ISRAELI PRIME Minister Ariel Sharon's timing is impeccable: a few hours after Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, the founder and spiritual mentor of Hamas, said that the movement would consider a halt to suicide attacks on Israelis if Israel withdraws from West Bank cities, stops demolishing houses, releases prisoners and ends assassinations. Sharon slaughtered at least 15 Palestinians in Gaza City when he ordered an Israeli F-16 fighter to rocket a closely built, poor Palestinian neighbourhood in the centre of town. He knew fully well that many innocent people would be killed, maimed and injured.
Sheikh Yassin's conciliatory statement came after Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Palestinian National Authority had reached a preliminary agreement to halt bombings and shootings against Israeli civilians. An hour and a half later, Sharon's missile attack blew up that arrangement before it could be put into effect.
With the air strike, Sharon achieved another major objective. Amos Harel, writing in Tuesday's Haaretz, said that the Israeli army "will be forced to remain in the West Bank cities for a long time, at least until the end of summer, if not longer" to prevent Palestinians from seeking revenge by hitting Israeli civilians.
On the one hand, the Gaza operation preempted a Palestinian effort to curb operations against Israelis; on the other, it guaranteed that there would be further attacks.
Ever since he took office in March 2001, Sharon has carried out one sort of provocative action or another whenever the Palestinian side would get its security act together or conditions would be established for the resumption of political negotiations. Sharon has also incorporated the provocation tactic into an overall strategy of provocation followed by escalation, with the aim of sustaining Israel's war of attrition against the Palestinians. Sharon's immediate objectives are to suppress the Palestinian Intifada, destroy the PNA and remove Palestinian President Yasser Arafat from power.
This has been an offensive like none other waged previously by Sharon during his long career as an "Arab fighter". His earlier military endeavours were characterised by bravado, exaggeration and excess, earning him the nickname of "bulldozer". But over the past 18 months, Sharon has kept aggressive language at a minimum and devised a low profile, step-by-step strategy for achieving his objectives. However, the F-16 strike on Gaza and Sharon's triumphant boast over the assassination of the Hamas military chief revealed that under the new, controlled, Sharon lurks the "bulldozer", the old general with a strong killer instinct. Ignoring angry accusations that the army wrongly rocketed a civilian neighbourhood, Sharon can be expected to return to his carefully calculated incremental escalation of economic, political and military pressure on the Palestinians.
Sharon began his campaign by tightening the siege on Palestinian population centres and stepping up assassinations of key Palestinian political figures and militants. Siege, closure and blockade were meant to wreak havoc with the Palestinian economy and impoverish ordinary Palestinians, making them susceptible to political and military pressure. Sharon wants a passive Palestinian populace.
The policy of assassinations, or "targeted killings", was designed to goad Palestinian resistance groups and individual militants into retaliating, fuelling Sharon's ongoing war of attrition. Sharon also uses the tit-for-tat relationship to gradually escalate his military offensive.
The mechanism Sharon used to implement his strategy involved tactical Israeli retaliation for every Palestinian act of resistance. Retaliation could be on the political, economic or military planes. This mechanism was put into full operation last August, after a Palestinian blew himself up at a pizza parlour on Jaffa Road in West Jerusalem, killing 15 Israelis. The next morning, Israel retaliated with a political rather than a military operation. Israeli troops and police seized and sealed Orient House, the symbol of the Palestinian presence in occupied East Jerusalem, and eight other Palestinian institutions, including the office of the PNA's governor of the Jerusalem district, located in the suburb of Abu Dis. In one sweep, Sharon effectively finished off Palestinian political and social representation in East Jerusalem, which Israel claims as its exclusive, undivided capital. The Palestinian citizens of Jerusalem have not recovered from that heavy and harsh blow.
Sharon followed up this telling political coup with two "targeted killings" and unprecedented incursions into the West Bank cities of Tulkarem, Jenin and Hebron. Operations of this type had, previously, been conducted in the Gaza Strip, but not the West Bank. Thus, in the space of a few days, Sharon had dealt the Palestinians a particularly harsh blow in Jerusalem and paved the way for the Israeli army to reoccupy Palestinian population centres in the West Bank.
