, 1999, American taxpayers have subsidized Israel's socialist economy to the tune of nearly $92 billion and, in spite of phony promises that Israel is reducing its dependence on US aid, aid to Israel is steadily increasing if you count the hidden subsidies.
In any superpower-client state relationship there is bound to be a certain amount of resentment, slowly building up over time, and in the case of the US and Israel these tensions will have reached the breaking point with the ascension of Sharon to power. During the campaign, he denounced Barak for accepting "the American idea of handing over sovereignty of a large part of the Old City to the Palestinians, offering them control of the Temple Mount, an office for Arafat and free access without Israeli inspection!" Those evil Americans, always plotting to sell out Israel's interests. In a remarkable article in the Jerusalem Post [February 21, 2000], Sharon underscored his distrust and even contempt for those unreliable Americans, who could be counted on to "restrain" Israel in a crisis. Arguing against any sort of formal alliance with the US as a shield against potential Arab aggression, Sharon depicted the US as an adversary:
"A defense treaty will neither deter nor halt limited terrorist activities and minor infringements of the law. The US will not wish to be involved in such incidents, but will instead press Israel to show restraint. What would Israel do, for instance, if, while bound by a treaty with the US, the Syrians one night introduced small antitank forces into the demilitarized zone in the Golan, or if Hizbullah attacked a northern border community, or an IDF outpost? What if there is a Hizbullah attack within Israel, or against Jewish and Israeli targets in the Diaspora (as is already planned)? Is Israel willing to defy the US if the superpower demands restraint, so that it can avoid direct confrontation with the Arab countries that are becoming its allies? Even more serious, from the moment that Israel fails to retaliate after the first infringement because of US influence, new rules will apply that will permit both the Syrians and the terrorist organizations to erode the Israeli deterrent and apply constant pressure for further concessions. Jerusalem, water, negotiations with the Palestinians, and other issues will all be pressed upon Israel even after signing an agreement."
Sharon believes that Israel, too entangled with the US, will be defeated by the eventual betrayal of its protector, and fears the day that "Israel would cease to be a strategic asset and would become instead a burden, with Congress and public opinion pointing an accusing finger at us." With his own imminent election as Prime Minister of Israel, that day may soon be upon us.
Something more than mere resentment of America was a major theme of Sharon's campaign; "Once, when we were few and weak in military and economic terms, we acted like an independent country," he has written. "Now that we are many and Israel is strong, we have almost become a client state. Our leaders receive call-up papers, telling them to report to an army base in the US where they will have two months to reach an agreement." One could almost admire such an independent spirit, if only it wasn't financed by American taxpayers and the source of endless trouble from the Arab world. In any case, one can only agree with Sharon's contention that Israel is a client state of the US, and that this is an unsatisfactory state of affairs. There is, however, one way for this to be resolved to the benefit of both nations, and that is to put an end to the client state relationship between the US and Israel. This means putting an end to military and economic aid to Israel, effective immediately after all, we wouldn't want the Israelis to feel in the least bit "restrained."
We can also agree with Sharon that the presence of American soldiers on Israeli soil would create a rather inviting target for Arab terrorists, and that the American public would never support it and so he will presumably call for the withdrawal of the American Patriot missiles and the 69th Air Defense Brigade, recently deployed to Israel. Glad to hear it: unfortunately, it isn't going to happen. For Sharon is an Israel Firster: that is, he puts the interests of his own country over and above all others, without apologies or regrets, and will utilize US military assets if he has to.
Would that our own leaders had the gumption to put the interests of America first: but, then, we would have to dismantle our Israel-centric policy in the Middle East, and that the Israel Firsters in our own country will not permit. But they may not have much choice in the matter, in view of the public relations drubbing they have already taken in putting down the latest manifestation of the Intifada and the public relations disaster commencing with the election of Sharon. For this is not just another Israeli "hardliner," but a man who, if he were elected Prime Minister of a European country, would be immediately targeted with political sanctions and loud denunciations. Compared to Sharon, Austria Joerg Haider is a multiculuralist. Haider, you remember, was attacked by the international Left because his party called for reform of Austria' s permissive immigration laws, but Sharon decries intermarriage between Israelis and Palestinians as a genetic stain on the Jewish "race":
"While we are not doing enough to encourage aliya, the Palestinians have been implementing in violation of the Oslo Accords the 'right of return.' Thousands of Palestinians, the offspring of the 1948 refugees, have returned to Galilee. Some of them married Israelis and automatically became citizens. Nearly 10,000 Negev Beduin have married Palestinian women from Gaza and the Hebron area, making them Israeli citizens. Tens of thousands of Palestinians have returned from Jordan to Judea and Samaria, and this 'aliya' continues full speed ahead. Yet nobody utters a word."
Haider was called a "Nazi" for much less. Yet where is the outcry? In this age of multi-culti, where the virtues of "diversity" and the evils of racial and religious "intolerance" are axiomatic, the idea that inter-ethnic marriage is anything but a great boon is sure to get one tagged as the living incarnation of Hitler yet the United States (which made such a fuss about Haider) is silent. Haider, France's Le Pen, and the Belgian Vlaams Blok party are denounced as "xenophobes" for defending their national identity and cultural traditions, but a different standard is applied to Israel.
Sharon's fervent nationalism even extends to the matter of language. Speaking of the signing of the Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, also known as the Taba Agreement or Oslo II Agreement, concluded in Taba, Egypt, on September 26, 1995, Sharon remarked: "Even the Taba signing ceremony was shameful. Arafat, proud of his language, spoke in Arabic. Our foreign minister, a prisoner of inherent servility, spoke English." English, to Sharon's mind, is the language of the enemy: and, who knows but that he may be right. Forced to choose between an alliance with the US and the dream of a Greater Israel, Sharon long ago made his choice and so, it appears, have Israeli voters.
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