It is never a good idea to take a politician's speeches and public statements at face value. His true aims can only be deduced from what he actually does. But in the case of Ariel Sharon, the media's attention has been focused mainly on his declarations - much less on the inner logic of his policy in practice. People ask: Does Sharon have a clear policy that he intends to implement? a goal towards which he is leading us? Does he indeed have a strategy?
To answer these questions let us see what has been done in reality under his leadership.
1. There is an obvious contradiction between making the offices and headquarters of the Palestinian Security Organizations the main target of Israeli retaliations and aerial attacks, and the simultaneous insistence that Palestinian Authority take decisive action against "terrorists". If you want the PA to fight against "terrorists", you do not smash its executive organs. If you do smash them, under a somewhat vague claim of "punishment", it is surely unreasonable to keep on demanding - under threat of ultimatum - that they arrest every "terrorist" who fights against Israel. This seeming contradiction can have only one meaning: You are presenting the PA with a demand that makes apparent sense, but you are actually making sure of denying it the means for satisfying that demand (even if it wished to do so). In this way you can justify on-going destruction ("punishment"...) of the PA and its executive organs.
2. Several times in the course of recent months, the two sides came - under international pressure - close to a cease-fire agreement. Time after time, when the level of violence began to diminish, Israeli assaults on well-targeted local military or political leaders provoked an outburst of Palestinian terror to the streets of Israel. As this policy of the Sharon government has been rather persistent, it is hard to believe that it was unintentional. Rather, it must be concluded that Sharon - just like Hamas on the Palestinian side - has never been really interested in reducing the level of violence. On the contrary: he did everything possible to fan the flames. Why? We shall see later on.
3. The closure and siege that have been imposed on the whole Palestinian population for over a year cannot stop terror actions of suicide bombers inside Israel. This was openly stated by many Israeli military and security service commanders. On the other hand, they are very effective in preventing the functioning of PA governmental and executive organs. So, could this be their main purpose?
4. The only possible conclusion one can draw from this policy - preventing the functioning of the Palestinian administration and smashing the infrastructures of its executive organs - is that from the start the undeclared but very clear intention of the Israeli government, headed by Ariel Sharon, has been escalation of violence, designed to smash the Palestinian Authority.
Toward the end of March this policy seemed to have reached most of its short-term goals.
5. A similar logic led to the brutal invasion by the Israeli army of Palestinian towns and refugee camps: the Palestinian security forces number some 40,000 "policemen" who actually function as the regular army of the PA.
So far, these units have not taken part in fighting against Israel, although some of them joined political paramilitary organizations (belonging to the Fatah, Hamas, Popular front and the Islamic Jihad) as individuals. Sharon and the Israeli high command understand that a regular army has great difficulty in fighting against guerrillas, so they tried to draw the Palestinian regular forces into a direct confrontation, in which the Israeli army's military superiority could be asserted and the last remnants of the Palestinian executive forces would be eliminated.
At least in first round of the fighting this policy has failed: the Palestinians refused to play the role that Sharon meant to assign them - they abandoned the towns and camps and avoided confronting the Israeli military machine. Instead, they escalated the terror attacks against Israeli civilian population.
Currently the Israeli army is renewing its onslaught on the Palestinian civilian population - and on the little that is left of the Palestinian Authority. They believe that "what couldn't be achieved by force - will be achieved by more force"... Hard to avoid the feeling, that this is Sharon Government's response to a comprehensive peace proposal that has been presented by the whole Arab world a couple of days earlier.
6. If - as seems almost certain - elimination of the PA will be completed, we have to ask ourselves and our government: Quo Vadis? Where do we go from here? Do Sharon and his partners mean indeed to tighten their grip on the (re)Occupied Territories, with its Palestinian population, and to establish de facto the "Greater Eretz Yisrael" on a land populated by 60% Jews and 40% Palestinians, a land in which the Palestinians may well become a majority within the coming decade?
