The Real Worry Should Be Sharon Not Arafat




T

he
recently released text of the Geneva Accord seems about as good
a deal as could be worked out for a Two-State Solution, unless it’s
already too late for any such venture. Till now almost everything
that had been put forward was an “agreement to go on trying
to agree,” which led to disillusionment and nothing of lasting
substance. The new proposal has dealt with all the difficult points—and
both the Israeli and Palestinian participants have agreed to it. 


Secret
negotiations, held mainly in Geneva and with the help of Swiss diplomats,
have proceeded for more than two years between Israeli and Palestinian
delegations, consisting largely of left- wing former and current
politicians (including former cabinet ministers from both sides),
retired Israeli military officers, writers, and academics. Contrary
to the prevailing Israeli lament that there is no one to talk to,
significant breakthrough negotiations have brought about a 50-page
agreement on all major issues. 


Revelations
of the highlights of the accord on October 12, 2003 brought mixed
reactions—from cautious optimism to outright fury. The Palestinian
Authority appears to support the initiative, while Hamas and Islamic
Jihad are expected to reject it. Although an early poll in Israel
shows about 40 percent support, the Sharon government has vigorously
denounced it. Sharon has proclaimed that no agreement is possible
if Arafat is involved, saying, “This man is the greatest obstacle
to peace. Therefore, Israel has committed to removing him from the
political arena.” Why this fixation on Arafat as an insurmountable
problem? 


Arafat
is corrupt and naïve, filled with his own sense of self-importance.
He’s almost totally ineffectual and in poor health. Meantime,
it’s astonishing that for Israel and most Jews in general,
the major concern is Arafat, to the exclusion of almost all other
possibilities, including this new accord. The real concern for Israeli
people, and all diaspora Jews, should be Sharon and his regime.
For one thing, for what it’s worth, Arafat has apparently “blessed
the initiative.” On the other hand, Sharon is apoplectic about
it, calling it “high treason,” and Barak dismisses it
as “delusional.”  


A
Knesset member and leader of an Israeli political party has written
to Israel’s attorney general demanding that the Israeli participants
should be charged with treason and sentenced to death. Since Eichmann
is the only person ever executed by Israel, does this demand for
a death penalty indicate that for some Israelis even an unofficial
peace proposal is comparable to the crimes of Eichmann? How is it
that the Israeli government is so touchy about the prospect of a
peace proposal? But, as Uri Avnery said, “That’s no wonder,
considering that there is no greater danger to Sharon and his grand
design than the danger of peace.” 


The
Sharon government wouldn’t dream of a One-State Solution nor
would it agree to a realistic and viable Two-State Solution; so
what are the alternatives for them? 


The
first is a continuation of the status quo, i.e., continue with the
repressive military occupation of the Occupied Territories. But,
in less than ten years the Palestinians will outnumber the Jewish
population. So if Israel continues as a “democracy,” it
will cease to be a Jewish state since Jews will be in a minority.
Alternatively, Israel or a “Jewish state” could survive
as a “non-democracy” by militarily dominating a steadily
enlarging Arab majority, deprived of civic rights, thereby becoming
an apartheid regime. 


The
second alternative: at an opportune time, Israel could conduct massive
violent ethnic cleansing with tanks and troops in which the entire
Palestinian population (about three million or more) would be driven
out of biblical “Greater Israel” to the Jordan River.
Lacking an “opportune time,” a simple escalation of the
present policy could starve the Palestinians of land, food, and
a livelihood, leaving them no option but to go into exile in the
millions. Both these approaches are war crimes under the Geneva
Conventions. Either way, for Sharon this would be the completion
of his grand design. But where would this leave Israel and the Jewish
diaspora? 


Taking
over the Palestinian territories and incorporating them officially
into the Israeli state would be an illegal land grab, in violation
of international law (aside from the war crimes aspect). Certainly,
over the years Israel has consistently thumbed its nose at world
public opinion and ignored countless UN resolutions, but such a
course of action by Israel would push it beyond the pale and it
would become a permanent international pariah. Without a doubt Israel
would be faced with trade sanctions by a wide range of countries.
Forget about any “peace” with the Arab world. Sure, Israel
has its weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear, but this
constant military preparedness would haunt and undermine the state
and its people. The Sugar Daddy U.S. will some day have a change
of government and, together with concerns about Middle East oil
security, it may change its policy towards Israel. What if there
wasn’t over $5 billion coming in each year? 


How
long before the Israeli people would rue the day they didn’t
listen to Ben-Gurion when he advised them in 1967 to withdraw from
all the territory they conquered. Or heed the words of the “non-Jewish
Jew” Isaac Deutscher who also urged Israel to withdraw to its
1967 boundaries. Deutscher compared the Jews who were fleeing post-Hitler
Europe to people jumping out of a burning building and the Palestinians
to innocent passersby who were crushed by the fall—the Jews
had a right to escape, but they also had an obligation to make amends
to the Palestinians. 


What
about Diaspora Jews? They can’t influence Israeli policies,
but they nevertheless are identified with them, especially since
Israel insists on their allegiance. So, unfortunately, the behavior
of Israel affects the way many people look at Jews. Misdirected
efforts to get back at Israel may put innocent diaspora Jews in
harm’s way. Although anti-Semitism has many causes, it can’t
just be coincidental that Sharon’s anti-terrorism campaign
against the Palestinians has been accompanied by a recent upsurge
in anti-Semitism worldwide. Also, Israel’s flouting of UN resolutions
and disregard of world public opinion are matters to consider too. 


