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Many Israelis Shun Sharon's Madness

9 April 2002

The theory that the Israeli government is the best or even the closest ally of the United States in the Middle East lost a good deal of credibility over the weekend as Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon willfully defied the call of President Bush for withdrawal of Israeli defense forces from the Palestinian Authority "without delay."

Sharon did not merely delay, he ordered troops to aggressively extend an assault on Palestinian communities that is destroying lives, infrastructure and the prospects for an honest peace. Even after repeated calls from Bush and other U.S. officials, Sharon made a mockery of the U.S. initiative. The weekend that should have seen Israeli soldiers pulling out of the West Bank instead saw the Israeli military engage - on Sharon's orders - in the wholly unnecessary bulldozing of civilian homes in Jenin, Nablus and other Palestinian communities. Additionally, Israeli generals continued to refuse to allow ambulances to aid wounded civilians, drawing loud objections not merely from Palestinians but from Israeli human rights groups.

Bush's understanding of the Middle East is, to be sure, rudimentary. And his penchant for following the fierce anti-Palestinian line of congressional allies such as Tom DeLay is even more surely a factor in his approach to the region. But can the president really believe that he is not being played for a fool by Sharon? If that is the case, then he is not being played for a fool - he is a fool.

Sharon and his allies in Israel claim that Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat is an illegitimate negotiating partner in any new peace process. At least some in the Bush administration have bought into the lie that says Arafat's inability to control militant Palestinian groups has rendered him an untrustworthy player. This calculation suggests that it is possible for Israel and the United States to pick the Palestinian negotiator.

That cannot be the case if there is to be any prospect for peace.

But this notion of focusing on preferred negotiating partners should not be ruled out altogether. If the United States wants to be a responsible partner in the search for Middle East peace, Secretary of State Colin Powell should use his trip to the region to meet with Israeli leaders who believe in making peace, and he should be signaling that these are the Israelis - as opposed to Sharon and his wrecking crew - that the United States respects.

Powell would find no shortage of legitimate partners.

On Saturday night in Tel Aviv, 15,000 Israelis rallied to oppose their government's occupation of Palestinian territories and military assaults on West Bank cities. A rally of an equivalent proportion of the U.S. population would have drawn almost 700,000 Americans.

Those who rallied were not the political fringe. While American media point to snapshot polls that suggest there is broad Israeli support for Sharon's approach, Haaretz, Israel's most respected daily newspaper, notes, "A large majority in Israel - albeit not necessarily Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, his pending partner, (anti-Palestinian extremist) Effi Eitam, and political elements such as (right-wingers) Benjamin Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman - will go for President Bush's security and political manifesto. This majority will be satisfied with a State of Israel that lives in peace with its neighbors, including a Palestinian state ... secure in defensible borders and without existential dangers and daily terror."

Among those at Saturday night's rally were Israeli Knesset Speaker Avraham Burg and Knesset member Yael Dayan, the daughter of Israeli Gen. Moshe Dayan.

"By reoccupying, we will not prevent (the establishment of) a Palestinian state, which is the only solution," declared Dayan. "Our (peace) camp is not ashamed and is coming out. Sharon and Netanyahu do not have any monopoly - not over the peace, not over bereavement, and not over the army."

If the United States is serious about promoting peace in the Middle East, Colin Powell should spend a lot more time with Yael Dayan and Avraham Burg and a lot less time with Ariel Sharon and Benjamin Netanyahu.

John Nichols
Published in the Madison Capital Times © 2002 The Capital Times

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