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Sharon: The tiger is smiling

09/29/2005

Defying pollsters and media pundits, Israeli PM Ariel Sharon survived the vote for early primaries, intended to oust him, in the Likud Central Committee. Bibi Nethanyahu and his friends went for a ride on a tiger. They came back from the ride with Bibi decidedly outside, and the smile on the face of the tiger.

Nobody likes the guy who says "I told you so," but it's fun to do it anyhow. From the MEW Crystal Ball of 2004:


Israeli PM Ariel Sharon will remain in office until the end of the year barring ill health or assassination

Too bad for those of us who were already gloating prematurely about the demise of the Likud and the return of the good old days of the Labor party. Don't count your Likud disasters before they hatch.

Likud central committee members, not surprisingly, voted to keep the Likud in power. They understood that whatever they might really want, the vast majority of Israelis are quite happy to have said goodbye to Gaza. A party based on the bad old days of Greater Israel ideology will not be the ruling party. The Likud and Ariel Sharon, so often demonized by US newspeople as "Aerial Sharone and his right-wing Lakood party," have undergone a transformation, from being what they never were, to being what they never dreamed of being.

The demonized picture of Sharon and the Likud, complete with fake quotes and fabricated accusations of war crimes in Sabra and Shatila (no Israeli soldiers participated in the Sabra and Shatila massacre, but you wouldn't know that from reading Palestinian media) has dominated the media since his election as PM, thanks to an unrelenting propaganda campaign. This campaign was conducted by a coalition of Palestinians, anti-Zionists, and Likud supporters. In Israel, it was convenient for the Likud to emphasize the most threatening and violent aspects of Sharon. In 2001, Sharon was elected as the Israel bogeyman. He was the Israeli answer to suicide bombers and masked fanatics screaming "With blood, with spirit we will redeem Palestine" in armed marches in Ramallah and Jenin and Gaza. This image was good for the foreign audience as well. Israeli spinmeisters were quite happy to make Palestinians believe that Sharon was an unpredictable, violent Maverick who might do anything. As it turns out, in fighting the Intifadah, Sharon's hands were tied by American pressure, including a spare parts embargo. The politics of opposition are never the same as the statecraft of government.

The demonization was ably seconded by Europeans who drew cartoons of a baby-eating Sharon, and insisted that the Likud was identical to the old Herut party of Menachem Begin and Zeev Jabotinsky and all of these were identical with "Zionism." Iron walls in the sky were erected by underemployed English professors who read two bad books about the Middle East and decided to write a third, worse one.

However, the demonization card played itself out. It was no longer possible to maintain the bad guy posture. Inasmuch as the Likud replaces the Labor party as the backbone of Israeli political life, the foreign policy of Sharon has assumed the general lines of the foreign policy of Ben-Gurion, and the Likud has assumed the foreign policy of Mapai. This policy suits Sharon to a "T" since his character is about like that of Ben-Gurion. Sharon's strategy, even more than MAPAI policy, is pragmatic, and has always had the following characteristics:


Optimize your gains
Exploit opporuinities
Take calculated risks
Sacrifice non-essentials for essentials
Don't offend the USA


Sharon can be a better Ben-Gurion than Ben-Gurion, since he can profit from the experience of Ben-Gurion. Sharon doesn't need to make the mistake of offending the US as Israel did in the Suez campaign. He won't pour energy and resources into defending peripheral positions as Ben-Gurion did in 1948. Sharon is also not too burdened by complex philosophical and intellectual considerations, and is blessedly free of moral scruples of any kind.

The major argument for pragmatism however, is that it works. Sharon is the first Israeli politician who was able to evacuate settlements in Palestinian lands. He got Israel out of Gaza. Sharon, and not the Labor party, Sharon and not Meretz-Yachad-Mapam-Ratz or whatever they call themselves today. It may be an evil, diabolical Sharon plot to put the ball in the court of the Palestinians, but it is nonetheless a fact: the ball is squarely in the court of the Palestinians, and, at least for now, there won't be any forward motion toward a settlement until and unless they collect the arms of the extremist factions. Don't hold your breath until that happens.


