Opinion » Columnists

Making sense of Israel's madness

Shockwaves created by Yassin murder a sign of misunderstanding of the real issues - the Rabin factor

That Ariel Sharon is a hardliner, there is no doubt. Sabra and Shatila proved this. However, he is also not insane and would not purposefully jeopardize the security of the state of Israel. Why, then, would he inflame the Palestinians, the Islamic world, world public opinion and destroy the Middle East Road Map and along with it the peace process by ordering the murder of Ahmad Yassin?

Ariel Sharon may be a hardliner but he is not a Zionist extremist. With every action he takes, he will remember the night of 4th November, 1995, when Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was murdered - by an extremist. This was not an individual act of lunacy. Opinion polls showed at the time that his peace plan had the support of just 18% of the Israeli population. Three months before his assassination, the measure of his unpopularity was demonstrated when he was jeered at by a 40.000 fans in a football stadium. The Rabin factor will have counted in all major decisions taken by the Knesset in the last decade.

This is what happens when an Israeli Prime Minister becomes too conciliatory towards the Palestinians: he gets shot, or loses his Cabinet.

The second point is that Ariel Sharon has been a player on the scene for far longer than many people remember. As Minister for Agriculture and Settlements, his "Vision of Israel at Century's End" was published in 1977, when the Likud Party came to power. This is Sharon's Road Map: two lines of settlements running north to south along the eastern and western sides of the occupied West Bank with highways criss-crossing the territory, fixing the Israeli settlements on a permanent basis inside Palestinian lands.

While Sharon's Road Map is a tangible and concrete plan, neither the Oslo
agreement (1993) not the Road Map proposed by the Quartet (UNO, Russian
Federation, EU and USA) are, as they lack the specific details to be easy to put into action. Both these plans are a via media somewhere between the positions of the Zionist and Islamic extremists, which satisfy neither, because they wrongly create a de facto recognition that Israel has the right to retain some settlements in the occupied West Bank.

This was taken as a war trophy in 1967, along with the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem. The problem with a war trophy is how long it can be retained before the status quo which existed before the event returns. The Palestine Authority Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) counted on a popularity rating of 3% before he resigned in 2003 because he was seen as being too conciliatory towards the USA and Israel.

Ariel Sharon knows that Israel's occupation of these territories is illegal. Israel began the first phase of the Sharon Road Map in 2000, with the pull-out from the occupied southern Lebanon. However, with Hezbollah operatives pouring into the area, cheering and jeering, this was seen as a sign of weakness that must be avoided in future at whatever cost.

It is in the light of this need to save face but to produce some movement that the murder of Sheikh Ahmad Yassin fits in. The second phase of Sharon's Road Map is to withdraw from the Gaza Strip, but at the same time spelling a clear message to Hamas that the leadership is considered as a legitimate target and will be taken out, dispelling fears that Israel will again be accused of weakness - the Rabin factor again.

This withdrawal creates a sense of ease in the international community, which then tries to force the Palestinians to give way and accept a partial occupation of the West Bank. However, both the Sharon Road Map and any Road Map which refuses to acknowledge the basic fact that any occupation is unacceptable, is bound to fuel further terrorist attacks both in the Middle East and outside.

Al Qaeda was quick to respond to the Yassin murder by stating that "the tyrant of the age, America and its allies, will suffer attacks in revenge". There was so much delay in solving the Middle East issue that the question radicalized and became international. It would not be surprising if every act by Israel was now reflected by reactions in the USA and Western Europe, in a bid to make the international community see that any occupation of Palestinian territory is unacceptable.

However, while the international community was expressing its horror at Sharon's strike, it was also forgetting that while a martyr who kills himself for his cause - to free his lands of the invader - is seen as a freedom fighter and a hero on one side of the frontier, on the other, his act is seen as terrorism and murder by those who have lost their families.

The problem is compounded by the narrow-minded vision of today's international community expounded by a Bush regime which sees every issue in tones of black or white. It is the grey area in the middle where most of the truth lies and where public opinion from all parties stands. A minority of Israelis are Zionist extremists, a minority of Moslems want to eradicate the State of Israel.

Until the fundamental principles are addressed, namely that Israel cannot continue to occupy lands which do not belong to it - and never have - the international community will continue to be victims of the injustice. However, how Israel implements any complete withdrawal is an enigma - the Rabin factor.

Possibly, the less interference from the international community, the better, allowing those who live in the area, who understand and live the fundamental truth of day-to-day life on a permanent basis, to put together a phased peace plan but with a concrete calendar and at the same time develop cultural and commercial links, providing sustainable development in the two communities.

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