Saturday, January 07, 2006

More on Robertson, Sharon, Netanyahu, etc.

Steven Clemons, one of Washington's leading intellectual entrepreneurs, is following the reactions to Pat Robertson's suggestions that God was punishing Sharon for dividing the land of Israel, including the White House's reaction on his popular blog, The Washington Note. I am still hoping for a more forceful responses from American-Jewish figures who at one time or another went ballistic when, say, Jesse Jackson or Pat Buchanan made comments that were alleged to be anti-Israeli or anti-semitic. I don't recall either of the two expressing the view that Israel's Prime Minister deserved to die a slow and horrible death.
And my online pal Diana Moon has some provocative stuff on Sharon on her great blog
Letter from Gotham I think she makes excellent points about the need to de-romanticize Sharon. Here is what I argued in an old piece "'Courageous' Sharon 'Disengages' From Gaza" in "Chronicles" magazine
You’ve probably heard the one about the boy who murdered his parents and then asked the court for mercy because he was an orphan. But what if, after being pardoned by the judge, who had taken into consideration his heartbreaking experience, the young kid also demanded that the state provide him with financial assistance to compensate him for the loss of his main providers?

Now isn’t that chutzpah? Well, you ain’t seen nothing until you’ve read the interview Ariel Sharon gave to the ultra-Orthodox Israeli weekly Mishpaha (cited here by way of Ha’aretz), in which he delivered a stinging attack against the residents of Tel Aviv who went to the beach and sat around in restaurants and caf├ęs instead of empathizing with the pain of the settlers whom he removed from their homes in the Gaza Strip.

“I heard today that Tel Aviv’s beaches were filled to capacity with bathers,” the prime minister said at the very moment the evacuation of Neveh Dekalim and Kfar Darom [two of the Jewish settlements in Gaza] was being completed. “I would imagine that one would be hard pressed to find an empty place this evening in a Tel Aviv restaurant. In these difficult times, I would expect more solidarity from various parts of the nation. But you know, the talented and unique Jews also know how to hate. We have masterminds of hatred here. I would definitely like to see more understanding and empathy on the part of different sectors of the nation for the pain of the evacuees.”

Forget for a moment the hypocrisy of the ultrasecular Sharon—he once astounded Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci when he offered to share with her his not-very-kosher shrimp cocktail, describing it as his “favorite dish”—being celebrated by an ultra-Orthodox Jewish magazine as he delivered sermons on Jewish Brotherly Love (Brotherly Love was, ironically, the name designated for the removal of the Jewish settlers from Gaza) to the secular Jews of Tel Aviv whom he accused of hatred. It certainly takes chutzpah to demand that the Jewish (and Arab) residents of the Greater Aviv area, most of whom were opposed to the policy of diverting Israeli resources and troops—and let’s not forget the U.S. taxpayer money—to build and protect the Jewish settlements in Gaza should feel the pain of a bunch of religious fanatics who were throwing rotten eggs and stones at Israeli soldiers and comparing them to SS troops while vilifying all those who disagree with them (most Israelis, including Sharon) as “traitors” and Jew-hating “Nazis” and “Cossacks,” and then pocketing the $300,000-per-family grant provided by the Israeli government to help them resettle inside Israel.

Sharon’s soaring level of chutzpah becomes even more evident when one considers that it was “Arik King of Israel,” as the settlers used to call him, who was the main driving force behind the building of Jewish settlements in Gaza as well as in the West Bank (or Judea and Samaria). Defying demography, geography, and topography, Sharon, who was hailed as the “Father of the Settlements,” apparently assumed that the millions of Palestinians would simply evaporate, having been “surrounded” by Jewish enclaves. Misleading members of his own government, not to mention several administrations in Washington, he helped the members of the messianic Jewish movement to violate the law and establish a presence in the occupied Arab territories, “creating facts” on the ground that would be impossible to erase and would eventually be transformed into permanent settlements. And he used the power of the pro-Greater-Israel coalition to create his own political base inside the Likud Party and to lead Israel into a disastrous military adventure in Lebanon that, not unlike the settlement project in Gaza, yielded tragic consequences for both Israelis and Arabs. And now he is the one who is criticizing Tel Avivians for going to beach and for their lack of sympathy toward the fate of those settlers who played such a destructive role in the production that Sharon himself had produced and whose script—or at least some lines in it—he is now trying to change.

