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Sharon is Exploiting America's 'War on Terrorism'

4 April 2002

Israeli policy today rests on a wishful fiction, complicated by its conflation of the facts and fictions underlying Washington's proclaimed war on terrorism.

The Israeli fiction is that Yasser Arafat alone is responsible for the terrorism afflicting Israel, and that he is alone capable of halting it. "It is being directed, promoted and initiated by one person," Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said Sunday.

He may believe this, but not many others do. The history of Palestinian-Israeli conflict over the last 54 years suggests better explanations.

Israel avows that its war is against terrorism, but Sharon's war actually is a war to destroy Palestinian resistance to Israeli policy in the occupied territories and to deny the Palestinian claim that the refugees have a right to return to homes they left or from which they were expelled.

The reciprocal illusion is that of the Palestinians: that they can ever go back. This illusion caused Yasser Arafat to turn his back on the settlement terms offered by Ehud Barak.

As Israel considers that claim a threat to its national existence or integrity, proclamation of "war against terrorism" is subterfuge and propaganda. It is war, period. That is what the two sides are waging.

The only solution now is an imposed compromise. The Bush administration, the only international actor capable of such an initiative, demonstrates no interest in this, for which it may one day be very sorry.

A third illusion is promoted by the Bush administration and cynically exploited by Sharon: that terrorism exists apart from the political causes that inspire it and can be dealt with without addressing those causes.

The U.S. war is actually against certain organized radical Muslim movements and their supporters in disorderly Third World countries, and against the Iraq of Saddam Hussein.

It is propaganda and expedience for Washington to join Iraq's supposed threat to the United States with that of Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda. However, it is, for Israel, a useful expedient, as it offers Israel a ride on the U.S. government's post-Sept. 11 obsessions.

The Israeli Army has reportedly now assured Ariel Sharon that it needs only three to four weeks to complete the mission he has given them, which is "to eliminate terrorism and its infrastructure," meaning the elimination of Palestinian resistance.

The military leaders say their operations have been a success by their criteria. There have been few Israeli military casualties and few incidents provoking international outrage.

On the other hand, the Israeli press reports that there has been little positive to show from the operations. Many young men were arrested and had numbers written on their arms (an unfortunate choice of methods to keep track of them); but few were on the Israeli lists of wanted men. The only arms seized were light weapons and home-made rockets.

The Foreign Ministry is concerned that international reaction might force the operation to stop ahead of schedule. Others in Israel are concerned about where this is taking Israel. Yoel Marcus, a commentator in the liberal daily Ha'aretz, asks, "What constitutes victory? and Ministers seem pretty much in the dark about where this rolling offensive is actually rolling to."

Surely, that much is clear. It is rolling toward more repression, and away from Israeli democracy.

William Pfaff, Paris
Published in the International Herald Tribune © 2002 the International Herald Tribune

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