Monday, 20 December 2004

Sharon the Con Man

Peace seems a very long way away this Christmas...

The Mountain and the Mouse

By Uri Avnery


Ariel Sharon's speech at the "Herzliya Conference", an annual gathering of Israel's financial, political and academic aristocracy, proved again his wondrous ability to conjure up an imaginary world and divert attention away from the real one. Like every successful con-man, he knows that the audience desperately wants to believe good tidings and will be happy to ignore bad ones.

It was an optimistic message, as the bewitched commentators proclaimed. According to him, we are on our way to paradise, 2005 will be a year of tremendous progress in all fields and all our problems will be solved.

Most of the speech was devoted to his fabulous achievements since he launched, at the same conference a year ago, the "Unilateral Disengagement Plan".

This (in my own free translation) is what he said: America is in our pocket. President Bush supports all of Sharon's positions, including those that are diametrically opposed to Bush's own former positions. Europe has resigned itself to him. The Great of the World are standing in line to visit us, starting with Tony Blair. Egypt and the other Arab states are cosying up to us. Our international position has improved beyond recognition. The economy is advancing by leaps and bounds, our society is flourishing. Apart from the right-wing lunatic fringe, there is no opposition left. The Labor Party is joining the government and will support all its steps. (He somehow forgot to mention Yossi Beilin's Yahad party, which, too, has promised him an "iron bridge".)

Sharon has achieved all this solely by talking. His words have not been accompanied, up to now, by even one single action on the ground. There is no certainty that Sharon really intends to implement the "disengagement" at all. His intentions can be defined as follows:

* If it is possible to avoid the implementation of the plan altogether, especially the evacuation of settlements, without losing the sympathy of the world and the Israeli public, fine.

* If there is no alternative and implementation must start - everything must be done to drag out the matter, and especially the evacuation of settlements, for as long as possible. Evacuate one settlement and rest. Evacuate another one and rest again. It should take years.

* Either way, the disengagement should not change the plans concerning the West Bank.

And in the meantime: In the Gaza Strip, from which Sharon is supposed to "disengage", the Israeli army is in action every single day and night, killing from three to ten Palestinians every 24 hours. Houses are being destroyed wholesale. Some of the atrocities committed by the army have shocked the Israeli public. Not one single settler has been removed. On the contrary, new settlers have still been arriving.

All this does not point to any real determination to implement the promised disengagement. Sharon's actions on the West Bank, on the other hand, show a solid determination to implement his plan there.

In the West Bank, the occupation has intensified . The cruel checkpoints continue to prevent any possibility of normal life. The photo showing a Palestinian violinist compelled to play for the soldiers at a roadblock has evoked terrible memories in the minds of many Israelis. The building of the annexation-wall goes on, with a few changes of the route to placate the Israeli court, while disregarding the decision of the International Court. The settlers uproot Palestinian olive groves in order to build new neighborhoods in their place. Settlements are being expanded all over the West Bank, a network of "Jews Only" roads is being built, more "illegal" outposts come into being under army protection and with the tacit help of all relevant ministries. Plenty of money flows into these projects, while pensions are being cut and sick people lie around in the corridors of the hospitals.

Is this how a statesman with a vision of peace acts? He behaves more like a doctor who treats the hand of a patient while sticking a knife into his belly.

All this is happening while the world gives Sharon enthusiastic support, solely on the strength of his talking. As long as he holds forth on the "disengagement", he can pretty much do on the ground whatever he fancies.

David Ben-Gurion once said: "It is not important what the Gentiles say, what is important is what the Jews do." Sharon's version is: "It is not important what we say, what is important is what we do."

The most important part of the speech was the part that was not there. There was no peace offer to the Palestinians. He did not talk about peace at all.

Throughout the world, the conviction is spreading that there now exists a "window of opportunity", that this is the time for a new, redeeming peace initiative. Indeed, Sharon mentioned with great satisfaction that Yasser Arafat is dead and that there is now a chance for the emergence of a "moderate Palestinian leadership". So what did he offer this moderate leadership in his speech?

Not a thing.

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