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 Sharon's Real Purpose Is to Create Foreigners
 Henry Siegman, USA
 September 25, 2002
Palestinian suicide bombings that target Israeli civilians are a moral obscenity. But the sensibility of those in Israel who seek to exploit this Palestinian obscenity to extend and deepen Israel's hold on the territories, a situation that in the end can only lead to the expulsion of most Palestinians and the permanent subjugation of those who remain, is also obscene.

Is there a justification for an Israeli policy that remains fixated on detestation of Yasser Arafat and deliberately ignores major changes within Fatah and the Palestinian population, withholding any action that might help these constructive forces achieve dominance? In fact, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has resorted to measures that undercut Palestinians who seek to abandon violence and resume a political dialogue. Not so long ago, Sharon demanded seven days of quiet before returning to a political process. Six weeks of Palestinian quiet—a period also marked by an unprecedented Palestinian debate about the immorality and political bankruptcy of Palestinian terrorism—elicited not a single Israeli move away from its reliance on overwhelming military suppression.

The brutal curfews and closings remained unchanged. Indeed, during this period the Israeli Defense Forces killed 75 Palestinians, most of them civilians, including children. Even more tellingly, Sharon chose this particular moment to announce his designation of Effie Eitam, the most outspoken advocate of the expulsion of Palestinians from the West Bank, to take charge of Israel's settlements program. It is difficult to imagine a move better calculated to discredit Palestinians seeking to repudiate Hamas and Islamic Jihad and end the violence. No one has better captured Sharon's real intentions than Avi Primor, a former deputy director of the Israeli Foreign Ministry and now a vice president of Tel Aviv University. In an essay in the Sept. 18 issue of Ha'aretz entitled "Sharon's South African Strategy," Primor notes that it serves Sharon's purposes to be accused of lacking an overall strategy. It provides him with a cover. Primor recalls that in the 1970s and 1980s, the top echelon of Israel's security establishment sympathized with efforts of the white South African regime to solve its demographic problem by creating Bantustans for the black majority, which they called "independent states."

All blacks living outside these fictitious states were arbitrarily assigned citizenship in those states, turning them into foreign residents in their own land. According to Primor, it is a model that supporters of Israel's settlement activity in the West Bank and Gaza find attractive. Without the United States or even the Europeans taking much notice, and while the quartet that also includes the United Nations and Russia is distracted by fanciful plans for Palestinian statehood, Sharon is proceeding with the establishment of a "Palestinian state" limited to the Palestinian cities—nonsovereign enclaves without any political or economic viability. "According to this plan," writes Primor, "the West Bank and Gaza remain in Israeli hands and their Palestinian residents are turned into 'citizens' of a 'foreign country.'"

On Friday, General Eitan Ben Elyahu, the former head of the Israeli Air Force, declared on Israeli television that "eventually we will have to thin out the number of Palestinians living in the territories," enriching Israel's political lexicon with another euphemism for ethnic cleansing.

When in February of 1991 the then prime minister, Yitzhak Shamir, invited Rehavam Ze'evi, the head of Moledet, at the time the only Israeli political party advocating the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, to join his government, one member of the Israeli Parliament issued the following "J'accuse":

"The transfer party's joining the government is a profound political, moral and social stain on Israel. Anyone who includes such a party in the coalition is in effect confirming UN resolutions that declare Zionism to be racism."

The author was Benjamin Begin, the Likud "prince" and son of Menachem Begin. It is a measure of the political extremism and moral obtuseness that now afflicts so many Israelis and friends of Israel that this sentiment would today be dismissed as "Jewish self-hatred." What accounts for Sharon's amazing success in implementing his strategy? In part, it is the indifference of the masterminds of America's new strategic thinking. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, in a recent press conference, dismissed the importance of Israeli settlement activity and spoke of the "so-called" Israeli occupation.

In larger part, however, it is due to the cover provided by Shimon Peres, Sharon's foreign minister, and Peres's Labor Party colleagues, who have exploited their international credibility to provide justifications for the policies of Sharon's government. Sharon's understanding of their pathetic need to remain in the limelight has turned them into full partners not only in the obliteration of the Oslo accords but in paving the road for the eventual expulsion of the Palestinian population.

Benjamin Begin understood in 1991 it is a road that leads to the betrayal of Jewish and Zionist values and, worst of all, to the impossibility of Israel's longer range survival in the region.

The writer is a senior fellow on the Middle East at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.

From the International Herald Tribune, September 25, 2002.