PALESTINE: How Sharon destroyed the cease-fire

Issue 

BY URI AVNERY

It was a putsch. It was carried out by Israel's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, his ministers and the army top brass. It is no secret that the military party (the only really functioning party in Israel) objected to the hudna [the cease-fire declared by the Palestinian resistance organisations on June 29] from the first moment, much as it opposed the "Road Map to Peace".

Its powerful propaganda apparatus, which includes all the Israeli media, spread the message: "The hudna is a disaster! Every day of the hudna is a bad day! The reduction of violence to almost zero is a great misfortune: under cover of the truce, the terrorist organisations are recovering and rearming! Every terrorist strike avoided today will hit us much harder tomorrow!"

The army command was like an addict deprived of their drug. It was forbidden to carry out the action it wanted. It was just about to crush the intifada, victory was just around the corner, all that was needed was just one final decisive blow, and that would have been that.

The military was upset when it saw the new hope that took hold of the Israeli public, the bullish mood of the stock exchange, the rise in value of the shekel, the return of the masses to the entertainment centres, the signs of optimism on both sides — in effect, it was a spontaneous popular vote against the military policy.

Sharon realised that if this went on, reality would overturn his long-term plans. Therefore, right at the beginning of the hudna, he adopted three immediate goals.

First, to topple Palestinian Prime Minister Abu Mazen (Mahmud Abbas) as soon as possible. Mazen had become the darling of US President George Bush and a welcome guest at the White House. The unique standing of Sharon in Washington was in danger. The Bush-Sharon pair, which was mutating into a single Busharon unit, was in danger of becoming a triangle: Bush-Sharon-Mazen. There is no greater danger to Sharon's plans.

Second, to wipe out the Road Map in its infancy. The Road Map obliged Sharon to remove immediately about 80 settlement outposts, freeze all settlements, stop the building of the apartheid wall and withdraw the army from all West Bank towns. Sharon never dreamt of fulfilling one of these obligations.

And third, to put an end to the hudna and give the army back its freedom of action in all the Palestinian territories.

Hope extinguished

The question was how could this be achieved without a trace of suspicion being attached to Sharon. The great majority of Israelis, who had enthusiastically greeted the hudna, could not possibly be allowed to suspect that their own leaders were responsible for extinguishing this glimmer of hope. Even more important, it was imperative that no such pernicious idea should enter the innocent head of George W. All the blame must fall on the Palestinians, so that the affection for Abu Mazen would turn into contempt and hatred.

The means for attaining this goal were selected with great care, taking into account Bush's simplistic world of good guys and bad guys. The bad guys are the terrorists. Therefore, it was advisable to kill Hamas and Jihad militants. That would not upset Bush. In the eyes of Bush, to kill terrorists is a good thing. And as a result, the Palestinians would be compelled to break the hudna.

This is how it happened: On August 8, Israeli soldiers killed two Hamas militants in Nablus. On August 12, a Hamas suicide bomber killed one Israeli in Rosh-Ha'ayin and another bomber killed one person in the Ariel settlement. Both suicide bombers came from Nablus. Hamas announced that the hudna would continue.

On August 14, the Israeli army killed Muhammad Seeder, head of the military wing of Hamas in Hebron. Five days later, on August 19, a suicide bomber from Hebron blew himself up in a Jerusalem bus, killing 20 men, women and children. Two days later, on August 21, the army assassinated Isma'il Abu Shanab, the fourth-ranking leader of Hamas.

This time it was not even possible to pin on the victim the appellation "ticking bomb", as is usual in such cases. The man was a well-known political leader. Why was he, of all people, chosen for assassination? A military correspondent on Israeli TV made a slip of the tongue. Abu Shanab was killed, he said, because he was "available" — meaning, he was an easy target because he did not go underground after the bus bombing, as did the leaders of the military wing.

This time, at long last, Sharon's aim was achieved. The Palestinian organisations announced that they were calling off the hudna. Sharon and company rejoiced. Within hours, the Israeli army had again penetrated into the centres of the Palestinian towns, starting an orgy of arrests and house demolitions (more than 40 in a single day).

The addict leapt

The addict leapt for the drug. The military's crisis was over, the officers could do all the things they had been prevented from doing for nine long weeks.

But the situation will not revert to the status quo ante intifada, so to speak. The attacks and killings will be more numerous and more cruel. The construction of the segregation wall deep into the Palestinian territories will be accelerated, along with the building activity in the settlements.

The army propaganda machine is already preparing the public for the "expulsion of Arafat". "Expulsion" is a euphemism produced by the "verbal laundry" section of the army, one of its most creative departments. The intention is not to expel the leader from his Ramallah compound, nor from Palestine, but from this world. The reaction of the Palestinians and the whole Arab world can be predicted. It would be a historic point of no return, perhaps eliminating the chances of peace for generations.

The renewal of the cycle of violence will, of course, exacerbate the economic depression in Israel. The crisis will deepen. Together with the hudna and the Road Map, tourism, foreign investment and the recovery will also die.

The economy, too, is an addict that needs its drug: US$9 billion in US government loan guarantees are waiting for Sharon in Washington. That should be enough for the political and military elite. Only the poor will become poorer. But who cares?

All this is being done without consulting the Israeli public. There is no open discussion, no debate in the tame media, the silent Knesset and the cabinet of marionettes. That's what makes it a putsch.

To sum up: The Road Map is dead, because Sharon was against it from the beginning, Bush saw it only as a photo opportunity on a nice background and Abu Mazen did not get from Israel and the US anything that he could present as a Palestinian achievement.

What will happen now? After the shedding of yet more blood and many tears, the two peoples will arrive once more at the conviction that it is better to come to an agreement and make peace. Then they will be compelled to learn the lesson of the last chapter: it must all start from the end. Only after the picture of the final settlement clearly emerges can one deal with the immediate problems. Anything else would be a road map to the abyss.

[Israeli journalist Uri Avnery is a former member of the Knesset and a founding member of the Gush Shalom (Peace Bloc) peace movement. Visit <http://www.avnery-news.co.il/english>.]

From Green Left Weekly, September 3, 2003.

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