Hard to believe. There are rather distinct signs that Sharon and his ultra-rightist partners mean to "solve" this dilemma by what is called "transfer" in Israeli political jargon - expelling the Palestinian population, all or at least a great part of it to east side of the Jordan river, into the Kingdom of Jordan. In international terminology this is called "ethnic cleansing".
1. When Sharon invaded Lebanon in 1982, his far-reaching goal was to "reorganize" the Middle East.
He never tried to conceal this Grand Plan; on the contrary, in a lecture held at the High Command Military Academy in February 1982, he presented it in detail to an audience of high-ranking officers. The plan was called "Mivtza` Oranim" ("Operation Pines"). Part of the plan was the establishment of a Palestinian state in place of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, deportation of the Palestinian refugees from the south of Lebanon to the north of Jordan and "encouraging" emigration of the Palestinian population from the West Bank and Gaza Strip to this newly established Palestinian State. In this way Sharon intended to give the Palestinians a state - and to accomplish the dream of Greater Israel.
2. Sharon used all governmental positions held by him during the last 20 years in for systematically creating facts all over the West Bank (and to some extent in the Gaza Strip) designed to preempt any possibility of a viable Palestinian sovereignty. Throughout that period he spread Jewish settlements between Palestinian towns and villages, in a well-planned way, in order to split up the Palestinian areas so as to break any continuity between the slices. At present, the number of settlers and the deployment of settlements may already be sufficient for bringing about such an outcome.
3. It seems that from the failure of his megalomaniac plan in the Lebanon war Sharon drew the conclusion that such a far-reaching project can only be achieved if supported by an overwhelming majority of the Jewish public in Israel. This make the Unity Government so important to him. He understands that only in this way can he promote his strategic plan: expelling all or most of the Palestinian people east of Jordan river.
Is it possible in practice?
All of us have deep inhibitions against admitting a scenario whose consequences can be so horrible. Most of us prefer to say: "Here this never can happen" ... "The world will stop it" ...etc. etc. If we do accept the possibility of such a forecast, the moral consequence is that we must do something to prevent it - otherwise we are accomplices to the crime. Fine, we must do something; but what???
Most of us can't face such a feeling of guilt, so we prefer to deny or to repress what is actually so clear... Well, the history of the last 100 years teaches us: every conceivable horror is actually possible!
Now, let's consider some facts.
1. In time of national crisis, when individuals lose their feeling of personal security, while losing any hope for a way out - people are ready to commit the most lunatic acts, including handing over their fate to madmen who promise simplistic solutions to their fears and their loss of security. One must be blind not to see that Israeli society is now on the brink of such an existential crisis. Loss of personal security resulting from Palestinian terror attacks aimed at Israeli civilians, economic crisis, record unemployment - all these render the majority of Israeli Jews ripe for accepting a messianic leadership and a lunatic policy.
2. "Transfer" has become a legitimate issue in Israeli public discourse. In opinion polls held in early March, 46% of the Israeli Jewish population supported expelling the Palestinian from the Occupied Territories. And 31% supported expelling the Israeli Arab population as well... I doubt that many of this mass considered what it would mean in terms of morality; or figured out the possible number of victims, Jewish and Palestinian; or envisaged the implications for the future of Israel, for our status among the nations and for our prospect of integrating peacefully in the foreseeable future into the region we live in. They just don't want anymore to see Arabs around them, and if someone promises to accomplish this - they are all too happy to follow him.
3. Sharon's policy is directed toward increasing the despair among the Palestinian people: closure on every town and village; depriving the population of almost any mobility, even to neighbouring towns or villages; disintegration of civil and social services; smashing the economy and creating a level of 60% unemployment - all these produce more and more people who are ready to blow themselves up - just out of despair, hatred and revenge. If your purpose is to expel them - this is the right way.
