Friday, January 06, 2006

The Hole Where The Heart Should Be

'Nothing but good of the dead,' De mortuis nihil nisi bonum est, the old adage has it. Well as I write, Ariel Sharon is technically alive. But I have to record that when the doctors reported that he had a hole in his heart, I thought it must be a mistranslation, and in fact they reported that they had found a hole where his heart should be.

One of the big advances towards civilization this century is that politicians like Sharon, indicted in Belgium for war crimes in Sabra and Shatila,, along with Pinochet, Kissinger and others like Milosevic have begun to check with their lawyers as well their travel agents before setting off on a journey.

Sharon's exit from Middle East politics will certainly have profound effects on the peace process, but only a total amnesiac would assume that it will necessarily be a negative effect.

If you accept the possibility of miracles, it is of course possible that Sharon had a late life conversion to peace,

But nothing in his career, and nothing he has done since the withdrawal from Gaza has ever given the slightest hint of concern for the plight of the Palestinians. The settlements are still expanding, parts of Gaza are effectively free fire zones and life in the Occupied Territories gets worse by the week.

To accept Sharon as a 'Man of Peace,' we have to forget about the massacre at Qibye, the invasion and occupation of Lebanon, the siege of Beirut, and above all, the massacre at Sabra and Shatila. We need to overlook the continuing massive expansion of the settlements in the teeth of Oslo and Road Map Commitments

We have to blank from our minds his provocative walkabout at Al Aqsa mosque that premeditatedly provoked the Intafada, which his friends in the security services then sedulously kept burning by assassination of Palestinian leaders whenever a ceasefire looked feasible.

Of course, Sharon owes a lot to Osama Bin Laden. Immediately after the September 11 tragedy Sharon saw his opportunity and pronounced that he would join George Bush's fight against terrorism, - but against Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian authority.

Under cover of the smoke of the World Trade Centre, he mounted the brutal armed invasion of the Palestinian Authority, and the razing of Jenin. He undertook the massive violation of international law represented by the Wall in the occupied territories, and the worse-than-apartheid humiliation and squalor forced on the inhabitants of the West Bank and Gaza.

Even Sharon's most recent achievement, the much praised withdrawal from Gaza, was almost certainly more of a cynical ploy to hang on to most of the useful land in the West Bank than a concession to peace. He made it clear for internal audiences that there was no question of returning to the Green line of 1967, and that his vision of Palestinian independence would be like a Bantustan, without, however, the degree of independence the Afrikaners accorded.

In short, nothing he ever said or done right up to his stroke gave the slightest indication that he would accept a peace deal with the Palestinians that they could accept, or which met the standards of international law and United Nations resolutions.

It may have been rational, but it was scarcely 'heroic' to hand over territory occupied in defiance of international law and inhabited by a hostile and increasingly desperate population. No rational Israeli leader would try to hang on to it..

However, no one should doubt the scale of Sharon's diplomatic achievement. By repetition of the magic word 'terrorism,' and admittedly with help from the terrorists themselves, he passed himself off as the good guy and succeeded in switching off international condemnation for behaviour far worse than any previous Israeli administration.

While making it plain that the Road Map conditions only apply to the Palestinians, Sharon was careful not disavow it, allowing the Europeans and others to join the Americans in blaming the victims.

Amazingly, after a few desultory attempts at condemnation, stifled by George W. Bush, the British government and the Europeans have pretty much gone along with his oppressive policies since 2001.

The Europeans have now bought into Sharon's mantra that the enfeebled and besieged Palestinian authority must successfully rein in terrorists, but they make no such stipulations about the Israelis controlling the Settlers doing Brownshirt imitations across the territories.

Of course much of this was derived from the strong personal relationship between George W Bush and Sharon. Bush had announced support for a Palestinian state at the UN just after the World Trade Centre attack. Within months, after a visit from Sharon, the President moved from restraining Israeli attacks to providing diplomatic cover for the attack on Jenin. Would Benjamin Netanyahu have the same influence, not least since he was too rigidly dogmatic to see the pragmatic need to evacuate Gaza?

It is just possible, if not exactly probable, that the removal of Sharon may entail more resistance from the US to Israeli demands, especially if Netanyahu wins. However, in the long run, the basic problem remains. For Israel's long term survival, it has to come to an accommodation with the Palestinians. And as long as Israel's leaders are given a 'get out of jail free' card by Washington and to a lesser extent the EU, then the US and the West will not be able to convince the Muslim world of its good faith.

The best practical solution put forward so far is the two state solution, which will not be feasible on the line of the Security Wall.

Perhaps Sharon's demise will now allow the politicians of the West to take off their blinkers and to see that the deceased had shredded and twisted their cherished Road Map into an Origami dead duck.

They have to chart a more direct course to peace, and enforce international law on all parties to the dispute. Sharon's stroke gives them one less recidivist law breaker to pander to.


Dan said...

Israel has tried giving accomodations to the Palestinians in the past and the result is always the same. Why should Israel give up land and open up its borders when it is clear that it will result in more civilian deaths?

I am a proponent of a return to pre-1967 borders and was never a supporter of Sharon's policies, but I think that this piece fails to look at the situation from both sides.

Michael Brenner said...

Wow, you're a journalist?

I'd say Saddam's gassing of the Kurds was a massive violation of international law. The barrier is a response to years and terrorism, is movable, leaves the Palestinians with contiguous land, and has demonstrably made a difference in saving Israeli lives.

Mahmoud Abbas once wrote a thesis denying the Holocaust. I assume, according to your logic of always repeating whatever past mistakes leaders make, we should be considering this?

Anonymous said...