And I concluded with the following
And, of course, the ultimate winner that has emerged in the aftermath of this choreographed media event is Ariel Sharon, who is being lauded by the Bush administration for his “political courage” in being willing to make a “great sacrifice” for peace. In fact, the decision to remove the Jewish settlers from Gaza had very little to do with a desire to reach peace with the Palestinians and was more a response to pressure from the majority of the Israeli public and members of the political and military elites, who have concluded a long time ago that Israel’s long-term security interests were damaged by using precious Israeli resources to maintain and protect a small number of settlers in the midst of more than a million angry and poor Palestinians. It was a unilateral Israeli action that is part of strategy to consolidate Israeli control of large parts of the West Bank and most of the Jewish settlements there, which includes the construction of a “security fence” that will separate Israel from Gaza and the populated Arab areas in the West Bank.

That policy might prove to be cost-effective in terms of ensuring that Israel will not be transformed into a binational Jewish-Arab state while helping the Israelis to protect themselves, at least in the short run, from terrorist attacks by radical Palestinians. Many observers are wondering why the Israeli disengagement from Gaza didn’t take place many years ago. And why were those Jewish settlements established in the first place, resulting in so much waste of Israeli economic and military resources, not to mention the loss of lives on both sides?

In another demonstration of chutzpah, Sharon has already requested that the American taxpayer provide Israel with financial assistance to help her carry out the disengagement from Gaza. But we should recall that all U.S. administrations have condemned the establishment of those settlements, as well as those in the West Bank, and have regarded them as “illegal.” Not unlike the poor orphan who murdered his parents, Sharon and the settlers don’t deserve our pity or our support. There is no reason why Americans should shed tears over the fate of the Jewish settlers or express their gratitude to Sharon for forcing them to return home to Israel proper.

My guess is that Sharon, backed by most Israelis, would have continued the policy of unilateral withdrawal from parts of the West Bank which is not really "a peace process" but a process of, well, unilateral withdrawal (based on Realpolitik considerations of Israeli interests).
I'm also recommending the profile of Sharon by Israeli journalist Uri Avnery (thanks to Carl Coon for sending it to me)
He was an Israeli Napoleon.

From early youth, he was totally convinced that he was the only person in the world who could save the State of Israel. That was an absolute certainty, free of any doubt. He just knew that he must achieve supreme power, in order to fulfill the mission that fate had entrusted him with.

This belief led to a complete integration of personal egocentrism and national egocentrism. For a person who believes he has such a mission, there is no difference between the personal and the national interest. What is good for him automatically becomes good for the nation, and vice versa. This means that anyone who hinders him from attaining power is really committing a crime against the State. And anyone helping him to come to power, is really doing a patriotic deed.

This belief directed all his actions for decades. It explains the dogged determination, the tenacity, the unbending perseverance that became his trade mark and earned him his nickname "the bulldozer". This attracted admirers, who fell completely under his influence.

It also explains his attitude to money matters. It has been said that he "does not stop at a red light", that "laws are not for him". More than once he was accused of accepting millions from rich Jews abroad. On the day before his fateful stroke, it came out that the police had formally accused him of receiving a bribe of three million dollars from a casino-owner. (It is quite possible that this raised his blood pressure and helped to cause the massive stroke.) But not all these millionaires expected a return. Some of them believed, as he did himself, that by supporting him, they were actually supporting the State of Israel. Can there be a more sacred duty than to provide an assured income to the Israeli Napoleon, so that he can devote his entire energy to the fulfillment of his historic mission?

On his long journey, Sharon easily overcame such hurdles. They did not divert him from his course. Personal tragedies and political defeats did not hold him up for a moment. The accidents that killed his first wife and his oldest son, his dismissal from office after being convicted by a board of inquiry of "indirect responsibility" for the Sabra and Shatila massacres, as well as the many other setbacks, failures and disappointments that struck him throughout the years did not deter him. They did not divert him for an instant from his endeavor to achieve supreme power.

And now it was all coming true. On Wednesday, January 4, 2006, he could be certain that in three months time he would become the sole leader of Israel. He had created a party that belonged to him alone and that was not only on track to occupy a central position in the next Knesset, but also to cut all other parties into pieces.

