Bush And Sharon
By Uri Avnery
24 November, 2004
George W. Bush is a product of the Wild
West myth. He sees himself as the fast-drawing sheriff who kills the
bad guys and maintains order in town.But
in fact he is much more like another stock figure of the Westerns: the
top-hatted vendor of the patent medicine which heals everything: tooth-ache
and belly-ache, cholera and impotence, gunshot wounds and heart attacks.
Bush's patent medicine
is called "democracy". Democracy will heal all the diseases
of the Middle East and the entire world. If only the Muslim nations
would buy his little flask, all problems would be solved, and foremost
among them the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And since Israel is already
an exemplary democracy, led by that great democrat, Ariel Sharon, all
that is needed now is to impose democracy on the Palestinians. This
means free elections for president and parliament. A person with limited
intellectual capacity needs simple solutions.
solution that does not demand delving into the complexities of other
societies and civilizations. What's good for his little Texan town must
be good for Baghdad and Gaza, too. Since winning reelection, his self-confidence
has shot sky high. He has kicked out the hapless Colin Powell and put
a certified yeswoman in charge of the State Department. From now on,
nobody will question his decisions anymore. Not even if he appoints
his horse Chief Justice.
So who is worried?
Of all people, Ariel Sharon, his great friend, teacher and guide.
As fate would have
it, Bush achieved his great victory one day before the sudden, mysterious
breakdown of Yasser Arafat's health. Sharon's alibi was buried in Ramallah.
governments have presented Arafat as a monster and used his monstrosity
as a pretext for undermining any attempt to impose peace upon them.
Peace means withdrawing to the pre-1967 border, more or less, and dismantling
the settlements. Peace means giving up East Jerusalem, more than half
of the "eternal capital of Israel". God forbid! The demonization
of Arafat helped avoid this. After all, one cannot make peace with a
monster. Even Bush understood that. Therefore he helped Sharon prevent
elections for the Palestinian Authority, in which Arafat was certain
to be reelected by a landslide.
But now Arafat is
not there, and Bush is. Sharon is very troubled. And rightly so.
For four years,
the mantra in Washington has been: Fighting International Terrorism.
That suited Sharon fine, since he was riding on the "fight terrorism"
For the next four
years, the new mantra in Washington may well be: Democracy for the Middle
East. That will suit Abu-Mazen, who is riding the democracy horse.
Abu-Mazen has been
chosen as Chairman of the PLO. Abu-Mazen wears a business suit, not
a uniform. He wears a tie, not a kuffieh. He looks like an ordinary
democratic leader. He is known for his opposition to the suicide bombings
in Israel. Contrary to all Israeli predictions, the Palestinian transfer
of power has taken place in an orderly manner, much as in any civilized
country. Within two months, new elections are to take place.
That puts Sharon
on the spot. He cannot object to elections, since they are the apple
of Bush's eye. He must not raise the slightest suspicion that he is
undermining them. Any complaint about the Israeli army hindering elections
by incursions, roadblocks and "targeted assassinations" may
arouse the ire of the White House.
Sharon is hoping
that the Palestinians will sabotage their elections themselves. Armed
factions may disturb the orderly process. Last week there was shooting
during Abu-Mazen's visit to Gaza - which caused an outburst of joy and
glee in Israel. But the incident passed, all Palestinian factions are
showing restraint and the people are unified in their desire for peaceful
For Sharon this
is a nightmare. The way it looks now, elections will indeed take place,
with several candidates standing - and Abu-Mazen will be elected president.
For Bush that will
be a great achievement: the first Arab democracy will be on its way.
Even if anarchy reigns in Iraq, Palestine will prove that his vision
is coming true. Bush will embrace Abu-Mazen. The way to a "free
Palestinian state" within four years will be open.
For Sharon, there
is no greater danger. His plan - to annex 58% of the West Bank to Israel
- will be struck from the agenda. He will be requested to dismantle
most of the settlements, and before that to freeze all of them.
Worse: the intimate,
exclusive relationship with Bush will be upset. The couple will become
a triangle, and three is a crowd. Already Condoleezza is about to meet
So what can be done?
Clearly, Abu-Mazen has to be destroyed before he gets the chance to
put down roots. But it is also clear that Sharon cannot conduct any
overt act against him. A strategy of indirect approach is indicated.
Even before Arafat
returned his soul to his maker, Sharon declared that there will be no
negotiations with his successors until after they "put an end to
terrorism". He hoped that the magic word "terrorism"
would make Bush jump. And since even Arafat, with all his towering authority,
did not disarm Hamas and Jihad, there is not the slightest chance that
Abu-Mazen could do it.
The Americans did
not fall into this primitive trap, and so Sharon decided to be a little
more sophisticated. This week he announced that he will not speak with
Abu-Mazen unless he immediately stops the "incitement" against
Israel in all Palestinian media and schools.
just as well be requested to pluck the moon from the heavens. How could
the new democratic chairman abolish freedom of speech on TV and in the
press - while incitement against the Palestinians continues in the Israeli
media at full blast, not to mention their dancing on Arafat's grave?
And how does one change the schoolbooks (most of them Egyptian and Jordanian
in any case) within two months - while in Israeli schools, especially
the religious ones, both orally and in writing, the right of the Palestinian
people to their country is totally denied?
of impossible demands as a pre-condition to negotiations is an old trick
of Sharon's. One may assume that the Americans will not fall into this
trap again. Something more extreme and immediate must happen. For example:
bloody attacks, acts of "terrorism" that can be attributed
to the new chairman, civil war, anarchy.
Abu-Mazen and his
colleagues know this full well. They are working to prevent this. Since
they lack the means to apply force, they must use persuasion. The traditional
Arab method is "Ijmah" - a round of discussions that goes
on until everybody is persuaded, so that no minority will feel that
it has been vanquished by a majority. Arafat was a past master of this.
If this succeeds,
there will be a temporary cease-fire until the elections. But the main
problem will remain: the new Chairman will be unable to persuade his
people to end the armed intifada if he cannot show another way of ending
the occupation and achieving Palestinian independence. If the Americans
want the new regime to take hold, they must bring about the immediate
start of negotiations, with the clear aim of establishing the State
of Palestine within a strict timetable.
Sharon will do everything
he can to destroy Abu-Mazen before this happens. He wrecked the first
Abu-Mazen government, two years ago, by withholding anything which might
contribute to political progress (blaming, as usual, Arafat). Now he
must wreck Abu-Mazen under much more difficult circumstances.
Let no one have
any illusions: Sharon will use every means, overt and covert, in order
to destroy any "moderate" Palestinian leadership. His natural
ally is Hamas, which opposes any negotiations with Israel. As of now,
Abu-Mazen is Enemy No. 1.
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