Sharon Wears Oppressor's Cloak
With commentary by Stefan Sharkansky
What is the fundamental difference between Slobodan Milosevic and Ariel Sharon? The former is on trial for war crimes, while the latter still leads an occupying army.
Actually, there are several differences. Among them:
1. Sharon was democratically elected, and retains power by a parliamentary coalition. If the other parties in the coalition wanted to oust Sharon all they would need to do is to quit the government and force new elections. As it were, the more moderate parties can read public opinion well enough to know that the electorate is not likely to vote-in a more moderate government at this time. Milosevic on the other hand, maintained power only as a kleptocratic dictator, with the support of his corrupt cronies and his secret police.
2. Milosevic was fighting a war of conquest to create a Greater Serbia. Sharon is fighting a defensive war against an enemy that murders civilians in order to drive them out of their homes. Were the Bosnians sending their teenagers to blow themselves up in Belgrade supermarkets to drive the Serbians out of Yugoslavia? I don’t think they were. Sharon was voted into office only after his predecessor Ehud Barak’s proposal to return nearly all the West Bank and Gaza in exchange for peace was rejected by Arafat
3. Milosevic and his allies conducted a systematic campaign to imprison, murder and rape their victims on an industrial scale. The Israelis are doing nothing of the kind. War is ugly and unfortunately civilians will be harmed during military operations. You can give at least equal credit to the Palestinian fighters for launching their battles from populated areas
You maintain a racist double-standard that is peculiar to the “progressive left”. You seem to believe that Israel does not have the right to defend themselves as would any other state that faces daily violence. At the same time you seem to have such low regard for Arabs that you don’t expect and demand of them to behave in a civilized manner.
Why shouldn’t the Palestinians be expected to select a more principled leadership and a more effective strategy for achieving their goals? In reality the Israelis could make peace with someone who’s less saintly than the Mahatma Gandhi. But they require at least, to have a partner who understands that it’s bad table manners to blow oneself up in a crowded restaurant
Rarely does such an occupation end voluntarily; land is exchanged for peace only when the occupiers feel there is no other choice. Both the plan laid out by former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell and the recent Saudi-inspired Arab League peace proposal offered such an option, but Sharon would not accept it anymore than Milosevic would the compromises presented to him up to the end of the Yugoslavia wars.
Instead, both have sought to destroy any momentum toward peace by waging war.
As mentioned above, Sharon’s predecessor, Barak, was from the center-left Labor Party. Sharon defeated Barak in the polls only after Arafat refused Barak’s offer to trade land for peace.
Sharon has humiliated President Bush, not only by ignoring his demand for a withdrawal but by co-opting the president's war-on-terrorism code phrases as cover for his drive to prevent--forever, if possible--a Palestinian state. How simple it would be if only the "axis of evil" targeted civilians, but from Saddam Hussein to Hamas to Sharon, nobody in the Mideast conflagration has a monopoly on such cruelty.
This is probably the first time you have criticized anybody for disagreeing with a President Bush. Least of all a foreign leader who feels that the United States doesn’t have the right to dictate policy to other sovereign states. Frankly, it was a foolish and self-defeating mistake for the President to create a double standard under which Arafat is somehow not the same as other terrorists. How many hijackings did Arafat help organize throughout his career? Remember the Munich Olympics? Ma’a lot? Does Arafat not encourage suicide bombings in all kinds of ways? If this is not terrorism, then what is? Why should the Israeli government sit idly by and sacrifice its people to be blown up in cafes in order to help a confused and incompetent attempt by the U.S. administration to curry favor in the Arab world?
No. Suicide bombers kill civilians as their primary goal. The IDF’s mission is to defeat militants. To say that these are morally equivalent is like saying that the deaths of German and Japanese civilians during World War II was the moral equivalent of the Jewish, Chinese, Korean, Gypsy, Polish, etc. civilians that were systematically murdered by the Germans and the Japanese. You might think that was the case, but I do not.
Whatever is ultimately discovered about the carnage committed by Israel's forces, enough is known to implicate Sharon for a form of ethnic cleansing--purposefully destroying the Palestinians' ability to govern themselves. The systematic destruction of the signposts of nascent Palestinian statehood--statistics bureaus, education ministries, electricity and water supplies--is aimed at further uprooting a refugee population.
Destroying the infrastructure of a belligerent regime is not at all the same as “ethnic cleansing”. That is like saying that forcing unconditional surrender on the Germans and Japanese at the close of World War II was ethnic cleansing. You might think that it was, but I do not.
Again, the Bosnians and Croatians of the 1990s did not profess the goal of destroying the Serbian state. But that is precisely what many (even most) in the Arab world wish for Israel.
This is the
opposite of what the idealistic Zionists who founded Israel had in mind. They
always knew that the ultimate test of the new state would not be merely its
ability to survive but rather its ability to survive with democratic values
The first sentence of the last paragraph is what lies at the heart of the entire conflict. I agree with you that it is in Israel’s interest to give back most of the occupied territories and I think that most Israelis would embrace such a scenario if they were convinced that the counter-party would offer peace in return. It was Sharon’s mentor, Begin, after all, who returned the Sinai to Egypt. Unfortunately, nobody on the Palestinian side has convinced the Israeli public that they will deliver peace in exchange for the West Bank and Gaza.
You quote Barak correctly, but out of context. You have chosen to disregard many of his other points which do not support your various complaints. For example, he says that “there must be a focused and determined campaign against terror from all sources” But his main point is that “in addition to fighting terrorism Israel needs to adopt a concrete plan for unilateral separation from the Palestinians,” which includes de-facto if not formal annexation of parts of the West Bank He’s basically acknowledging that the present Palestinian leadership is incorrigible, that Israeli must do whatever it takes to defend itself and that negotiations will make sense only after the Palestinians decide for themselves that they’re ready to make peace. And since the Palestinians’ unwillingness to give up the suicide belt is the fundamental problem here, what other choices do the Israelis have at the present other than to use military force? Please tell us, if you know something that the rest of us don’t.
Unfortunately, under the heavy hand of Barak's successor Israel already is an apartheid state. This may be what Sharon and Arafat prefer to the Camp David compromise, but it represents the deepest betrayal of the interests of both the Palestinians and Jews.
You have taken the approach of many “pundits” and activists in the U.S. and Europe who find it easy to criticize, condemn and complain about the actions and moral choices taken by people in far-away countries who are faced with threats to their existence. This is a cheap way to enjoy the feeling of sanctimonious self-importance and to make a buck off of someone else’s misery. You sit in the comfort and safety of Santa Monica and arrogantly criticize a people living in a war zone, but you don’t even propose a viable alternative course of action that would enable the Israelis to secure their existence.
Allow me to make a suggestion. Since you are obviously passionate about bringing peace to the Middle East, I have an idea for you to actually put your passions to work in a way that will produce results, topple Sharon, save Palestinian lives and turn you into a hero. Sharon’s only remaining justification for his military occupation of the West Bank is the campaign against terrorism. Once terrorism ends, Sharon is out of a job. Here’s how you can help the Palestinians end terrorism.
Copyright © 2002 Robert Scheer
commentary by Stefan Sharkansky