Wednesday, October 26, 2005

New Price List for Ingratitude - The Unilateralist’s Mentality

The Dan Halutz affair is well documented and the main facts are undisputed. Halutz, as commander of the Israeli air force, was responsible for an order on August 2, 2002 for the targeted assassination of an ‘alleged’ terrorist, Saleh Shaheda. Since, among his other evil activities, Shehada happened to live in an apartment building, a one ton bomb was dropped on the apartment complex, killing Shehada, and another fourteen men, women and children and also wounding and orphaning scores of others. There was quite a scandal. This was a bit too much even around here where people have been conditioned to believe that ‘targeted assassinations’ are the greatest invention in jurisprudence since habeas corpus.

Naturally enough, Dan Halutz became the next commander in chief of the IDF and reenters our story with his role in the disengagement this year. In the furious debate leading up to it, Halutz pioneered an idea that sought to clinch the advantages of the disengagement for the concerned public.The idea was simple. Since we were no longer in charge of Gaza, there would be no cause for restraint in responding to attacks on Israeli settlements or towns bordering on the strip. Halutz ‘‘hoped that the Palestinian were aware of the high price they would have to pay.” (September 12,2005 Unispal Internet Site, October 6, 2005.)
This was an open expression of strategic thinking that had been elaborated in the IDF war room in planning the engagement. General (Reserves) Eival Giladi, an advisor to the Sharon government on military and security affairs and the acting court-theoretician had had already issued a dramatic warning on Israeli strategy in the context of the disengagement: ”If pinpoint response proves insufficient, we may have to use weaponry that causes major collateral damage, including helicopters and planes, with mounting danger to surrounding people.” (Ha’aretz, June 22, 2005). (File this statement away; it may be the first example of openly planned collateral damage).

Dove General with Long Claws

Mahsom (Checkpoint) Watch, a women’s group for human rights and against the occupation, has recently emerged as one of the most successful protest formations. At a recent conference, they hosted a surprise guest, Gen. (Reserves) Amiram Levin, who created quite a stir by declaring that all occupations, including Israel’s, lead to corruption and are doomed to failure. It seems that Levin, as early as three years ago, had submitted proposals supporting the idea of unilateral withdrawal from Gaza and the West Bank. But how would Israel maintain order in the event of Palestinian attacks? Levin says with all due candor:

“Together with the announcement that we will leave the territories in two years we publicize the price of terror attacks: one price for an attack against civilians and another price for an attack against soldiers. If you shell Sderot, we`ll consider that a declaration of war, with all that this entails. After a Qassam hits an open field, we`ll give the Palestinians a few hours of warning so that they can evacuate the residents and then we`ll send a D9 to demolish 20 homes. For property damage we`ll raze 50 homes. For bodily harm, we`ll destroy 70 homes, and so on.”(Quoted in Akiva Eldar, Ha’aretz, October 7, 2005.)

The underlying ‘justification’ for this kind of thinking can be traced back to the protracted and often bitter dispute here in dove circles about how to relate to unilateral actions by Israel, e.g. the disengagement. The peace seeking “unilateralists”, personified by Labor’s Shimon Peres, seduced themselves into thinking that Sharon was doing their job – and only he could do it! Peres and others who saw disengagement as a ‘historic breakthrough’ have delivered most of the sane secular community into Sharon’s camp, and this despite the fact that Sharon had been quite open about the fact that he was actually forfeiting a minor piece to better impose and defend annexation on the West Bank.
The pro-Sharon doves claimed that they had little to lose. But, it just doesn’t work that way. They praised Sharon so much that one fine morning they awoke to the news that Sharon was the favorite candidate for prime minister of …the members of the Labor Party and even of the members of Labor’s Central Council. Shimon Peres was indeed happy with Sharon, and even more important, the illusion of progress to peace was warmly embraced by George W. and Condi. Washington, under siege, needs any kind of hardly credible Israeli concession – incomplete and qualified as it is – to produce as its ‘good deed for the day in the Middle East’.

At home, Israel’s ostensible largesse pumped up a frenzy of self-righteousness. Since the Palestinians do not recognize our generosity, though it comes in the form of unilateral action by Israel according to its own timing and interests, we will be forced to rachet up the price they pay for resistance, even further. Last week after a serious, but minor incident, one of the hundreds that both sides have been sadly experiencing for years, the IDF decided that two and a half million Palestinian car drivers will have to get off and stay off the roads. Well, this kind of collective punishment – draconian measures against two and a half million people - could seem logical only to an Israeli body politic embittered by the fact the our ‘unilateral’ concessions are seen as weakness.