You say 'Tomato' Mofaz says 'Tomat'

Critics of disengagement point to the chaos that has erupted in Gaza. Palestinians looted and gutted the greenhouses that were bought for them by Jewish philanthropists and others. A Hamas armed parade resulted in explosions that killed 19 people. The Hamas blamed Israel of course, an alibi that even the Palestinian Authority and Al-Jazeerah found hard to swallow. The Hamas shelled Sderot, but were soon forced to declare a truce, as they found themselves isolated. Israel moved TOMAT self-proplled howitzers (most likely 155 mm MK109AL "TOMAT Doher" - TOMAT is an acronym for Totach mitnayeyah - mobile cannon) to the border and even fired a few test shells. Artillery is not designed for precision strikes. If aimed at a target in a city, it is going to do mostly "collateral damage." Perhaps nobody believed Israel would really use the TOMAT, but Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz insisted that they were not there for show. A kibbutz bride took time out to ask the artillery not to fire during her wedding. Yet the US didn't protest, and the Egyptians hurried to put pressure on the Palestinians to stop the violence. Palestinian authorities hurried to reiterate that public display of weapons is forbidden in Gaza, and that the ban will be enforced.

Disengagement, in addition to freeing a large number of Israeli troops, has regained for Israel sufficient international credibility to give Sharon freedom of action. The Israeli government can make mass arrests of Islamic Jihad and Hamas agents, and even carry out assassinations with the tacit acquiescence and even with the cooperation of US and the Egyptians. As for Mahmoud Abbas, he is probably not losing any sleep over Hamas leaders who were candidates for election and are now in Israeli jails.

Dovish politicians, hoping for a Likud implosion, were disappointed by the results. In Haa'retz, Ari Shavit insisted that only a split in the Likud will make negotiations possible:


Nonetheless, it is impossible to go on like this...Likudistan remains Likudistan even when it votes Sharon. And the story of Likudistan must be brought to an end. It endangers Israel no less than the Hamasistan emerging in the Gaza Strip.
...
The necessity of the big bang is no less important than the necessity to divide the Land. The bang is vital to guarantee the division of the country. The next stages of the political process cannot take place in the same way that the disengagement was executed. It will be impossible to continue evacuating settlements against the wishes of the ruling party. It will be impossible to shape a two-state arrangement with internal party shenanigans. It will be impossible to count on the miracle repeating itself with a few dozen unsung, dedicated activists saving Israel from the whims of the Likud.


Those who think that splitting the Likud will bring a peace government should think again. They tell us that Sharon created the Likud, and Sharon can unreate the Likud. Ben-Gurion made that mistake, and Sharon can learn from Ben-Gurion's experience. Ben-Gurion's Rafi party fizzled and disappeared. The opinion surveys always predict great things for center parties in Israel, but the junkyard of Israeli political history is littered with such parties.


While Shavit thinks splitting the Likud will bring about successful negotations, in Yediot Ahronot, Meretz-Yachad (or whatever it's called now) leader Susie Becher explained that only the left can bring about negotiations:


...the left understands that the window of opportunity for the two-state solution is slowly closing and that it is imperative to hold final-status negotiations now, without preconditions and before it is too late.


What the left doesn't understand is that no window of opportunity is open yet. The window has two panes. Sharon lifited one pane more than a crack, but it is up to the Palestinians to lift the other, and that may not happen any time soon. The early Christians were convinced of the imminent arrival of the end of days and the second coming. The early Marxists daily awaited the collapse of capitalism, and many of the faithful of of peace are still waiting for the consummation of the final status agreement that should have been signed five or six years ago. On the fifth anniversary of the Intifada, we must realize that the Intifada toothpaste will not go back into the tube. The goal of a final status agreement in the near future is becoming less and less real, and more and more like the second coming or the alchemists' dream of turning lead into gold. Everyone offers their own philosophers' stone that is supposed to do the trick, but Sharon and the Bush administration have learned better, and most Israelis and Palestinians understand this. The Palestinians who took down the greenhouses and the Hamas who fired rockets into Sderot demonstrated Sharon's thesis, unfortunately correct for now, that the Palestinians could not deliver on a peace agreement, and the sides are too far apart on fundamental issues to effect a settlement.

