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David Miller: The Dilemma of Ariel Sharon

David Miller Online

The Dilemma of Ariel Sharon

The news that the European Union is meeting to discuss possible sanctions against Israel if it continues to defy the calls by the international community for a ceasefire in the Palestinian territories is further indication that the Jewish state is becoming increasingly isolated over its current tactics. The United Nations has passed resolutions calling for an Israeli withdrawal and an increasingly nervous Bush Administration is also demanding action. So far Israel has defied all these calls, claiming that it will carry out the operation according to its own timetable and that it is dismantling the terrorist networks that it claims operate within the West Bank.

It is doubtful that even Colin Powell will have any success in forging a ceasefire or the reversal of Ariel Sharon’s policy. Mr. Sharon is determined that only military force can put a stop to the wave of suicide bombings that have occurred in Israel over the past 12 months and he is also determined to isolate, if not destroy the power of Yasser Arafat whom he considers to be an enemy. One cannot help but feel that part of this current campaign is really about dealing with unfinished business from the 1982 invasion of Lebanon.

Mr. Sharon is in a difficult position. As the Prime Minister of Israel he is bound to defend his people who are now living under the ever-present threat of terrorist attack. No matter what statements Mr. Arafat has made claiming to still be a partner in peace and even if he denounces terrorism in Arabic, he is not in control of the extremists. These groups, such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad have declared that their aim is the destruction of Israel and have never supported the peace process. Even if ceasefire talks resume and take effect, it is unlikely that they will join in and are a constant danger. Hence Mr. Sharon is under pressure domestically to respond.

This response is leading to Israel becoming isolated by the international community and with its war on terrorism poised to include an attack on Iraq, the United States cannot be seen to be condoning such action unreservedly. It is interesting to hear that Mr. Bush has begun talking of a Palestinian state and there is a feeling that such a development is only a matter of time. Hence Mr. Sharon’s difficult position.

Having said this, the United States has yet to announce that it will undertake any forceful measures such as cut off aid and military supplies and this is where Mr. Sharon can find strength. Mr. Sharon can keep paying lip service to US requests for a pull back safe in the knowledge that the US will remain a donor to his country and will always deny any strong anti-Israeli measures taken in the United Nations. Although the US must tread carefully among its Arab allies as it prepares its battle plan for its Iraqi offensive, Mr. Sharon must be aware that the Arab opinion and muscle is fractious and lacking teeth. For a start, three Arab states maintain their diplomatic connections with Israel and the Arab League has proved totally ineffectual in forcing its will onto the situation. Given this situation, Mr. Sharon has no incentive to pull back his forces hence his position of strength.

The position of weakness in Mr. Sharon’s campaign is that Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories in no way guarantees his country’s security no matter how many people are killed or arrested. The terrorist threat will always remain and will remain more of a threat if the Israeli army maintains its pressure on the Palestinian territories. This offensive and those that may occur in the future will only harden Palestinian resistance and hatred towards the Jewish state and those who are now moderate in their thinking and belief will eventually become more hard-line and be prepared to fight violence with violence. Terrorism does not operate on any particular timeframe and those who use it will simply bide their time. It makes no difference if the next suicide attack happens next month or next year, Israel is still not guaranteed her security and will not be guaranteed it while on the offensive. This is Mr. Sharon’s position of weakness.

The only possible way out of this situation is for the two sides to negotiate. This sounds very hopeful and almost utopian given the present situation but it is only way forward. There is a question mark hanging over Mr. Arafat’s ability to deliver on any ceasefire deal that is formulated and whether he is in control of the extremists. Perhaps Mr. Arafat is not the man to lead the Palestinians and a new, younger leadership needs to take control if the sides are to talk.

The obstacles in front of any peace process are huge, there is the question of sovereignty over Jerusalem, the refugee problem and the issue of the Israeli settlements in Palestinian areas and these will have to be put on the table and could at any time scuttle the mission to find peace. Washington must be prepared to take a more active role and at least get the Israelis back behind their borders. Until that happens the war will continue and its conclusion will depend on which of the three situations Mr. Sharon believes he can live with the most comfortably.

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