He was determined to use this power to change the political landscape of Israel altogether and introduce a presidential system, which would have given him an all-powerful position, like that enjoyed by Juan Peron in his heyday in Argentina. Then, at long last, he would be able to realize his historic mission of laying the tracks on which Israel would run for generations, as David Ben-Gurion had done before him.

And then, just when it seemed that nothing could stop him anymore, with cruel suddenness, his own body betrayed him.

What happened resembles a central motif of the Jewish myth: the fate of Moses, whom God punished for his pride by allowing him a glimpse of the Promised Land from afar, but having him die before he could set foot on its soil. On the threshold of absolute power, the stroke hit Ariel Sharon.

While he was still fighting for his life in hospital, the myth of "Sharon's Legacy" was already beginning to form.

As has happened with many leaders who did not leave a written testament, every individual is free to imagine a Sharon of his own. Leftists, who only yesterday had cursed Sharon as the murderer of Kibieh, the butcher of Sabra and Shatila and the man responsible for the plunder and slaughter in the occupied Palestinian territories, began to admire him as the "Man of Peace". Settlers, who had condemned him as a traitor, remembered that it was he who had created the settlements and kept on enlarging them to this day.

Only yesterday he was one of the most hated people in Israel and the world. Today, after the evacuation of Gush Katif, he has become the darling of the public, almost from wall to wall. The leaders of nations crowned him as the "great warrior who has turned into a hero of peace".

Everybody agrees that Sharon has changed completely, that he has gone from one extreme to the other, the proverbial Ethiopian who has changed his skin, the leopard who has changed his spots.

All these analyses have only one thing in common: they have nothing to do with the real Ariel Sharon. They are based on ignorance, illusion and self-deception.

A look at his long career (helped, I may add, by some personal knowledge) show that he has not changed at all. He stayed true to his fundamental approach, only adapting his slogans to changing times and circumstances. His master-plan remained as it was at the beginning.

Underlying his world view is a simplistic, 19th century style nationalism, which says: our people stands above all others, other people are inferior. The rights of our nation are sacred, other nations have no rights at all. The rules of morality apply only to relations within the nation, not to relations between nations.

He absorbed this conviction with his mother's milk. It governed Kfar Malal, the cooperative village in which he was born, as it also governed the whole world at the time. Among Jews in particular it was reinforced by the horrors of the Holocaust. The slogan "all the world is against us" is deeply anchored in the national psyche, and is applied especially to Arabs.

On this moral base the aim emerged: to establish a Jewish state, as large as possible, free of non-Jews. That could lead to the conclusion that the ethnic cleansing, begun by Ben-Gurion in 1948, when half the Palestinians were deprived of their homes and land, must be completed. Sharon's career began shortly after, when he was appointed to lead the undercover commando Unit 101, whose murderous actions beyond the borders were designed mainly to prevent the refugees from infiltrating back to their villages.

However, Sharon became convinced quite early that another wholesale ethnic cleansing was impossible in the foreseeable future (barring some unforeseeable international event changing conditions altogether.)

In default of this option, Sharon believed that Israel must annex all the areas between the Mediterranean and the Jordan without a dense Palestinian population. Already decades ago, he prepared a map that he showed proudly to local and foreign personalities in order to convert them to his views.

According to this map, Israel will annex the areas along the pre-1967 border as well as the Jordan valley, up to the "back of the mountain" (an expression particularly dear to Sharon). It will also annex several East-West strips to connect the Jordan valley with the Green Line. In these territories that are marked for annexation, Sharon created a dense net of settlements. That was his principal endeavor throughout the last thirty years, in all his diverse positions - Minister of Agriculture, Minister of Industry and Trade, Minister of Defense, Minister of Housing, Foreign Minister, Minister of Infrastructure, and Prime Minister - and this work is going on at this minute.

The areas with a dense Palestinian population, Sharon intended to hand over to Palestinian self-government. He was determined to remove from them all the settlements that were set up there without thinking. This way, eight or nine Palestinian enclaves would have come into being, cut off from each other, each one surrounded by settlers and Israeli army installations. He did not care whether these would be called a "Palestinian state". His recent use of this term is an example of his ability to adapt himself, outwardly and verbally, to changing situations.

