by Eric Margolis
ROME -- Only a few short months ago, Israel's then opposition leader, Ariel
Sharon, stormed Jerusalem's AI-Aksa Mosque at the head of 1,000 police,
igniting the second Palestinian 'intifada' that now rages out of control.
Sharon's coup won him election as prime minister but plunged the region into
In North America, Palestinians are blamed by the usually pro-Israel media
and politicians for the current wave of violence and terrorism. But here in
Europe, and around the world, there is a rising wave of anger and
condemnation against Israel's repression in the Occupied Territories. Only
the United States stands behind Israel, and less so by the day.
The European Union is debating imposing trade sanctions on Israeli exports
from the Occupied Territories. Senior EU officials charge Israel with
violating the Geneva Convention and international human rights laws. The
Convention, signed by Israel, expressly forbids military action against the
population of occupied territories.
A top officials of the Swiss-based International Red Cross charged Israel's
campaign to assassinate Palestinian officials and its increasing employment
of heavy weapons against civilians was tantamount to 'war crimes.' Israel's
use of tanks against Palestinians is being compared to the Soviet's brutal
crushing of the 1956 Hungarian uprising in Budapest. Israel rejects all such
criticism, insisting it is merely combating 'terrorism.'
Last week, Israel tried to assassinate one of the most senior Palestinian
officials, Jibril Rajoub, a moderate and possible successor to PLO leader
Yasser Arafat, by pouring tank fire into his home. This, the second
attempted murder of a PLO leader in the last weeks, caused the US Ambassador
to Israel, Martin Indyk, a former high-ranking official of the US pro-Israel
lobby, to openly accuse the Sharon government of trying to block any chance
for peace by assassinating moderate Palestinian leaders who could stop the
Sharon's unleashing of Israeli hit squads has produced a new spiral of
revenge attacks. Palestinian extremists of Hamas and Islamic Jihad lobbed
mortar fire at Israeli settlements and staged bloody human bomb attacks
against Israeli civilians. Israel retaliated by blasting Palestinians with
artillery, gunboats, tanks, helicopter gunships and, last week, US-supplied
F-I 6 fighters.
Attacks by Palestinians on Jewish civilians are criminal, and militarily
useless as is Israeli's shooting at Palestinians. They provide Israel with
the excuse to unleash its military might against a defenseless civilian
population, and have silenced Israel's pro-peace moderates. Palestinians who
believe they can duplicate the victory of Hizbullah guerillas over Israel in
Lebanon on the West Bank are dangerously deluded.
Still, Israel's continued colonization of Arab land remains at the heart of
the current conflict. Sharon made clear Israel will not cease expanding
settlements on occupied Arab land, though many are only partly inhabited.
Sharon has repeatedly urged settlers to grab as much Arab land as possible
to 'create irreversible facts on the ground.'
Israel continued to build settlements during the decade of the Oslo Peace
Accords, in spite of pledges to stop. Each settlement had to be protected by
an army base, a cleared security zone, and Jewish-only 'security roads,' all
built on expropriated Arab land. The strategically sited settlements carved
up Arab territory into a patchwork, making any coherent, viable Palestinian
state impossible. This relentless expropriation, including the bulldozing of
Arab villages and precious olive groves, which take a century to produce
fruit, was the main element that ignited the current 'intifada.'
Israel's moderates and left have long demanded settlement-building cease and
the settlers, mostly from the US or Russia, be relocated to Israel. No real
peace will be possible as long as they remain. Half the 200,000 settlers
came for subsidized housing; the other half because they believe God gave
them the Arab's land. Israeli moderates say fundamentalist colonists should
not hold the fate of Israel and the Middle East in their hands. The American
Mideast scholar, Edward Said, puts it even harder, calling the settlers
'heavily armed, fanatical religious cultists.'
A decade ago, President George Bush Senior tried to pressure Israel to cease
expanding settlements by threatening to withhold some of the US $3-5 billion
the US gives Israel annually. Bush and Secretary of State James Baker were
immediately accused of anti-Semitism and scourged by the media. Campaign
funds poured into the coffers of a little-known Democratic candidate, Bill
Clinton. Some Bush Sr. people still believe the settlement issue played a
key role in their election loss.
So George W. Bush is being extra cautious. Instead of leaning on Israel, he
is hiding behind the international Mitchell Commission Report, which called
on Palestinians to cease violence and on Israel to halt settlements and stop
using deadly force against civilians. Behind the scenes, Secretary Colin
Powell is gently pressing Israel to halt its blitzkrieg. But Sharon again
refused to stop settlements. Arafat agreed to everything, but is powerless
to do anything. The Palestinians are leaderless.
Ariel Sharon appears increasing brutal and irrational, almost as much a
menace to Israelis as he is to Palestinians. Arafat is comatose. The only
person who can restore order to the region is President George W Bush, but
he can't forget the Mideast minefield his one-term father stumbled into.
Copyright: Margolis, May 2001
[Eric Margolis is a syndicated foreign affairs columnist and broadcaster, and
author of the just released War at the Top of
the World - The Struggle for Afghanistan, Kashmir, and Tibet which was reviewed in
The Economist, May 13, 2000]
Copyright © 2001 Eric Margolis - All Rights