On Oct. 25, two Palestinians from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) attacked an Israeli army compound in Gaza, killing three Israeli soldiers. On Oct. 27, Sharon assassinated Mustafa Ali Zibri (Abu Ali Mustafa), the PFLP chief, in Ramallah. The front, which had a strong presence in the Bethlehem area, responded by shelling the Israeli settlement of Gilo, across the valley. Late that night, Israeli forces invaded and occupied the West Bank town of Beit Jala, adjacent to Bethlehem. Israeli spokesman said troops would stay "as long as needed" to root out snipers and restore security.
While this operation was taking place, Israeli police and security agents looted Orient House of valuable files and records compiled over the past 30 years, depriving the Palestinians of the wherewithal to claim Palestinian properties in West Jerusalem, captured by Israel in 1948.
During their initial 50 hour reoccupation of Beit Jala, Israeli troops imposed a curfew, moved into Palestinian homes and locked entire families into small rooms. Tanks roamed the narrow streets flattening cars and smashing walls. The Israeli army's actions in Beit Jala set the pattern for its behaviour in the West Bank cities and towns reoccupied from March 29 to May 10 this year and during the past month.
Sharon's policy of eliciting a Palestinian response for aggressive Israeli actions has produced a cycle of bloodletting which has conditioned the international community to accept shootings, bombings and missile attacks as "normal" activities in the situation prevailing in Israel and the occupied territories. Furthermore, Israel's massive military operations against Palestinian cities and towns are now seen by outsiders as "normal" responses to "unacceptable" Palestinian behaviour, now deemed to be "terrorism" rather than resistance to occupation. Sharon has deprived the resistance of its legitimacy. This very important development makes the Palestinians one of the few peoples in world history who are not accorded the right to resist an alien occupying power which is stealing their land and depriving them of self-determination.
Although Israel's actions in West Bank and Gaza Strip amount to collective punishment and constitute flagrant violations of international humanitarian law and the laws of war, Sharon knows he can get away with such behaviour because he has the full support of the Bush administration. He is also aware that Europe is not prepared to challenge Washington by condemning Israel or castigating its prime minister. Impunity has enabled Sharon to use his forces to demolish the Palestinian administration, destroy the Palestinian police and security forces and deny Arafat the ability to govern or to take action against Palestinians attacking Israelis.
Thoughtful Israeli analysts are predicting that Israel will soon impose direct rule on the West Bank and Gaza. It is highly significant that the most recent meeting between Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Palestinian personalities was also attended by Major General Amos Gilad, coordinator of Israeli activities in the West Bank and Gaza. This office is the successor to Israel's so-called "Civil Administration" which ruled the West Bank and Gaza before Arafat's return in 1994. At that time, the powers of the "Civil Administration" were gradually assumed by the ministries of the PNA. But the "Civil Administration" was never disbanded. It continues to operate in all the West Bank and Gaza, including the areas supposed to be under full Palestinian control. While the authority provided services to the Palestinian populace, the Israeli "Civil Administration" continued to control the freedom of movement of Palestinian citizens and goods, determined whether Palestinian labourers would be given permits to work in Israel and, through liaison offices, intervened in and supervised the activities of the PNA.
According to an editorial in Haaretz, Sharon will argue that he has "no choice" because the PNA has collapsed and that the reactivation of the "Civil Administration" will be "a humanitarian step".
Serious Israeli commentators contend that the ultimate objective of Sharon's strategy is to reimpose full political and military occupation on the West Bank, grant the Palestinians a rump state in the Gaza Strip, encourage West Bankers to move to Gaza and deport Arafat to Gaza as the president of the entity. Thereafter, Sharon would maintain economic pressure on Palestinians remaining in the West Bank, with the aim of forcing many to emigrate, leaving a "manageable" Palestinian minority which would provide Israel with cheap labour for jobs Israelis are unwilling to perform. Since the Palestinians are unlikely to submit to Sharon's diktat, the region could very well suffer another century of warfare.
Little wonder that Saudi Foreign Minister Saud Al Faisal said last week after a meeting at the White House that "regime change" is needed in Israel if there is to be peace between the Arabs and the Jewish state. Sharon, the prince said, "will lead [the region] only to tragedy and conflict". Prince Saud called upon the Israelis to make the leadership change necessary to achieve peace. It is not surprising that his words were widely reported in the Arab press but not in Western media.
Copyright © Michael Jansen, Jordan Times 2002. For fair use only
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