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Sharon's Master Plan Dangerous to All Sides

2 April 2002

The expanding Israeli military assault on Palestinian territories and the seizure of Yasser Arafat's compound in Ramallah cannot be viewed as spontaneous "acts of retaliation" to the latest wave of brutal Palestinian suicide bombings. This assault has been carefully planned for some time. It signals the final stage of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's master plan to topple Arafat and the Palestinian Authority and impose a new political reality on the Palestinians through brute military force.

Sharon's stated rationale behind this assault is to fight terrorism. Yet Israeli military actions are systematically destroying all Palestinian Authority infrastructures that could help in this fight. Moreover, invading Palestinian towns, systematically executing suspected Palestinian militants and arresting masses of Palestinians who have little sympathy for suicide bombers signal that Sharon is seeking to escalate the conflict, fomenting more terrorism, not less. 20,000 army reservists have been mobilized for this openly declared invasion of the Occupied Palestinian Territories that Sharon has promised to be widespread, prolonged, and bloody.

Sharon's master plan is clear. He seeks to destroy the Palestinian Authority, militarily reoccupy most of the West Bank and Gaza Strip and create small and disconnected Palestinian "Bantustans" forced to make their own separate deals with Israel on Israeli terms. No independent Palestinian state. No Palestinian National Authority. No removal of Israeli settlements. No territorial compromise. This is Sharon's solution to the one hundred year-old conflict between Israelis and Palestinians over the historic land of Palestine.

It is a calculated plan, long in the making. Like others on the far right, Sharon has always opposed any peace process with the Palestinians. He was the key architect of the settlement colonization plan for the West Bank and Gaza Strip after Israel captured these territories in 1967. He launched the 1982 invasion of Lebanon in order to destroy the PLO as a symbol of Palestinian national aspirations. He fiercely opposed the limited "concessions" that Israel made in order to secure Palestinian compliance for the Oslo Peace Accords of 1993, especially the establishment of Palestinian self-rule in the major cities of the West Bank and most of the Gaza Strip. His provocative visit to Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem in September 2000 triggered the latest round of fighting between Israelis and Palestinians and eventually returned him to political power.

Upon his election as Prime Minister in February, 2001, Sharon set into motion his plan for collapsing the Palestinian Authority and escalating the military conflict through systematic assassinations of key political and military leaders, bombarding Palestinian infrastructure, imprisoning people in their villages, and creating starvation conditions. All this, while waiting for domestic and international conditions to "ripen" for the more advanced steps of the plan.

Many in Israel suspect that the systematic assassinations of over one hundred Palestinians in the past eighteen months, which consistently led to retaliatory Palestinian suicide bomb attacks, were designed precisely to create the justification for an all out war on the Palestinians. The assassination of Hamas militant Mahmoud Abu Hanoud in November 2001, just when the Hamas was respecting its ceasefire agreement with Arafat not to attack inside Israel, was predictably followed by several suicide bomb attacks that exacted a vicious revenge on Israeli civilians. Similarly, the Israeli army's assassination of the Arafat-allied Fatah militant Ra'ed Karmi in January 2002, breaking a relatively successful cease fire, also predictably provoked Palestinian bombers.

The main factor that held Sharon back was American pressure. After September 11, the US quietly restrained Israel from overreaching in order to mollify its Arab allies in the "coalition against terrorism" and Colin Powell even spoke of the US vision of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

Now, however, US policy is no longer based on building coalitions or investing in diplomatic persuasion, but on sheer force. The smashing "victory" in Afghanistan has emboldened the Bush administration to abandon any considerations of international law or public opinion in determining their actions. The hawks in the Pentagon, led by Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle, who are determined to expand the war to Iraq and further, view Israel as a major strategic asset in their arsenal.

The conditions have thus "ripened." The shift in US policy has enabled Sharon to get his green light from Washington. Moreover, mounting public criticism of Sharon and defections from his coalition, an impending economic catastrophe and an unprecedented number of Israeli soldiers refusing to serve in what they call "the war to protect the settlements" have increased Sharon's desperation to act.

With Bush and Powell dutifully reciting Israel's mantra that Arafat "must act to stop terror," even while he was under Israeli house arrest, Sharon set his plan in motion. The brutal invasion of Palestinian refugee camps in March generated the predictable suicide bombings to serve as the pretext. Sharon has now made clear that Israel is officially "at war" with Palestinians in the conventional sense of the term and will therefore seek military victory.

What this means is that Israel will conquer remaining Palestinians self-rule areas town by town and impose a state of siege and martial law, leading to mass arrests and attempts to reinstate its collaborator networks that were destroyed after 1993. The guiding strategic vision is to completely isolate Palestinian population centers from one another and encourage local leaders to make their own deals with Israel as the price for ending the state of siege. The broader hope, openly proclaimed by many of Sharon's key ministers, is that the violence will encourage many Palestinians to flee their homes as part of a broader historic pattern of "ethnic cleansing" for Israel.

There is absolutely no justification for the Palestinians' targeting of unarmed civilians in their struggle to end the Israeli occupation and establish a Palestinian state. Yet Palestinian armed actions have never posed a threat to the existence of Israel, whose military power is unparalleled in the Middle East.

Sharon's master plan guarantees the destruction of any real chance for a viable peace in the region. It will likely lead to an escalation of violence that is unprecedented in the history of the conflict. It is a recipe for permanent war and regional destabilization. It will not lead to greater security for average Israeli's and will only heighten Palestinian desperation and support for military action as their last defense, mirroring the violent struggle by Algerians to rid themselves of the French colonialism.

The Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories is the root the cause of violence between the two peoples. Without ending the occupation and dismantling all settlements, there will be no viable peace. If the US is not willing to use its clout to restrain Israel, then the only alternative is major international pressure on the Israeli government to halt its invasion of Palestinian self-rule areas and respect the legal and legitimate authority of the Palestinian Authority. The immediate deployment of international observers to protect the Palestinians against this unprecedented aggression must be the first step towards this end.

Steve Niva
Published by Common Dreams © Steve Niva

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