Published in The Jerusalem Post on February 23, 2003
Our wily prime minister is a master of obfuscation, especially when it comes to Israel-Palestinian diplomacy. To judge by the old maxim: “keep the enemy guessing”, he is doing a wonderful job.
The problem is that Ariel Sharon’s self-contradictory policies towards Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority have *everybody* confused – not just our enemies. With one hand, we take Arafat down; with the other, we build him back up.
Worse still, Sharon’s flip-flopping in all directions undermines our essential interests and risks missing the opportunity currently at hand to put an end to international demands for the establishment of a Palestinian state.
Consider the inconsistencies: On the one hand, the official Israeli line is that Yasser Arafat is “irrelevant” (Sharon) and a cancer to be isolated and “removed” (Netanyahu). We bombard Arafat’s headquarters and lock him down into relative international isolation, while taking apart the PA security services.
In meetings with Jewish community leaders and other international visitors Sharon emphasizes that our experience of the past two years both proves the dangers to Israel of unrestrained Palestinian nationalism and demonstrates the need for an open-ended IDF presence in the territories to combat terrorism. President Bush seems to back Sharon up, barring senior U.S. officials from meeting with Arafat and calling for Arafat’s replacement, while green-lighting our ongoing military operations against PA terrorist installations and activities.
The IDF chief-of-staff says PA monies are still funding terrorist actions, despite all the new monitoring “safeguards”. The chief of military intelligence releases documents showing that the PA is stealing food and medicine from UNWRA and selling it on the black market. Our finance minister acknowledges that the PA owes Israeli companies hundreds of millions of shekels and transfers NIS 230 to the Israel Electric Company from PA revenues that we are “holding” in escrow.
One wonderful, promising result of this deliberate weakening of Arafat is the current re-awakening of political dissent and debate within Palestinian society. In recent weeks, Palestinian activists and authors have begun to dare to publish articles critical of Arafat’s regime; a few voices even have had the guts to condemn suicide bombings and rocket attacks. Journalist Khaled Abu Toameh of this paper said this week in a talk to Jewish leaders that “ironically, Palestinian freedoms come with the barrel of an Israeli gun. The more Arafat is marginalized, the more Palestinian society has a chance at moderation”.
But then, Sharon turns around and undercuts his own messaging by repeatedly meeting with Arafat deputy Abu Mazen (something that does *not* happen without Yasser’s express approval!); by repeating his commitment to a “road map” with Palestinian statehood as its destination; and by transferring NIS 130 million a month to PA coffers (under U.S. pressure).
With one hand, we take Arafat down; with the other, we build him back up.
What are Palestinians supposed to think? Why should any Palestinian moderate – few as they are — imperil himself by taking a stand against the PA and for reconciliation with Israel when Dov Weissglass and Daniel Kurtzer are re-fortifying Arafat and revitalizing his role?
What, for that matter, are Labor leader Amram Mitzna or National Union chief Avigdor Lieberman supposed to think? Is Sharon’s commitment to the Bush Plan just an expedient marketing tactic; a moderate costume for internal and international coalition-building purposes? Or is it a profound commitment to a long-term process of diplomatic concession and territorial withdrawal? Sharon has everybody bamboozled.
Hard-core conservative Sharonites tell me not to worry. The prime minister has asked for more than 100 changes in the Quartet “road map”, they soothe, which make the likelihood of Palestinian statehood coming to fruition anytime soon “as probable as Osama Bin Laden’s election to the White House”.
These demands reportedly include a complete end to all Palestinian terrorism, the implementation of all security and governmental reforms, Palestinian agreement in advance to abandon the right of return, and PA agreement to permanent limits on Palestinian sovereignty if and when it is “allowed” to emerge – *in advance of* any further Israeli concessions.
Sounds good, but we are still left with Sharon’s public skirting and dodging.
Some might consider Sharon’s equivocation ‘constructive ambiguity’. I think not. Sharon’s hedging passes up on the tremendous opportunity Israel now has to stake-out a clear position against the establishment of any Palestinian state for the foreseeable future — in the context of the global war against anti-democratic regimes that sponsor terrorism.
Sharon ought to declare that our battle against Palestinian fanaticism is an integral part of the global effort the eliminate totalitarian ideologies that threaten the Western world. Palestinian anti-Semitism, Holocaust denial, and fundamentalist jihad culture make it clear that the Palestinian public wants us eliminated, not just rolled back. There is no reason to believe that a Palestinian “state” will arrest the ascendancy of Al-Qaida and Hamas ideologies in the territories any more than the Palestinian “authority” did.
With George Bush about to stake his presidency and global security on a war against Saddam Hussein — champion of Palestinian wars against Israel – there’s no better time to lay out our strong case against Palestinian statehood. Period.