by Eric S. Margolis
new Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, won a landslide election
victory last week by accusing his rival, Ehud Barak, of being too willing
to make concessions to the Palestinians, and too gentle in putting down
their latest uprising. Israeli voters clearly agreed.
Sharon, a brilliant general, won his latest battle by a typically dramatic tactical maneuver. Last September, Sharon, with 1,000 police and soldiers, charged into Islam's holiest place in Jerusalem, Haram al-Sharif. This calculated act of political arson ignited the current Palestinian uprising, or intifada, which, in turn, undid Barak, and swept Sharon into power.
Seventy percent of Israelis still say they want peace, but not, the election showed, if it means substantially changing the status quo. Sharon offered Palestinians 'an interim peace agreement' in his post-election speech, but emphasized there would be NO permanent settlement. The old general made clear what he means by 'interim peace:'
No part of Jerusalem will ever be returned to Palestinian control. Arabs must be content with they now administer: 42 percent of the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza (less than 20 percent of original Palestine). Arab-run cities and towns will largely remain isolated from one another by Jewish settlements, Jewish-only roads, and Israeli troops.
Sharon pointedly lauded the Zionist ideal, promising Jewish settlement will continue and Jewish immigration from abroad will be encouraged. There will be no right of return for Palestinian refugees. Israel will not return the Golan Heights to Syria. Israeli troops will occupy the Jordan Valley. In short, the status quo.
In case Arabs failed to get the message, Sharon's spokesman ominously warned the new prime minister would use the Israeli army to conduct a Vietnam-style 'pacification' campaign against Palestinian population cen ters, in his words, 'separating the terrorists from the civilian population.'
What this threat means is that Palestinian towns and villages that are now surrounded by Israeli tanks and are being economically blockaded may soon be the targets of re-occupation and massive search and destroy missions by the Israeli army and security police. One is immediately reminded of France's notorious Battle of Algiers in the 1950's, and the CIA-led Phoenix program in Vietnam, both of which killed large numbers of civilians and widely employed torture.
Sharon has a long record of relentless brutality towards Arabs. In the 1950's, he and his troops massacred an entire Arab village. In the early 1970's, Sharon led the 'pacification' of Gaza in which large numbers of Palestinian homes were bulldozed, and hundreds of Palestinians deported to neighboring countries. In 1982 he engineered the invasion of Lebanon in an attempt to crush the PLO and create an Israeli protectorate, run by the Phalangists, Lebanon's fascist party.
Sharon destroyed one Palestinian refugee camp after another with heavy artillery, cluster bombs and napalm. He besieged Beirut for nearly three weeks, using 155mm heavy artillery to pound parts of the city to rubble. At least 18,000 Lebanese civilians were killed in Sharon's invasion.
At the end of the siege of Beirut, Phalangist thugs, supervised and observed by Israeli troops under Sharon's command, were sent in to 'pacify' Palestinian refugee camps at Shatilla and Sabra. As Israeli soldiers watched and Israeli searchlights and flares illuminated the scene, the Phalangist fascists slaughtered some 1,700-2,000 Palestinians, mostly women and children.
An Israeli investigation later found Sharon 'indirectly responsible' for the massacre. But this crime took place nearly 20 years ago. Most Israeli voters are too young to remember, or were living in Russia at the time. To the 20something generation, Sharon is a tough but grandfatherly leader who knows how to deal with Arabs. To Israel's left, however, Sharon is a dangerous extremist, even a war criminal, and widely known as 'the Butcher of Beirut.'
Arabs call Sharon, whose far-right supporters advocate ethnic cleansing of Arabs from Palestine, the 'Israeli Milosevic,' after Serbia's former racist leader. Lately, Palestinians are also calling Sharon 'the Israeli Saddam Hussein,' a reference to the Iraqi strongman's brutal repression of rebellious minorities. In fact, as Israel adopts ever harsher methods against Palestinians in the occupied territories, Israel is coming to look more and more like its repressive Arab neighbors than the western-style democracy it claims to be.
Given Sharon's record and post-election promises, it seems likely the intifada, and Israel's attempts to crush it, will intensify. If Sharon makes good his threats to 'pacify' the West Bank and Gaza, a bloodbath is certain, one that would make Israel an international pariah and badly damage relations with its chief ally and defender, the United States.
Even South Africa's apartheid government didn't dare use tanks against rioting blacks. Israel, however, has sent tanks and helicopter gunships to pound Palestinian targets. Will Sharon now resort to heavy artillery, or mass population expulsions into the desert, to 'pacify' the rebellious Arabs? This week, in an disturbing portent, the Israeli Army announced it would destroy 26 Palestinian houses in Gaza 'for security reasons.'
Just before Israeli elections, Sharon gave a TV interview, seated symbolically and ostentatiously beneath a large photo of Vladimir Jabotinsky, spiritual father of militant Zionism and Sharon's Likud Party. Jabotinsky called for a Jewish state extending from the Nile to the Euphrates. He advocated constant attacks to smash the weak Arab states into fragments, dominated by Israel. In fact, just what Sharon tried to do in Lebanon.
A bad omen for the Mideast's future.
Eric Margolis is a syndicated columnist and broadcaster whose "Foreign Correspondent" column appears twice weekly. His latest book, "War at the Top of the World: The struggle for Afghanistan, Kashmir and Tibet" is available at major book outlets and online
February 19, 2001 (http://www.monitor.net/monitor) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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