Published in the Middle East International, 4/4/2002
By Haim Baram
Normally (writing from Jerusalem I use this word with the appropriare care) the deadline is a very crucial factor in our work. Nowadays, however, things are predictably unpredictable, and the concept of the malevolent events is dynamic, rather than static. A new explosion, even if it takes place 200 yards from my house (like six of these incidents over the last year), is unlikely to alter the gory course of history here. Since the beginning of the Passover holiday, scores of Israelis have been blown to pieces, or suffer terrible injuries that will cripple them until they die. All this, against the background of the wanton Israeli aggression in Palestine, the disgraceful siege on Yaser Arafat in Ramallah, and the sad realisation, that many innocent people on both side are going to perish before the end of April.
Since the American one-sided position offers no hope in the immediate future, Ariel Sharon's bloody schemes are going to be implemented with virtual inpunity. The calousness of Washington combines with Sharon's recklessness to create hell on earth in Israel and Palestine alike. Antony Zinni and Dick Cheney have joined the long list of American diplomats, who have had their reputation tarnished here. But the principal culprit is their chief, President George W Bush, whose behaviour over the crisis causes a big yearnings to his predecessor, Bill Clinton. The forlorn hopes that his father's advisors, especially James Baker, would use their good offices to influence the totally ignorant Bush to demonstrate some tact and even-handedness, have been frustrated.
Ordinary Israelis are completely baffled, bemuses, and unusually impassive. The Seder night massacre in Netanya on 27 March really upset the entire nation, and resulted in unprecedented collective feelings of injured innocence and righteous anger. This carnage was followed by suicide bombings in Jerusalem and Haifa, and enabled Sharon to implement his plans with very little opposition. I have always claimed here, that the behaviour of the Labour party is very crucial to Sharon, since it can help him to pacify some important segments of the moderate peace camp, that had turned against him during the invasion of lebanon in June 1982. The Labour party as a collective failed to learn the lessons of Lebanon. On 8 August 1982 the party, then on the opposition benches, voted with the Menachem Begin government in favour of the invasion. Many Labour MKs seemed to regret this, and some of them vowed not to repeat the same major blunder. But now, in March and April 2002, they tread on the same ground. As members of the Sharon cabinet, they bear full responsibility for his new war crimes in Palestine. The Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, and the Minister of defence Binyamin Ben-Eliezer (who is also the leader of the Labour party), are already busy preparing their alibi for the aftermath of the current mini-war. But even by the Israeli Law they share collective responsibility for every Palestinian assassined in the occupied territories. The deputy-chairman of the Socialist Internationale might be indicted as a war criminal in the International Court of Justice? This is a very sound possibility, unless Peres resigns from the cabinet forthwith, and rally the international community against Sharon-a very unlikely scenario.
But the real representative of the Labour betrayal is the minister of the Environment, Dalya Itzik, formally a firebrand against Likud, especially over its leaders incitement which led to Yitzhak Rabin's assassination in November 1995. Itzik urged her fellow Labour ministers to stay put, and infamously declared, that "our voters will never forgive us if we break national unity during the hostilities". The Labour party is simply in the pockets of the greatest war criminal in Israel's history.
It is highly important to stress here, that Labour's sheepishness would have not occurred in such pathetic form, if the Americans had changed their policies. Peres used to preach an independent European orientation, alongside the alliance with Washington. He no longer mentions the European Union, and has reached the sad conclusion, that Europe is completely docile and subservient to the US. This, and the absence of the like-minded Clinton from the White House, affected Peres' global outlook beyond recognition. He has always been a reluctant liberal, and his admiration for Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan used to astonish his more na´ve followers. Now he can concur with Sharon's policies with some mild reservations, in a vain attempt to be conservative at home and liberal abroad. How long will his liberal friends in Europe continue to accept him as "one of us"? As long as it suits them, apparently. Peres is a huge fig leaf not only for Sharon, but also for leaders like Toni Blair.
Sharon would have liked to kill Arafat, and sees his invasion of Palestine as a means to vindicate his conduct during 1982, which led to his dismissal from the Ministry of Defence. Israeli leaders attach a tremendous importance to their "historical ratings", and Sharon has worked for 20 long years in order to erase the blemish from his record. He plotted the assassination of Arafat in 1982, and would dearly love to finish the job now. He thinks like a mafia leader, not like a modern head of state. The fact that official America sanctions the Modus operandis of such a man is almost unbelieveable.
His address to the nation on State TV (31 March) was dour and primitive, and the media criticised his poor performance. But Sharon has never been very articulate, and therefore his attempt to imitate Winston Churchill was almost risible. But the blatantly scornful journalists did not constitute a majority in the media. Sharon's definition of Arafat (an enemy of Israel and the free World) was not seriously contested by the establishment, let alone the stunned and frightened general public. Since Israel is a brainwashed democracy rather than a totalitarian state, the viewing public (almost everybody) has access to the foreign coverage of the recent events. All educated Israelis watch English speaking channels, especially CNN, BBC and Sky. Local channels do transmit news programme, and despite Sharon's admonishments show and interpert commentaries from the US, Europe and the Arab World. The reactions vary, from open disgust with the IDF's aggression towards the Palestinians, to the customary accusations, that the world is against us, out of antisemitism.
Some of the civilians killed in Haifa on 31 march were active in the radical left, and this fact was used by the right to demonstrate, that Arafat is out to get us, whether we live in a settlement or in a leftist environment in Israel proper. The war aims of Israel are deliberaely vague, in order to keep the opposition at bay. This is only partially successful. The consistent left is very active in voicing its revulsion against the Sharon government and especially targeting the collaborators from Labour. This noble endeavour will not shift Sharon, and will not eradicate expansionism. The War For The Settlments, as the Meretz leader Yossi Sarid branded it with ample justification, will continue unabetted, unless the Americans decide to intervene. A mass murderer is being allowed to repeat and even to exceed his crimes in 1982, the senseless butchery against Israeli civilians give him the appropriate pretext, and the international community is paralysed by the bullies in Washington. Ironically, the only beneficiary could be Saddam Hussein. The US posture in the current crisis means, that they could have serious obstacles in organising an Arab coalition to sustain a new aggression against Iraq.