Becher herself reminded us of the problem. She wrote:


...
...ignoring...the refugee problem...will never bring about a resolution of the conflict.
...Sharon's thunderous U.N. speech in which he referred to united Jerusalem as the eternal capital of the State of Israel cannot be considered an overture toward the other side.


Sharon's reference to Jerusalem was not an overture to the other side. It was wink to his own electorate. Sharon is elected by the Israeli people, and the Israeli people aren't willing to support division of Jerusalem. That is one reason why Sharon is in power, and Meretz is looking for a name and a real leader. There can be no final status resolution without bringing up the refugee problem, but there is no solution for the refugee problem that will be acceptable to Israel and as yet leave Abbas with his head attached to the rest of his body.

The Fatah long ago postitioned the refugee problem in such a way that the only resolution satisfactory to them is one that would destroy Israel. That is the purpose of the refugee problem in Palestinian political strategy, and therefore solving the refugee problem in order to bring about a peace solution is impossible. No solution that leaves Israel intact as a Jewish state will be acceptable.
At their most conciliatory, in the Taba negotations, the Palestinians offered a "resolution" that was totally uncompromising - total return of every refugee who wishes to return. Abbas cannot do better than Arafat.


There is no solution but the comprehensive solution; Abbas is the prophet of the comprehensive solution

For his part, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas agreed with Susie Becher. He continued to insist, that there is no substitute for a comprehensive solution. True to the script, he said:


"A fair and recognized solution to refugees issue in accordance with the resolution no.194 and evacuating settlements from the Palestinian lands in order to let Palestinians enjoy an independent state with Jerusalem as its capital is a must."


Abbas repeated not only the mantra of the final solution, but the mantra of total withdrawal, Jerusalem and settlements, excatly as Susie Becher told us. But reality is stronger than slogans. Abbas canceled the foredoomed summit that was to held October 2 because he perceived what was obvious to all, that there was nothing to talk about.


There is no plan but the Roadmap, Sharon is the prophet of the Road map

Sharon was also sticking to the script. Many believe that in the absence of prospects for negotiations, the logical thing would be to continue the process of disengagement in the West Bank. After all, there is no point in investing further in the defense and development of settlements that are ultimately doomed to be looted by Palestinians. This notion sparked a series of statements by various officials, including Vice Permier Shimon Peres, that hinted broadly that a further disengagement is in the offing. Sharon put an end, for a while to those rumors, apparently under pressure from the US as well, by stating:


"Yesterday a rumor spread as though we were considering other plans. We are not, we already have one: The road map. We have no better plan for the future of Israel, and I emphasize this because
of the recent rumors on this subject."


Both sides are publicly committed to the roadmap and the final solutions, and the muezzins of each side proclaim the true faith each day from the minarets of their mosques. They are committed in principle, but everyone must see the reality. They proclaim that they worship the Roadmap god, but Sharon is unwilling to dismantle settlements, and Abbas is unwilling or unable to disarm the Hamas and make order. The lord of the final settlement is a jealous god. He cannot coexist with settlement expanion, armed genocidal groups, proposals to overrun Israel with Palestinian refugees, chaos in Gaza and insistence on further occupation. Yet both sides want to have their golden calves too. Peace negotiations in these conditions are unrealistic.

Ami Isseroff

Ramadan Karim * Shana Tovah

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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/00000383.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.

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Replies: 1 Comment

It is not time for negociations but is time for Israel saying loud that wants a two state solution based on 242 except regarding Jerusalem that is annexed. The problem is that internal politics in Israel do not allow this to be done in spite of the fact that is probably what the sheer majority of Israel population wants. The attitude of Netaniahu looking for support by radicalizing public opinion and thus limiting the capability of Sharon to take a clear stance in the long term solution, endangers Israel position and makes peace even more dificult. This kind of behaviours where someone looks for a personal advantage at the price of the security and international position of his country are very close to treason. There is a time for small politics and there is a time for History and the people who cannot (or does not want) to understand this must and will bear the shame forever.

Posted by Aleph @ 10/02/2005 03:58 AM CST


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