Sharon, `Zionist project' impede Mideast peace

November 06, 2001|By Ahmed Bouzid

WAYNE, Pa. - Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has never minced words about his long-term vision for Israel and the future he has in store for his Palestinian neighbors - a greater Israel in control of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Within this greater Israel, Palestinians would be confined to "security zones" dotted by Jewish settlements and Israeli army bases, their movement closely watched and regulated and their economy tightly controlled and subservient to that of Israel.

Palestinians would be allowed to "administer" themselves - take care of the daily chores of picking up garbage, sweeping the streets, regulating traffic and chasing common thieves - but would not be allowed to build an independent economy or live free from outside interference as a sovereign nation.

In other words, Mr. Sharon wants to turn the indigenous 4 million Palestinians who surround Israel into the equivalent of Native Americans: formally recognize them as "a nation," but only nominally. (It is no coincidence that the one successful business in the West Bank and Gaza before the outbreak of the second intifada more than 13 months ago was the casino industry.)

Small wonder that when President Bush said the United States envisions a Palestinian state as the endpoint of a final settlement, Mr. Sharon shot back with a bitter reference to the 1938 sellout of Czechoslovakia to the Nazis - a thinly veiled charge of anti-Semitism against Israel's longtime ally, benefactor and protector.

Israel should not be sacrificed for the sake of building a coalition with the Arabs, Mr. Sharon protested, drawing a sharp rebuke from a White House growing increasingly impatient with the unwieldy prime minister.

Mr. Sharon, of course, meant every word when he said that recognition of a Palestinian state was tantamount to sacrificing Israel. And he was right: The existence of a sovereign Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza means the end of what Mr. Sharon calls the "Zionist project" and the end of Israel as he envisions it.

So where does this leave the Bush administration and the plan by former Sen. George Mitchell for a freeze on future settlement building? Nowhere. The Mitchell plan is a non-starter so long as Mr. Sharon is in power and his vision of a greater Israel remains alive.

If the peace process and progress toward resolving the conflict are to become reachable goals once again - as they were tantalizingly close to becoming during the last round of negotiations with then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak in the spring - Mr. Sharon must leave office and the Zionist project of a greater Israel must come to a close.

In 1991, President George H.W. Bush, facing an unyielding Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, threatened to withhold aid from the Jewish state if settlement building in the West Bank and Gaza continued.

That confrontation resulted in the Madrid conference in October of that year, which included Israelis, Americans, Syrians and other Arab representatives, including Palestinians who did not officially represent the Palestine Liberation Organization.

For the first time, and after decades of stalling and detracting, attacking and then crying wolf, after years of obfuscation, Israel finally agreed to negotiate.

This President Bush faces a similar situation, but this opportunity is far more significant than the one created by his father.

Mr. Bush has the opportunity to end the idea of expansionist Zionism.

Most Israelis, let alone Jews, are not interested in Mr. Sharon's vision of a greater Israel; they simply want an end to the conflict and lasting, peaceful co-existence with the Palestinians. They are not interested in building new settlements but rather in building their own economy and normalizing their relations with the outside world.

Mr. Sharon's priorities are exactly the opposite: He has demonstrated that he is willing to sacrifice everything - Israel's economy, security and even its crucial relationship with the United States - for the sake of keeping his project alive.

But the lesson of 1991 tells us that Israel will sacrifice everything except its special relationship with the United States.

This provides Mr. Bush with an opening to offer the Israelis a stark choice, as he well knows how to do: Either you are with us or you are with Ariel Sharon; either give up the notion of a greater Israel or give up support from the United States.

If Mr. Sharon falls, and especially if he does so as a result of direct and open U.S. pressure, the expansionist project - and the temptation to pursue it - will end and peace with the Palestinians will become a tangible, accessible possibility.

The question is: will Mr. Bush be so bold as to emulate his father?

Ahmed Bouzid is president of Palestine Media Watch, a grassroots organization that promotes fair and objective coverage by the U.S. media of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.