Inside Israel, despair, inflamed by the mass media, is growing as well; people are afraid to go shopping, to markets, to pubs or to parties. Palestinian suicide bombers may reach them everywhere. The economy is shrinking, the middle class and lower middle class slip down, the level of unemployment exceeds 10% and in some peripheral towns it is over 14%; scores of shops, factories go bankrupt every day. Racism and support for ideas of "transfer" are growing fast. This is an excellent background to the creation of a national consensus around a policy of expelling the Palestinian people.
Is this possible? Just like that?
(a). Expelling some 3 million people is technically possible. The width of the West Bank is about 80km. On foot it can be crossed in two days. Pressure, threats, massive demolition of houses, some limited massacres can definitely impel the Palestinian population - all or at least most of it, to find itself within one week on the east bank of the Jordan river.
(b). Such a plan can be realised only when proper local and international circumstances exist. For example, if the US will be busy in Iraq, and at the same time Israel escalates its attack on the Palestinian population, the reaction will send masses of suicide bombers to the streets of Israel. This will be followed by a popular movement among the terrified Jewish population demanding the expulsion of all the Palestinians. Add to this growing tension, perhaps a limited war on the Lebanese border, or unrest among the Arab population inside Israel - not too difficult to draw a scenario in which mass expulsion will be possible.
(c). Examples of disasters on a similar scale can be found all over the world during the last decade: Bosnia, Kosovo, Rwanda, the Kurdish People, Chechnia... International intervention was always hesitant and mostly came too late. I have no reason to suppose that here it will be different.
Even if the UN, the US or EU would mean to intervene, technically this cannot be done in less than 3 - 4 weeks. By then the West Bank and perhaps the Gaza Strip as well, will be empty of Palestinians.
Will the Israeli Left do nothing ?
(a). No. We envisage a scenario in which Emergency Regulations will be activated, civil rights will be at least partly suspended and, most important, the policy of "transfer" will enjoy mass support among the Israeli Jewish population.
(b). Even at present, the Israeli Left (or rather the Peace Camp) hardly exists as a politically meaningful factor. There are some small groups and individuals who try to wage a desperate struggle against the nationalist and racist spirit which increasingly reeks of Fascism. It is reasonable to suppose that a few hundred or even few thousand of them will try to stop the apparatus of Transfer. So what? So far there are several thousand Palestinians in jail and in detention camps - in the first Intifada there were many more. No doubt they will find room for a few hundred - or thousand - "Leftists" as well.
(a). The scenario outlined above is not inevitable. Although I have no doubt about the far-reaching goal of Ariel Sharon and the extreme right wing among the Israeli Jewish public, various local and international forces may have impact on efforts to prevent its accomplishment. First of all, the Peace People in Israel have to be aware of Sharon's aims and not indulge in escapist dreams of comforting doubts and illusions. The awakening can be too late and too horrible.
(b). We have to struggle against the devastating slogans of "national unity", "we must stand united" etc. Their real meaning is - don't oppose the way in which we are led toward expelling our neighbouring people, destruction of our democracy and endangering the future existence of our country.
(c). In this context, there is an enormous importance to refusal of solders to serve in the Palestinian territories. Only an open split inside the Army can stop the lunatic plans of Sharon. The military leadership is very much aware of public atmosphere - especially inside the Army, above all among the reserve soldiers. Refusal of several thousand reservists to take part in this game can give rise to strong opposition among the chief commanders of the Israeli Army, to Sharon's plans.
(d). Mobilization of those parts among the Jewish people abroad who understand that supporting Israel doesn't mean condoning every madness of its government, but know the real interest of Israel: not messianic fantasy, not more land, but creation of a safe and prosperous place for the Jewish people. This can be reached only if our neighbours also will enjoy safety and prosperity. As simple as this.
(e). The most important means in the short term for preventing deterioration is international pressure, even intervention, before the worst will happen. Every effort to mobilize external intervention in the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict that is escalating toward regional disaster has enormous importance.
And if in spite of all it will happen - don't say "I didn't know"....