While I believe the majority of Israelis are pragmatic about ceding land for peace (after all they have to live among the Arab population), the problem lies largely with Christian Zionists and US Likudniks who insist on the expansionist policies of Israeli politicians like Netanyahu. Until they are reigned in (or just plain ignored) there will be little positive movement.

The just thing would be for Israel to return to it's 1948 UN approved border- though that will never happen. So the festering will likely continue indefinitely.

I would disagree with Dan's comment in the first paragraph, because Israel's typical behaviour is that when it gives with one hand, it is taking more with the other. Case in point, Gaza. While it putatively gave Gaza back, it still controls all entry and exit points, the air space and sea port. Concomittantly, it will take more land in the West Bank and use the wall to implement a further land grab.

Tim said...

It is interesting to me that supporters of Israel often support it's actions no matter what they are. Just like GWB's supporters have supported his government no matter how terrible its decisions have turned out to be. What it is is that these people's egos cannot admit to having been wrong about even the tiniest thing. Talk about your "short dick syndrome." Not a way to create a rational world. Every argument, when it fails, is discarded and some other rhethorical trick is brought on to divert the mind. Particularly humorous is Mikey Brenner's bringing up Hussein's gassing of the Kurds as some sort of justification for the Israelis walling out the Palestinians. As if Arnold Schwarzenneggar's policies in California justify oppressing black folk in New Orleans. Wait a minute, hey they do, don't they?

Virgil said...


Sharon is a murderer and a war criminal. Looking around in the region to find a bigger criminal doesn't make Sharon any more innocent.

The 'barrier' is itself a criminal abomination. Walls like it have been built in other places and despite what their builders call them, or the reasons they cite for building them, such walls always receive the same historical verdict - a crime against humanity.

And you can call that wall by whatever euphemism you like, but all euphemisms eventually find their own true meaning. If you look at words like "ethnic cleansing", "apartheid" or "final solution" they were invented by criminals to try to whitewash their crimes. Such words when they find their true meaning indict their inventors in history forver. Euphemisms for crimes in common currency today like "security barrier", "physical pressure" and "extraordinary rendition" will find their true meaning. Those who praise these things will remember that with shame.

Anonymous said...

It is deceptive to say Israel is giving anything up when discussing the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem. It was never their property in the first place. They have no right to be there. If someone came into your house and took control of it and gave you back your bathroom, is the occupier giving something up? Iraq occupied Kuwait and was kicked out by force. Why do we look at it as Israel making a sacrifice when they give land back to Palestinians?

CharlieABQ said...

If Israel has been giving up land (regardless of how they got it in the first place) for many decades (allegedly in foolish exchange for an illusionary peace), how is it that their territory keeps getting bigger while the Palestinean territory keeps getting smaller?

Anonymous said...

Michael Brenner, the following is an independent eye witness account of the Sabra and Shatila massacre and Beirut seige perpetrated by the Israeli military under General Sharon, Israel’s Minister of Defense in 1982, and its Phalange militia allies. Orthopaedic surgeon Dr. Ang Swee Chai: "The slaughter of unarmed children, women, the aged and the infirm was shocking. For me, I was doubly outraged that I had to discover the truth about a brave and generous people only through their deaths. Until then, I never knew Palestinian refugees existed. As a fundamentalist Christian, I had been a supporter of Israel, hated Arabs and saw the Palestinian Liberation Organisation as terrorists to be loathed and feared." Dr. Ang’s account is corroborated. Read Peace for Galilee and Limited War In Lebanon in Noam Chomsky’s book “Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel and The Palestinians” for an excellent summary of Israel’s illegal invasion of Lebanon in 1982, which killed over 20,000 people (and was far worse than Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait which killed about 2,000 or less).

Robert Fisk: Ariel Sharon

Kathleen and Bill Christison: How Quickly They Forget the Real Sharon
"Eating Palestine for Breakfast"

Sharon's apartheid "Separation Wall" is primarily to separate the occupied Palestinian territory that the Israelis intend to steal from Palestinians (Sharon had intended to unilaterally annex 58% of the occupied West Bank, while dismantling only a few Israeli settlements). If Israel was genuinely concerned about terrorism, it would have built its wall, higher than the Berlin wall, on the green line Israeli border, inside of building it far inside the Palestinian side of the border. In addition, Israel would have removed its 430,000 illegal settler colonists and hundreds of illegal Israeli colonies from the occupied Palestinian territories. The terrorism Israelis whine about is fueled by Israel's voluntary policies and actions, which are clearly in violation of international law.!OpenDocument

The Palestinians have already made a massive compromise -- they've given up 78% of their ancestral land to people who were essentially foreigners (European Zionist Jews) who had immigrated to Palestinian land with British help and protection against Palestinian wishes after WW1. Had British stuck to the deal they had with the Arabs in 1915, Palestine would be an independent Arab state in 1918, and there would be no ISrael today. Remember what David Ben Gurion, Israel's longest serving prime minister, wrote in 1937: "A partial Jewish State is not the end, but only the beginning. I am certain that we can not be prevented from settling in the other parts of the country and the region."

As for Mahmoud Abbas, if Israel keeps denying (and perpetrating) the Palestinian holocaust at the hands of Israel, do you think he cares about the Jewish holocaust? If someone keeps killing and ethnically cleansing members of your family over the last 57 years, do you think he has the right to expect you to have compassion for his family members killed 64 years ago?

Anonymous said...

Just for the record: Sharon is responsible for far more innocent civilian deaths than just about every terrorist act you can think of combined.

Sharon and Israel's expansionist policies, seizing, occupying, colonizing and ethnically cleansing, have killed and impoverished far, far more innocents than anything the Palestinians have done.

Simple facts.