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Press Versus Truth II: The many Herzliya speeches of Ariel Sharon


According to press accounts, Ariel Sharon had a very busy day at the Herzliya conference last Thursday. In one day, he gave a speech that re-declared the Oslo initiatives, he gave another that declared war on the Palestinians, and a third that annexed half of the West Bank to Israel. He also gave a speech that promised peace and an independent Palestinian state, and another that didn't mention either, and another that rejected Palestinian rights and independence.

Uri Avnery, whose article was published in the Palestine Media Center reported on one speech:

"Indeed, Sharon mentioned with great satisfaction that Yasser Arafat is dead and that there is now a chance for the emergence of a "moderate Palestinian leadership". So what did he offer this moderate leadership in his speech?

Not a thing.

The Palestinians will retain, under this plan, 10-12% of pre-1948 Palestine, including the Gaza Strip (which is a mere 1.5% of the country). Sharon's "Palestinian State" will consist of a number of enclaves cut off from the world."

Nobody is offering the new Palestinian leadership peace negotiations.

In Bitterlemons, Amnon Lord , editor of Makor Rishon, concurred:

"I looked for the words peace or Palestinian state and didn't find them..."

"Sharon's opportunity now is to tear Israel from the clutches of peace negotiations with the Palestinians as well as other Arab countries. The kind of unilateralism embodied in disengagement means that Israel regains control over its own fate, abandoning for good the dangerous premise that its existential problem will be solved only in accordance with the solution of the Palestinians' problems. A Palestinian state now becomes only an option that Israel does not exclude, about which it remains for the Palestinians to decide. "

According to the Palestinian IMEMC service, and the Palestinians it quoted, Sharon gave a bellicose speech about his victory over terrorism, rejecting Palestinian rights:

Sharon noted, "We had to rebuild trust in ourselves and in our ability to maintain our security and to avoid economic collapse. And this is what we have done. ... The Israeli Defense Forces have managed to stop terrorism by carrying out a number of successful operations, including 'Operation Defensive Shield' [in Jenin and elsewhere] in 2002."

Palestinian Cabinet Minister Saeb Erekat, in charge of negotiations with Israel, responded to Sharon's speech saying, "Sharon is delusional, thinking that he can present a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict which completely rejects Palestinian rights and independence. If he wants to withdraw from Gaza or anywhere else, no one will stop him. But as far as permanent settlement issues, this is dictation. We need negotiation, not dictation."

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zohri said Sharon's speech was "a declaration of war against the Palestinian people and our rights, including the right of return and full independence within a Palestinian state," adding that the Hamas response will be to "move ahead in our resistance against the occupation."

Sharon also gave a speech like Shimon Peres's Oslo speech. Israel National News quotes Gush Katif (Gaza settlers) spokesman Eran Sternberg as saying:

"Sharon's address was a carbon-copy of that delivered by Shimon Peres in Oslo and is another step in the strangulation of Israeli democracy."

Sternberg seems fairly certain that Ariel Sharon is about to evacuate most of the West Bank:

...what many suspect is Prime Minister Sharon's ultimate goal as well: the removal of all Jewish communities on the eastern side of the partition fence currently being erected.

Sharon still wasn't done it seems. He also gave an overly optimistic and generous speech according to Frank Gaffney in the National Review :

The leitmotif of remarks by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, ...was unmistakable: The death of Yasser Arafat has changed all the realities that previously precluded peace between Israel and her Arab neighbors, starting with the Palestinians. Where before there was only deadlock and terror, now there is, as Sharon put it, "opportunity."

Opportunity for the creation of a Palestinian state that would live side by side with Israel. Opportunity for Israel to enjoy henceforth something it has never known, peaceable relations with all of its neighbors within secure and recognized borders. And opportunity for the realization, at last, of the fabled economic miracle of the New Middle East - in which Israeli technology and know-how would help transform the region's literal and figurative wastelands into prosperous nations with peace-loving, representative governments.

