What's Left


July 18, 2002

Paying the price for peace on Sharon's terms



By Stephen Gowans
 

Another day, more dead.

This time "two Palestinian suicide terrorists struck within moments of each other in Tel Aviv...killing three people and wounding scores."

It's a monotonous mantra.

On the same day, Palestinians were also killed, some wounded, but press reports are almost always built around the victims of Palestinian attacks.

Arab victims, if they're mentioned at all, get second billing.

"More than 2,000 people, most of them Palestinians, have been killed since violence erupted nearly two years ago after the collapse of the last U.S.-brokered peace talks," one newspaper recounts, in the very last line of an article headed by the words of US President George W. Bush: "This is a despicable act of terrorism."

The killing of thousands of Afghan civilians by US bombs is also a despicable act of terrorism, but the newspaper, subservient to those in power, is polite enough to leave the gross hypocrisy alone, if it's even noticed.

Instead, attention is trained on smaller numbers: the Israelis killed by Palestinians desperate enough, or fanatical enough, or both, to blow themselves and others apart.

Death, it appears, has become preferable to living in refugee camps.

Ariel Sharon, the man who vowed he would never accept the Oslo accords, talks tough, promising more Draconian measures to stop the bombings.

But is skepticism growing?

Preemptive assassinations were supposed to stop suicide attacks. They didn't.

Rounding up Palestinian males was supposed to help. It hasn't.

Reoccupation of the West Bank was supposed to deter violence. It failed.

Attacking refugee camps, killing dozens, was supposed to root out terrorists' nests. It didn't.

Sharon, a man with a fixation on refugee camps, allowed Christian Falangists to go on a murderous spree in  Sabra and Shatilla a few decades ago. The camps, according to Sharon, were "a nest of Palestinian terrorists." Scores were slaughtered in cold blood, as the Israeli army stood by.

The massacre, of course, didn't stop Palestinian attacks. But it did lead to Sharon being held indirectly responsible by an official Israeli inquiry, and to being branded beyond Israel, more honestly, as a war criminal.

Now, as then, the abject failure of  Sharon's get-tough policy is grudgingly and quietly acknowledged.  "The two days of successive attacks," observed one veteran correspondent, "underscored the near-impossibility of thwarting all Palestinian attacks despite a Draconian crackdown by the Israeli military."

And yet in the face of failure, Sharon presses on.

Israelis should be angry.

It is they themselves, their loved ones, their neighbors, who pay the price of Sharon's refusal to accept a just modus vivende.

Not Sharon.

Israel must reoccupy more territory and build more settlements "to meet Israel's security needs," he says.

Others talk of resettlement, code for ethnically cleansing the occupied territories, leaving all of historical Palestine to Zionist Jews.

It's all presented as a measured and necessary response to defend Israel against Palestinian attacks.

And it's all completely mendacious.

Imagine someone telling you that houses will continue to be set ablaze in your community, until you fire all the firefighters and sell off the fire hoses.

That's effectively what Sharon is telling Palestinians. The occupation won't end, until you stop trying to end it.

Except Sharon has no intention of ending the occupation, and never has. And so, by extension, is willing to live with Palestinian violence, as a necessary price. And that's why Israelis should be angry. It is their lives and their blood that is the currency.

Sharon opposed the Oslo accords. He's allowed settlements to continue to be built on Palestinian land, knowing the settlements are provocative and illegal. And he's the man who went to the al-Aqsa temple, and claimed it would always be Israeli, sparking the latest Intifada.

So when Sharon says, I'm not going to talk peace, until you stop the suicide attacks, he's really saying, I'm not going to lift the curfews and the blockades, I'm not going to stop firing at you with tanks and  helicopters and F-16s, and I'm not going to stop sending soldiers into your refugee camps to kill and maim and bulldoze your houses, until you accept the occupation, learn to live with the building of Israeli settlements, and acknowledge that refugees are never going to be allowed to return.

In fairness, it should be acknowledged that Sharon wants peace.

Except, like Hitler, he wants peace on his own terms, and is willing to pay a high price in other people's blood to get it.
 

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