The Gaza strip is one of these enclaves. That is the real significance of the uprooting of the settlements and the withdrawal of the Israeli army. It is the first stage in the realization of the map: this small area, with a dense Palestinian population of a million and a quarter, was turned over to the Palestinians. The Israeli land, sea and air forces surround the strip almost completely. The very existence of its inhabitants depends at all times on the mercy of Israel, which controls all entrances and exits (except the Rafah crossing into Egypt, which is monitored by Israel from afar.) Israel can cut off the water and electricity supply at a moment's notice. Sharon intended to create the same situation in Hebron, Ramallah, Nablus, Jenin and the other areas.

Is this a "peace plan"?

Peace is made between nations which agree to create a situation where all of them can live in freedom, well-being and mutual respect and believe that that is good for them. This is not what Sharon had in mind. As a military man, he knows only truces. If peace had been handed to him on a platter, he would not have recognized it.

He knew perfectly well that no Palestinian leader could possibly agree to his map, now or ever. That's why he did not intend to have any political negotiations with the Palestinians. His slogan was "we have no partner". He intended to realize all the stages of his plan "unilaterally", as he did in Gaza - without dialogue with the Palestinians, without considering their requirements and aspirations, and, of course, without seeking their consent.

But Sharon did indeed intend to make peace - peace with the United States. He considered American consent as essential. He knew that Washington could not give its consent to his whole plan. So he intended to obtain their agreement phase by phase. Since President Bush has submitted to him entirely, and no one knows who will succeed him, Sharon intended to realize the main part of his plan within the next two or three years, before the end of the President's term in office. That is one of the reasons for his hurry. He had to come to absolute power now, immediately. Only the stroke prevented this.

The eagerness with which so many good people on the left embraced the "Sharon Legacy" does not show their grasp of his plans, but rather their own longing for peace. They long with all their heart for a strong leader, who has the will and the ability to end the conflict.

The determination with which Sharon removed the settlers from Gush Katif filled these leftists with enthusiasm. Who would have believed that there was a leader capable of carrying it out, without civil war, without bloodshed? And if this has happened in the Gaza Strip, why can't it happen in the West Bank? Sharon will drive the settlers out and make peace. All this, without the Left having to lift a finger. The savior, like Deus, will jump ex machina. As the Hebrew proverb goes, "the work of the righteous is done by others", who may be something quite other than righteous.

Sharon has easily adapted himself to this longing of the public. He has not changed his plan, but given it a new veneer, in the spirit of the times. From now on, he appeared as the "Man of Peace". He never cared which mask it was convenient to wear. But this mask reflects the deepest wishes of the Israeli people.

From this point of view, the imaginary "Sharon Legacy" can play a positive role. When he created his new party, he took with him a lot of Likud people, those who had come to the conclusion that the goal of "The Whole of Eretz Israel" has become impossible to attain. Many of these will remain in the Kadima party even after Sharon has left the tribune. As a result of an ongoing, slow subterranean process, Likud people, too, are ready to accept the partition of the country. The whole system is moving in the direction of peace.

The "Sharon Legacy", even if imaginary, may become a blessing, if Sharon appears in it in his latest incarnation: Sharon the uprooter of settlements, Sharon who is ready to give up parts of Eretz Israel, Sharon who agrees to a Palestinian state.

True, this was not Sharon's intention. But, as Sharon himself might have said: It is not the intentions that matter, but the results on the ground.

