The Myth of Sharon’s political change

The need for fairy tales is still very strong in our so-called enlightened society, and Sharon has just the stuff needed for the creation of such myths. The dominant legend at the moment is that one of the worst war criminals of the 20th. Century (Robert Fisk,  Independent 1.6.) converted in the autumn of his life so radically and become a “peacenik” (Amos Oz, Guardian 1.7).

I believe that Hannah Arendt’s term of the banality of evil can help us to understand Sharon and his alleged transformation. The Israeli right wing military historian Eviathar Ben-Zedeff, writes about the main driving power behind Sharon: “Sharon was concentrated with all his might in advancing the interests of Sharon and his family, this without recognizing hierarchy, law, norms, ethics or the necessity to report truthfully. (…) Sharon did allegedly nothing unusual. Many did it before him and many will continue to do it after him, but Sharon loved, from his youth to do it from the diving board. (…) there is not much hope that in Israel moral behaviour and ethical leadership will develop. The polls that shows, that despite his moral (and criminal) faults, Sharon was supposed to win with a sweeping majority in the 2006 elections, demonstrate again that the Israeli citizens do not appreciate ethics and moral behaviour. …. The nation wants a strong leader that will guide it – even without heeding to ethic and democratic procedures …” (Eviathar Ben-Zedeff, Global Report 1.7.2006 – Heb.)”

Sharon was never the most radical Zionist. He belongs clearly to the so call activist school of the “Labor” movement and actually never left it.  This school with its drive for action constantly sabotaged every effort for even a halfway peaceful settlement. So he and Moshe Dayan sabotaged the peace negotiations between the Egyptian president Jamal abdel- Nasser and the Israeli PM Moshe Sharett  in 1955.  In 1967 as Ben-Zedeff also writes “[Sharon] was one of the leaders of the putsch that the High Command led against PM Levy Eshkol”. This putsch blocked the possibilities to find a political solution for the crisis at the time and initiated the Israeli attack that opened the so called Six Day War of June 1967.
In the Mid-1970s, as Sharon became a politician, he tried for a short while to go for the Two States Settlement, but after he realized that there was no real potential at that time to gain many votes for this program, he changed his line.

Ben-Zedeff believes that Sharon who wanted to be Ben Gurion turned out in the last years to be Sharett, whom he had despised in the 1950s. The reason for this change was according to Ben-Zedeff very pragmatic, Sharon had to neutralize the legal procedure against his family in connection with corruption accusations.

This theory is propagated in the book of two respected Israeli journalists, “The Boomerang”. Accordingly Sharon was blackmailed by Shimon Peres and Haim Ramon to go for the unilateral evacuation of Gaza strip. The deal was allegedly that if Sharon would implement the “disengagement” plan, these “Labor” politicians would extend their influence and neutralize the media and the legal system.

The problem with this theory is that pressure on the Sharon family was only partly reduced through the settlements evacuation and the legal process still continues. Just last Wednesday (1.3.2006), before Sharon was hospitalized, it had been announced that the Israeli police possess evidence pointing to an illegal USD $3 million transfer to the Sharon family.  Besides, Sharon had a real problem to convince the High Command of the army and get its support for the “disengagement”. He had to give them some good argument and could not just tell them about his legal problems. He knew very well out of his own experience that the generals might rebel and commit a “silent” putsch as he had done in May 1967 against PM Levi Eshkol.

The mostly likely explanation for the alleged Sharon political “change” is to be found in the old Israeli plan called “Field of Thorns”. According to the US expert Anthony Cordesman, this plan, drawn up in 1996 and mostly implemented since September 2000, sees the temporary evacuation of exposed low value isolated settlements. The next steps see the elimination of the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the “forced evacuations of Palestinians from “sensitive areas.” (a very elastic term).

According to one scenario of Sharon’s “disengagement” plan  there would be actually no evacuation of settlements as the Palestinians would supply enough pretexts for an Israeli military invasion into Gaza beforehand. Last July the Israeli army was ready for this operation and many units were stationed around the Gaza strip, but then came Condoleezza Rice on an urgent mission and prevented, at the last moment, the Israeli invasion.  As it is the Bush administration has enough problems in Iraq and does not want to make things even more complicated at the moment.

Sharon then had no choice but to go ahead with the evacuation and to activate the second scenario. The main assumption was and still is that after the evacuation, chaos will overtake the Gaza strip and it will be proven that the PA is not capable of suppressing the militants and control the situation. Attacks against Israelis will sooner or later supply the required pretexts to neutralize the US opposition to an Israeli invasion of Gaza strip, which might then give a chance to “evacuate” Palestinians from the Gaza Strip and “transfer” them e.g. to Northern Sinai. If the conditions will be adequate it will be possible to “transfer” the Palestinians from the West Bank as well.

With such a plan, Sharon could not only convince the High Command but also the leaders of the radical right wing to support the temporary evacuation of settlements.

Many people, including myself, were convinced that the radical right wingers would bring the country with their protest actions against the “disengagement” to the verge of a civil war. But their resistance came out to be much milder than expected, declared and partly also demonstrated, e.g,. there were very concrete plans to pour gasoline on roads leading to the Gaza strip and inside the strip, ignite them and thus prevent the evacuation.

While many now believe that those were just hollow threats, radical right wingers believe that they were betrayed by their leadership that had made some dirty deal with Sharon.

The one step back out of Gaza raised Sharon’s popularity at home and also abroad. With the image of a man of peace he and his party Kadima (Forward) can more easily sell the many steps ahead like the mass expulsion of the Palestinians, especially if it can be “proven” that nothing else can control the Palestinian attacks against Israel. The US government would be convinced that the PA in any form cannot deliver the “goods” and therefore has to go and Israel will have to re-occupy the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

P.S. After all the massacres that Sharon has on his conscience I wonder how he used to sleep. In Ha’aretz on Friday the widow of another Israeli war criminal, Rafael ‘Raful’ Eitan, told about the severe nightmares that had plagued her late husband almost every night. In an interview with the documentary filmmaker Nir Toib, broadcast on Friday on Israeli Channel 1, Sharon told that he had seen his friend and subordinate Sopapo kicking the head of a dead Egyptian soldier during their action in 1955 in Gaza. An hour later Sopapo was dead and Sharon, telling the story with an awkward grin, saw his body being carried while his head was banging on the ground. Sharon was then interrupted by his adviser who reminded him of an alleged urgent meeting. Was Sharon trying to say that war criminals get their punishment?

Shraga Elam is an Israeli journalist, winner of the Australian Gold Walkley Award for excellent journalism 2004.

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