The Guardian December 12, 2001


A war of Sharon's making

by Adam Keller

For more than a year it has been discussed in the media and the political 
and military system: is what is going on between Israel and the 
Palestinians a war, or is it just "fighting"? Last week, the question was 
resolved: it is war indeed. The Government of Israel has officially and 
formally declared the Palestinian Authority and its President Yasser Arafat 
to be enemy, and instructed the armed forces under its command to actively 
and aggressively pursue the war by land, and sea.

This is not a random happening. In fact, it is the logical culmination of 
the policies undertaken by Ariel Sharon ever since he assumed power in 
February; and in fact, these are a direct continuation of Sharon's policies 
as Defence Minister in the early 1980s, when he initiated a disastrous 
invasion of Lebanon for the purpose of destroying the Palestine Liberation 
Organisation (PLO) and expelling Arafat.

Since becoming Prime Minister, Sharon has been edging closer and closer to 
this all-out war. Measures of oppression were steadily piled on top of each 
other, yesterday's outrageous innovation becoming today's routine.

The "strangling closure" imposed on Ramalla at the very first week of 
Sharon's tenure and which aroused then many international protests was, in 
fact, far less severe than the siege at present imposed on each every West 
Bank town and village.

And the same process of familiarisation had gone on with regard to the 
bombing of Palestinian cities  first by helicopter gunships (as already 
started by Barak), then by F-16 fighter planes; and with the more and more 
widespread assassination of Palestinians suspected of terrorism; and with 
armed incursions into Palestinian-held areas  first for days, later for 
weeks, then months.

Mediation efforts and plans there had been in plenty throughout Sharon's 
term. The PM hardly ever rejected any of them openly.

Rather, he used what so far seems a full-proof method: making a rigid 
demand for seven days of "complete and absolute cease-fire" before any 
substantive negotiations can take place, and then making a gross 
provocation, just before the newest cease-fire is about to go into force.

What happened a bit more than a week ago was a particularly effective use 
of the technique: a few days before the latest mediator, the ex-US General 
Zinni, Sharon authorised the assassination by helicopter gunships of Mahmud 
Abu Hunud, a Hamas leader prominent and popular enough to ensure that his 
death would be avenged in Hamas' brutal fashion  particularly since the 
assassination took place when Palestinian public opinion was already 
inflamed by the death of five Palestinian children from an explosive charge 
set up by Israeli army sappers (which was, apparently, an accident).

The ploy was, in fact, quite obvious. It was commented on in the media at 
the time; the knowledgeable Alex Fishman pointed in Yedito Aharonot 
(Nov. 25) that the Abu Hunud assassination broke the tacit agreement 
between Arafat and Hamas not to carry out suicide bombing  an agreement 
which had been in force for several months, and whose existence may well 
have saved dozens of Israeli lives.

Without access to Sharon's confidential records, there is no way of 
conclusively proving that the PM actually desired what followed.

There is no doubt that he and his military and intelligence advisers knew 
full well what would result from assassinating Abu Hunud and nevertheless 
ordered the deed to be done.

Nor can there be a doubt that Hamas' grisly revenge, causing the death of 
26 randomly chosen Israelis, was of an inestimable profit to Sharon.

It gave him the perfect pretext for the declaration of war upon Arafat, 
effectively scuttling the Zinni mission and letting the Pentagon hawks gain 
the upper hand over the State Department in the administration's 
infighting.

As a result Sharon's onslaught upon the Palestinians got an unprecedented 
open backing from Washington.

With that kind of backing, Sharon could afford to adopt an openly 
contemptuous attitude to his Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, whose 
international prestige as Nobel Peace Prize laureate and supposed 
peacemaker was hitherto vital to the Sharon Government.

Now, the PM could afford to ram his declaration of war through the cabinet 
and brush aside Peres' objections.

Sharon has been trumpeting his new campaign as "a war on terrorism". But 
how can anybody seriously claim that the cause of "fighting terrorism" can 
be furthered by bombing and destroying Yasser Arafat's personal 
helicopters, which anyway never could fly without the Israeli Air Force's 
approval?

Or by sending tanks and bulldozers to wreak the runways of Gaza 
International Airport  the airport which was inaugurated three years ago 
by President Bill Clinton in person, and which had been closed down ever 
since the outbreak of the Intifada?

Or by again invading Ramallah, a large portion of which was just recently 
occupied by Israeli tanks without in the least diminishing the intensity of 
the Palestinian rebellion?

Or even less, by systematically targetting and destroying the installations 
of the Palestinian Police and security services  the very apparatus with 
which Arafat had just begun the difficult and delicate task of confronting 
Palestinian militants.

Seen in the perspective of an Israeli Prime Minster who is determined to 
maintain Israeli occupation of and settlement in the West Bank and Gaza 
Strip, and to smother any emergent Palestinian statehood, Sharon's campaign 
of the last days makes all too much sense.

In which case Sharon seems to be getting the Bush Administrations' support 
in destroying what Secretary Powel described, just two weeks ago, as the 
United States' vision for the region's future: a viable Palestine living in 
peace side by side with Israel.

 There is a little something you can do, from wherever you are, to help in 
this very difficult and dangerous situation. For example, sending the 
following message (or a text of your own) to President Bush and Secretary 
of State Powell by fax and/or email.

President George W. Bush,
Fax: +1-202-456-2461
email: president@whitehouse.gov

Secretary of State Colin Powell,
Fax: +1-202-261-8577
email: secretary@state.gov

Dear Sir

In the aftermath of the suicide bombings in Jerusalem and Haifa, the US 
Government has given Prime Minster Sharon a virtually free hand in 
conducting what amounts to an all-out war against the Palestinian 
Authority.

This support is given on the assumption that Mr. haron is engaged in 
fighting terrorism, which has become a central aim of US policy since 
September 11.

However, the concrete military actions undertaken by Sharon raise doubts 
that that is his true aim  in particular, the targeting of Palestinian 
police stations and security service installations, weakening the very 
apparatus which the Palestinian Authority needs to be able to confront 
Hamas.

Rather, Sharon's actions suggest that his aim is to destroy the buds of 
Palestinian self-government, perpetuate Israeli occupation and settlement 
and prevent the creation of a viable Palestinian state  which aims are in 
total contradiction to US policy, as reiterated in public very recently.

Therefore, we call upon you use your influence to help restrain Sharon's 
escalating attacks upon the Palestinians, before they spin out of control 
and set the region ablaze.

Sincerely ....

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