Finally, I've received a few emails from readers who didn't like my description of "Bibi" Netanyahu as "He Who Dances on Graves" and who challenged my contention that Rabin's assassination had been the first step in the process that led to the collapse of the Oslo Peace process. Well, sorry guys. That's the way I see it. On the notion that "Bibi" could be once again a beneficiery of the death of an Israeli PM (proposed in my earlier post), check out the commentary by Alan Isenberg that was published today in the Financial Times. It's an original piece, but I don't think it's going to happen. My hunch is that Kadima will end up esablishing the next coalition with Labor.
How tragic fortune could transform Israel
By Alan Isenberg
As Ariel Sharon lies fighting for his life in a hospital bed, one Israeli politician – a former close colleague of the prime minister – is getting his second break on the heels of tragic circumstances.
If Mr Sharon dies or is incapacitated, Benjamin Netanyahu, head of the Likud party, may once again become prime minister in Israel’s March 28 elections. With a Netanyahu victory, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process will grind to a halt. For Mr Netanyahu – a hardliner who vehemently opposed Mr Sharon’s Gaza disengagement plan – further Israeli withdrawals from the territories (which were contemplated seriously by Mr Sharon) would be off the table.
Mr Netanyahu’s first term as prime minister followed the death of another Israeli warrior-turned-peacemaker. Yitzhak Rabin, a hardened general who shepherded Israel through the Oslo Accords, which granted partial control over the West Bank and Gaza to the Palestinians and earned him a Nobel Peace Prize in 1994. But in November of 1995, a bullet fired by a rightwing Jewish law student apoplectic about Oslo ended Rabin’s life and dramatically changed the trajectory of Israeli politics and the peace process. Though Rabin’s heir-apparent was the dovish Shimon Peres, a rash of suicide bombings in the period between Rabin’s death and the elections secured victory for Mr Netanyahu, who ran on the slogan of “making a safe peace”.
Last August, a hardened Israeli again took an historic step in the direction of peace. Mr Sharon was accused by detractors of committing war crimes while leading Israeli military operations in Lebanon and of igniting the second Palestinian intifada by visiting the Temple Mount in Jerusalem in 2000. But in 2005, Mr Sharon (allied with Mr Peres) ordered all Jewish settlers out of the Gaza strip, to the rage of fellow Likudniks (Mr Netanyahu loudest among them) and numerous rightwingers in the populace.
Like Rabin, the taste of peace affected Mr Sharon profoundly, emerging as his foremost political priority. He broke off from the Likud, forming his own centrist party, Kadima (Hebrew for “forward”) in anticipation of the upcoming election. All big Israeli polls showed Kadima likely to become the largest party in the Knesset, followed by Labour and then Likud. But without Mr Sharon at the helm, the fate of Kadima is unclear. His deputy, former Jerusalem mayor Ehud Olmert, is not seen as a strong candidate. Conversely, Mr Netanyahu is an exceptionally charismatic figure.
If Kadima falls apart, it is distinctly possible that Likud will beat Labour – the latter’s new leader, Amir Peretz, is insufficiently hawkish to accommodate mainstream Israeli tastes – and return Mr Netanyahu to the top spot. More-over, radical Palestinian elements wishing to compromise the peace process may exploit the power vacuum left by Mr Sharon to inflict a new wave of terrorist attacks. Should that occur, as was the case in 1996, a Netanyahu victory would be assured. Israelis, even those who crave peace deeply, value their security above all else.
How would Mr Netanyahu respond to this second coming on the wings of tragedy? In all likelihood, in a similar manner to how he did in 1996 – with words of mourning for his fallen predecessor but an agenda devoid of deference to his efforts. That Rabin was a member of the rival Labour party while Mr Sharon was his compatriot in Likud will matter little; Mr Netanyahu disagrees deeply with how both men handled the peace process. In fact, Mr Netanyahu’s intense clashes with Mr Sharon over Gaza in recent months may make his opposition to the prime minister’s policies even more virulent.
While European capitals are sure to support Mr Peretz or Mr Olmert (Kadima’s likely choice to replace Mr Sharon) in the elections, Mr Netanyahu will use his considerable political acumen to court Washington, which supported Mr Sharon’s unilateral Gaza pullout. President George W.?Bush, however, will have great difficulty securing a commitment from Mr Netanyahu to pursue peace at a speed comparable to Mr Sharon’s.
All Israelis (except perhaps the radical right) will mourn the old warrior if he succumbs to his illness. But behind that curtain of sadness, Mr Netanyahu is sure to reflect on his second break of tragic fortune and how to translate it into major policy changes for Israel.
The writer, until recently a fellow at Stanford University’s Centre for International Security and Co-operation, writes for Newsweek International

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"I am still hoping for a more forceful responses from American-Jewish figures who at one time or another went ballistic when, say, Jesse Jackson or Pat Buchanan made comments that were alleged to be anti-Israeli or anti-semitic."

Let's see. We have the Union for Reform Judaism...

We have the Anti Defamation League.

In other of words, there are plenty of Jewish groups condemning Israel. I'm not sure why you suggested otherwise.

As for the rest of the post, it seems you're upset that Sharon fought for his country over 50+ years, and did it pretty well.

But the U.S. and others demanded a Palestinian state, so he took steps to give it to them. The fact that he does not give in to all of their demands does not make his actions any less groundbreaking.