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November 05, 2001
Time for stark choice — Sharon or peace

By Ahmed Bouzid


Time for stark choice — Sharon or peace
By Ahmed Bouzid

ARIEL SHARON has never minced words about his long-term vision for Israel and the future he has in store for his Palestinian neighbours. Asked in an interview with the Israeli newspaper Haaretz back in April of this year, only a few weeks after becoming prime minister “Would you be ready to evacuate settlements as part of a non-belligerency agreement?”, Sharon answered bluntly: “No. Absolutely not.” “Not even isolated settlements like Netzarim in the Gaza Strip?,s” the interviewer followed up; “No. Not at any price. Why do we have to evacuate Netzarim? For what?,” Sharon answered, unwavering.

Sharon's vision is and has always been that of a greater Israel in full control of what he calls Judea and Samaria (what the rest of the world calls the West Bank) and the Gaza Strip. Within this greater Israel, Palestinians would be confined to “security zones” dotted by settlements and army bases, their movement closely watched and regulated, and their economy tightly controlled and subservient to that of Israel. Palestinians within this scheme would be allowed to “administer” themselves — that is, take care of the day-to-day chores of picking up garbage, sweeping the streets, regulating traffic jams and chasing common thieves — but would under no circumstances be allowed to build an independent economy or to live free from outside interference as a sovereign nation should.

In other words, Ariel Sharon wants to turn the indigenous four million Palestinians that surround Israel into the equivalent of America's Natives: Formally recognise them as forming “a nation”, but recognise them as such only nominally. (It is no coincidence that the one successful business in the West Bank and Gaza before the outbreak of the second Intifada was the casino industry!)

Small wonder, then, that when President Bush stated publicly that the United States envisions, and has always envisioned, a Palestinian state as the end point of a final settlement, Ariel Sharon shot back with a bitter reference to the 1938 sellout of Czechoslovakia to the Germans. Israel should not be sacrificed for the sake of building a coalition with the Arabs, Sharon protested, drawing a sharp rebuke from a White House growing increasingly impatient with the unwieldy prime minister.

Sharon of course meant every word when he said that recognition of a Palestinian state was tantamount to sacrificing Israel. And he was right: The existence of a sovereign Palestinian state on “Judea and Samaria” means the end of what Sharon calls the “Zionist project” and the end of Israel as he envisions it.

So, then, where does this leave the Bush administration and its Mitchell Plan, which calls for, among other things, a total freeze on any future settlement building? Nowhere. The Mitchell Plan is a non-starter as long as Ariel Sharon is in power and his vision of a greater Israel remains alive. If the peace process and progress towards a final resolution to the conflict are to become reachable goals once again — as they were tantalisingly close to becoming during the last round of negotiations with Barak in Taba, a few weeks before Barak's defeat — Ariel Sharon must leave office and the Zionist project of a greater Israel must come to a close.

Back in 1991, George Bush the father, facing an unyielding Yitzhak Shamir, threatened Israel with withholding financial aid if settlement building in the occupied territories continued. That confrontation resulted in the convening of a conference in Madrid that included Israelis, Americans, Syrians, and other Arab representatives, along with some Palestinians who did not officially represent the PLO. For the first time ever, and after decades of stalling and detracting, attacking and then crying wolf, after years of obfuscation, Israel finally agreed to negotiate.

George Bush the son faces a similar situation now, but his opportunity is far more significant than the one created by his father's bold challenge to Yitzhak Shamir. With the godfather of radical, expansionist Zionism at the helm of Israel's government, George Bush the son has the opportunity to confront head on, and bring an end to, the very idea of expansionist Zionism.

If the 1991 altercation teaches one thing, it is that Israel will sacrifice anything except its special relationship with the United States. This provides George W. Bush with an opening to offer the Israelis a stark choice — as he knows very well how to do: Either you are with us or you are with Ariel Sharon. Either give up the notion of a greater Israel or give up support from the United States.

A Sharon felled by direct and open US pressure will once and for all inoculate Israel against the temptation to pursue the greater Israel project. At which point, lasting peace with the Palestinians will at long last become a tangible possibility.

The question is, will Bush the son dare be so bold as to emulate his father?

The writer is president of Palestine Media Watch. He contributed this article to The Jordan Times.