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News and views on Israel, Zionism and the war on terrorism.

January 17, 2003

I guess timing is everything.

Right now I am in a lousy mood, and then I read this. I have not felt so frustrated by something I read in a long time. In fact, Schiff in his article repeats the same complaints I read over and over again. Here is one from Tommy Friedman. The same thing: if only Sharon would stop the settlements, and put forward a peace plan, everything would be dandy. Yeah, right. If only Sharon was Rabin. Well, guess what, we already had Rabin, and look what happened. Anyway, I digress...

The most maddening thing about Schiff's article is that he has to blame someone for the desperate situation Israel finds itself right now, and guess who is to blame? See, the Palestinians cannot be blamed, because they are victims, and also because Arafat has turned them all from peace loving, Kumbaya-singing flower children, into suicidal maniacs. What can you expect from them? Sharon, on the other hand, is a war criminal, everyone knows that, don't they? Yes, he did wise up as he got older, and all that, but still, he only cares about the settlements and greater Israel, and...I digress again.

In the perception of many people, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is a strong leader who is the right person for war-time periods. However, what Israel really needs at the present strategic juncture is a statesman with a vision who will lead the country out of its complex conflict, and not a power-obsessed leader because of whom the national cart is sinking ever deeper into the mire. Israel needs a statesman who will be capable of exploiting new international circumstances to resolve the conflict before the entire Middle East is contaminated with nuclear and biological weapons.

A vision? How about being able to survive? Is Mitzna a man of vision for you? You want a way out? Everyone does, but there isn't one, and you know it, not until after the war in Iraq, and even then it is not going to be a picnic or a walk in the park. "...Because of whom the national cart is sinking..." Mr. Schiff, this is happening because your country is at war, in case you have not noticed, and it is at war not because of Sharon, in case you have forgotten. New international circumstances? What the hell is this guy talking about?

Here we have more of the same, plus the obligatory lip-service: "Arafat is also bad, but not as bad as Sharon", and: "Palestinians are suffering, too, but they are used to it":

During his nearly two years as the country's leader of the country, Sharon has not even neared the status of a statesman who looks beyond war. The result is that under his leadership, Israel is sliding down a steep slope. A similar development has occurred on the Palestinian side, under their leader, PA Chairman Yasser Arafat, but that is no consolation. The downtrodden Palestinians are farther from realizing their national aspirations, but Israel has regressed in almost every sphere, and there is not a glimmer of light on the horizon.

OK, what else is new?

The occupation of the territories and of the Palestinian people - from whom, it is true, the suicide murderers originate - has become more intense and uglier. The same tendency will prevail in the future.

Yep. It's the occupation now, and it was the occupation during Oslo, and in 1964, and in 1936(?), and 1929.

Even when the IDF and the Shin Bet security service achieve a tactical military success, Sharon is incapable of exploiting it for the next step, in the political realm. It is in this context where Sharon's lack of being a statesman-leader is most pronounced. The struggle with the Palestinians has become a war of revenge and prestige, in which the victories on the battlefield slowly dissolve into nothing. On the ground, the settlers are deepening their grip and adding new outposts with a variety of stratagems. Is there anyone who believes that this situation can be dragged out indefinitely?

He lost me here. Is he trying to say that every time we kill or catch a terrorist, we should dismantle a settlement?

The Palestinians are losing more in tactical terms and from the point of view of day-to-day suffering, but in the present state of affairs, Israel is not capable of arriving at a decisive battle against them. The reason is not military, but above all political. Israel is incapable of accumulating more victory points, because it does not have a political initiative beyond the occupation. Hints that Sharon has some sort of political plan to resolve the conflict have turned out to be no more than baubles. His political initiative has not gone beyond the mantra that he is ready for painful concessions (painful for whom?). The Americans, too, are trying in vain to find a political initiative by Sharon.

It looks like Mr. Schiff has missed Bush's June speech. In fact Sharon's tactics, if not strategy, are in full accord with Bush's approach, and that is: the Palestinians get nothing until they straighten out, and stop terrorism. They have not done so yet, as far as I know.

Schiff , like all Israelis, is very frustrated. But most Israelis, unlike Schiff, do not expect their PM to be a magician who is going to pull a rabbit of political "vision" (or, maybe a vision of a rabbit?) out of his sleeve. They vote for Sharon because they know that he is doing the only thing a leader (and any person) is expected to do: the best under the circumstances, the best he can. And they know that he can do, and is doing it better than anyone else. Not perfectly, maybe not even satisfactory, but better.