But this mentality of ‘now we can get tough’ has a logic of its own. It is this ‘logic’ originating with the generals, which has permeated public consciousness, already steeped in admiration for Sharon. This is the very admiration for Sharon that had been promoted encouraged and enhanced by our unilateral peaceniks.

Mainstream Liberal Gets Rid of His Inhibitions

Yaron London was considered a mainstream liberal the last time anyone looked. London is a prominent media personality on television and in the press. He does not have too many ideas of his own, but he does function well for reflecting public sentiment. London is almost overjoyed at the advantages of disengagement. Even in the absence of any agreement on the border, he is certain that Sharon has granted him one.

“This is one of the benefits of a border: An occupying power must distinguish between innocent civilians and hostile ones; between masked men bearing arms and open-faced ones; between motor mechanics and missile mechanics; between “ticking bombs” and sleeping ones.Now, because we are not occupiers, we have freedom of action. If we are attacked, everyone on this side of the border is one of us, and everyone on the other side is one of them. If innocent people are harmed, we might well be sorry, but we will bear no responsibility.” Yedioth Ahronot, October 16,2005

The temptation to see an opening for peace in the unilateral Gaza disengagement nurtured a unilateral frame of mind. The Israeli unilateralist believes that we do not really need the Palestinians to make peace. And if they disrespect our right to do things our way, let them beware, because the price will be high, very high.

Monday, October 3, 2005

Sharon as the Hero of the Left

I guess it is the time of year for trends and fashion. This fall almost everybody, including some of our friends in the peace movement are wearing Sharon. The disengagement in Gaza, the uprooting of the settlers and then the dramatic victory in the Likud Central Party have all intoxicated the faint-hearted. Instead of Peace Now, we are hearing Sharon Now.

Here again, the wish is the father of the thought: Sharon can make peace. He has the parliamentary mandate and the public support. Now since there is no visible alternative, isn’t it a simple question of smart politics to stop confronting and angering him and isolating ourselves in the public?

She Has A Dream

Janet Aviad is the hands-on chief of Peace Now, which has not held a leadership election for as long as anyone remembers. Veteran journalist, Daniel Ben Simon, interviewed Aviad as one of the personifications of the latest trend that highlights the Prime Minister as the hero of the left. Aviad’s conversion on the road to Gaza is only relevant after detailing her previous opposition to Sharon. But now? Aviad explains: “What he did was the most important thing that ever happened to the Israeli left, because what could be better than having Sharon himself evacuate settlements. I am now an optimistic woman with hope, who feels wonderful because the state underwent the disengagement without a trauma.” Ben Simon concludes: Now Aviad hopes that the dream of a new Sharon will never end. (Ha’aretz, October 3, 2005).

Tsali Reshef, one of the founders of PN and a sort of a ‘grey eminence’ today, together with Aviad and others in PN, misread Sharon’s clever gambit as an ‘unprecedented historic breakthrough’. They, with the Labor Party, which is busily exploiting the ‘new Sharon’ legend as the main excuse to remain in the government, continue to spread illusions regarding Sharon’s real policies and intentions. These illusions, along with more than a little servile flattery flourish and are being enhanced precisely when the Likud leader, exploiting the credit earned by the disengagement, remains in real control of Gaza and unabashedly moves to tighten even further Israeli control over the West Bank. Sharon and his policies remain responsible for the stalemate in the peace process and for the day-to-day suffering of the Palestinians under brutal occupation. But, I guess that if reality is so bitter, some people prefer to ‘disengage’ by dreaming.

So as to confirm the worst anxieties, Peace Now has decided to de-emphasize the demand for a speedy resumption of negotiations and the exposure of violations of human rights under the occupation. According to Reshef, these things are important, but there are other organizations for dealing with them. Accordingly, Peace Now has developed its own plan for three or four more staged evacuations (up to 2010) of groups of settlements on the West Bank. Disengagements, it seems, are an ‘in’ thing. Sharon will undoubtedly take a very close look at the detailed Peace Now outlines when he can no longer bluff anyone with his declared adherence to the Road Map, with his governments famous fourteen reservations.

And after all is said and done, with a trend here and a ‘rating’ there, Ariel Sharon is only as strong as his mentor, George W. Bush. Bush, however is knee deep in the mud of Mesopotamia and Louisiana. Imagine Sharon trying to pull him on to dry land.