guest replied that malicious or ill-timed actions always seemed
to subvert promising peace initiatives. For the fifty odd years
since Israel was founded, whenever an promising peace feeler came
from the Arab world, it was soon turned to ashes, often by Israeli
military action. He had been reading Avi Shlaim's The
Iron Wall, a nuanced revisionist history of Israel's dealing
with the Arabs, and it showed the same patterns of failure to nail
down a peace agreement once one seemed within grasp repeated themselves
again and again.
week the stars did seem aligned for something positive to happen.
Israel had pulled back its tanks a bit from their positions surrounding
Yasser Arafat's compound. The Palestinian Authority had arrested
three people for plotting the murder of the extremist Israeli minister
Rehavam Ze'evi. And the tit for tat cycle of murder and retaliation
had paused on a note of exceptional poignance: last Monday a pregnant
Israeli settler was shot by Palestinian guerillas on her way to
the hospital to give birth; at almost the same time, Palestinian
woman in labor was shot by Israeli soldiers at a West Bank checkpoint.
One newborn lost a grandfather, the other a father. But both babies
were fine, and their mothers would recover. One could even fantasize
about a joint press conference where Tamara Liftschitz and Maysoun
al-Hayek presented their babies to the world and vowed that they
would do everything possible to work for peace between their peoples.
the middle of last week, the international papers were buzzing about
the Saudi initiative, which laid out the scenario which everyone
understands is the only logical way to make peace: an Israeli state
side- by-side with a Palestinian one, fully recognized by the Arab
world. As Haaretz
columnist Zvi Bar'el put it, this was the vision of the full
peace and integration into the region Israel had long awaited: full
economic and cultural cooperation, "falafel in Damascus and
stalls in the international market of Dubai; an Israeli flag in
Riyadh; programming engineers in Bahrain and gas from Quatar to
Israel." The Palestinians would get their state; the Israelis
would get peace. Egypt's president Mubarak was due in Washington
this week, an Arab summit where the initiative would be on the agenda
was scheduled for later in March. Foreign ministries around the
world were abuzz.
would the government of Israel respond to the Saudi initiative?
Last Friday, the world got its answer. For the first time in the
seventeen month intifada (which commenced after Sharon marched up
to site of the Temple Mount and Islam's Holy Sanctuary in with a
column of 1000 armed troops while Muslims praying) Israeli troops
invaded the Arab refugee camps Balat and Jenin on the West Bank.
the New York Times dryly reported, Israel did not spell
out exactly why it launched the attacks; one colonel said he was
ordered to plan the operation only a few days before. Military benefits
from the operation were negligible. The Israeli soldiers took few
casualties, found little of military interest, left behind thirty
Palestinian dead and some 200 wounded.
The Palestinian response was quick and brutal: within forty-eight
hours a suicide bomber blew himself and a dozen Israelis up in a
religious neighborhood in Jerusalem. In a blink of an eye, the talk
of the region turned back from the Saudi peace initiative to the
horrific cycle of killing and revenge killing.
not yet clear whether Sharon's escalation of the fighting will be
enough to smother the Saudi initiative in its cradle. It is clear
that was his intent. He is a man who can conceive of no relationship
to the Arabs other than their subjection by Israeli military force.
He has a long history of it: he makes his first appearance in Shlaim's
The Iron Wall as Major Sharon, who in 1953 led an Israeli
raiding party into Qibya, a Jordanian village, in response to a
fedayeen attack which had killed three Israelis. As the commander
of "Unit 101" Sharon had the entire village dynamited
with the inhabitants inside their homes. His operation killed sixty-nine
civilians, two-thirds of them women and children. Facing a stormy
international reaction, Israel lied, denying its military had anything
to do with the attack.
his long engagement at the highest levels of Israeli politics, Sharon
has always opposed any concession to Palestinian political rights.
He has consistently advocated that the Palestinians be pushed across
the river into Jordan – an ethnic cleansing strategy. Presumably
that is what he seeking with the new military moves against the
is not popular with the Israeli electorate now; his tough tactics
have brought neither peace nor security. Washington still holds
many cards; Israel would be hard pressed to oppose a peace initiative
that had full fledged American support. Israel's occupation of the
Palestinian territories is plainly shoving America's own interests
into the toilet: we are increasingly hated in the Arab world, seen
as the enablers of a brutal and thuggish regime that has no interest
in reaching a fair peace. There is much truth to that charge, but
it is in George Bush's power to change it.
only printable version of this article
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