In
my own circle of Jewish friends, they all lament the fact that Judaism’s
concern for ethics is being undermined by Israeli policies that
make a mockery of this traditional Jewish virtue. Put much more
bluntly by Norman Finkel- stein (professor, writer, Holocaust researcher,
and the son of survivors of the Holocaust), if Israelis object to
being compared to Nazis, they should stop acting like Nazis. There’s
no question about it, Israeli policies affect the lives of Diaspora
Jews. 


Tony
Judt’s recent article in the

New York Review of Books

,
“Israel: The Alternative,” is timely, apropos, and challenging.
He feels it may be too late to establish a Two-State Solution and
hence the most rational alternative is the One-State Solution—as
Edward Said had long advocated. This would give all the people in
a combined Israel/Palestine state equal citizenship and equal rights—hence
a single, integrated, binational state of Jews and Palestinians.
This might indeed be the most rational solution. Yet, we now have
the Geneva Accord, with a seemingly viable Two-State Solution. However,
this would never take place under a Sharon government—could
one imagine Sharon ordering the dismantling of his cherished settlements,
with some 250,000 inhabitants? Hence Judt’s pessimism, but
with a challenge for a new solution. 




Sharon’s
dream of somehow creating an Israel with a Jewish majority in biblical
Greater Israel to the Jordan River is not a secret. It’s amazing
the degree to which the idea of massive ethnic cleansing of Palestinians
is discussed in Israel—”transfer” is what it’s
called (as euphemistic a term as “collateral damage”). 


A
leading Israeli historian, Martin van Creveld, in an article a few
months back, pointed out that Sharon considers Jordan to be the
real Palestinian state, and, by inference, that’s where all
Palestinians should eventually be located. As Creveld says, Sharon
“has always harbored a very clear plan—nothing less than
to rid Israel of the Palestinians.” According to Creveld, Israel
has worked out a detailed military plan on how to expel the entire
West Bank Palestinian population of two million or more in a lightning
strike, all in a matter of about eight days. All that would be required
is a suitable pretext and an opportune political moment. There’s
a strange ambivalence in the views of the Israeli public on this—over
half the population would like to see the settlements dismantled,
yet almost half would agree to Palestinian “transfer”
under the “right” con- ditions. 


What’s
the rationale for the establishment of the settlements in the Occupied
Territories? If this was to bring security to Israel, it’s
done the opposite. Actually, it’s a clear violation of international
law and countless UN resolutions. Why should Israelis be surprised
that Palestinians resist being under military occupation? Under
international law, they have the right to resist. Though occupation
and repression cannot justify terrorism against civilians, the way
to end the Palestinian crimes is to end the occupation that inspires
the Palestinians to commit them. The response to justified Palestinian
anger should be justice, not more repression. As for the constant
Israeli refrain for the Palestinians to “stop the violence,”
it’s the Palestinians who have suffered almost four times the
fatalities that Israel has in the current round of hostilities. 


As
for Golda Meir’s comment about Palestinians teaching their
children to hate Jews, an article from the

Jewish Voice for Peace

has this observation: “A Palestinian child who is awakened
at dawn by Israeli soldiers demolishing his home and uprooting the
family’s olive grove does not need anyone to tell him to hate.”
It’s Israeli actions over the past 35 years that have exacerbated
previous ill-feelings and have now brought Palestinian anger to
a boiling point. At this stage, any kind of solution is not going
to be easy, but to pretend that this is all the fault of “sub-human”
Arabs and that Israelis are blameless for the violence and hatred
that they face is delusional. 


The
grim reality of the situation is that the Sharon government appears
to have no intention of concluding any kind of “peace agreement”
that would bring about a fair and just solution to the region’s
problems. They intend to “solve” the problem with military
force and if that doesn’t work, more military force would be
applied, until there is a “solution” to the Arab problem—the
eventual expulsion of the Palestinian population—and the achievement
of a territorial Greater Israel. 


There
are two courses of action that Israel would be wise to reject. The
first is to simply maintain the present status quo, which in a fairly
short time will devolve into an apartheid regime with ever increasing
military repression trying to control an ever enlarging Palestinian
population, bereft of any democratic rights. The second is the almost
unthinkable proposal to conduct massive ethnic cleansing to remove
the Palestinian population (passively or violently) in order to
create a majority Jewish state within a substantial part of biblical
Greater Israel. 


Israel
does have two alternatives that could enable its people to live
at peace with the Palestinians and with its Arab neighbors. The
first is the Two-State Solution that could perhaps come about from
the implementation of the Geneva Accord. The second is a One-State
Solution, which would give the people of a combined Israel/Palestine
state equal citizenship and equal rights— i.e., a single, integrated,
binational state of Jews and Palestinians. Both alternatives present
challenges, but with either one there could be a prospect for peace
in the region.



 





John Ryan is
a retired professor of geography and senior scholar at the University
of Winnipeg. His has traveled to the Middle East, Egypt, and Israel.