Incredibly enough, all of these people were reporting about exactly the same speech. The transcript of that speech is here with my commentary. The speech itself was straightforward enough. With respect to Palestinian-Israeli negotiations, Sharon talked up the advantages of his own disengagement plan, and he said that an opportunity had opened up for a settlement that would culminate in an independent Palestinian state. He listed among his achievements the commitments he won from President Bush to back a solution that barred right of return for Palestinian refugees, and that allowed Israel to keep large blocs of settlements in the West Bank. He did not specify any borders, and he did not even say that those parameters would necessarily be included in the actual solution:

"... The most important accomplishment is the understandings between U.S. President George Bush and myself, which provide a new, more stable basis than ever before for the strategic understandings between Israel and the United States. This week, we heard President Bush repeat his support for these understandings.

The understandings between the U.S. President and me protect Israel's most essential interests: first and foremost, not demanding a return to the '67 borders; allowing Israel to permanently keep large settlement blocs which have high Israeli populations; and the total refusal of allowing Palestinian refugees to return to Israel."

The differences in the accounts were not random at all. By selective inattention, artful quoting and a bit of fudging, each commentator recreated the speech in their own image of Sharon or disengagement or the new coalition, so that each account made the speech carry a different message. This Rashomon is illustrative of the different versions of reality in which each different sides in the conflict operate. News and opinion reporting slanted to each view allows readers to select whatever version of reality suits them. In this case, they can choose between Sharon the evil warmonger, Sharon the equitable peace maker and Sharon the reckless leftist.

It is not simply a matter of different opinions about the same facts, or legitimate differences of interpretation, but actual remanufacturing of the facts so that the "as reported speech" had very little to do with what Sharon said or didn't say.

Amnon Lord and Bittlerlemons undoubtedly get the prize for remodelling reality. Lord wrote, "I looked for the words peace or Palestinian state and didn't find them..." But Sharon said in the speech:

"If this happens, we will have a genuine chance to reach an agreement, and in the future, perhaps also genuine peace...

For their part, the Palestinians can then also live in dignity and freedom in an independent state, and, together with us, enjoy good neighborly relations, while cooperating for the good of both our peoples.

A two-state vision involves great concessions on both sides. "

Sharon, according to the transcript, said both "state" and "peace." Very strange that Amnon Lord didn't hear it. I also heard Sharon say the same thing in Hebrew. But who should I believe, a great expert like Amnon Lord or a Japanese television set? Saeeb Erekat also heard that Sharon rejects Palestinian independence. He said, "Sharon is delusional, thinking that he can present a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict which completely rejects Palestinian rights and independence." However, Sharon said "independent state."

What could not be done by removing words from the speech, was done by adding words. Sharon never gave a figure for the percentage of land to be given to the Palestinians in a final settlement, certainly not in this speech. All the percentages that Uri Avnery mentions are purely his own invention. Sharon didn't say that Israel would retreat behind the security wall, either. That is the imagination of settlers at work. Sharon said that in a final peace settlement "large settlement blocs" would remain under Israeli sovereignty. That is certainly compatible with a settlement similar to the Geneva Accord for example, but it could also correspond to the nightmare conjured up by Uri Avnery.

So next time, read Uri Avnery if you want to find out what Avnery thinks, and read Israel National News if you want to find out what settlers think, and read Amnon Lord if you are studying selective hearing deficits. However, if you want to find out what someone said in a speech, you had better read the speech.

Ami Isseroff

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Original text copyright by the author and MidEastWeb for Coexistence, RA. Posted at MidEastWeb Middle East Web Log at http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000321.htm where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Distributed by MEW Newslist. Subscribe by e-mail to mew-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by email with this notice and link to and cite this article. Other uses by permission.

by Moderator @ 12:36 PM CST [Link]


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Replies: 1 Comment

I find doubts about peace within Sharon words. Peace can be talked only so much but action must be put on the ground.
The Israelis will wait till the Palestinians move.
The Palestinians will wait till the Israelis move.
That cycle is more dangerous than the cycle of violence itself.

Posted by Butros Dahu @ 12/25/2004 01:36 AM CST

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