Skip to main content

Consider this: Israel's Bulldozer a man of peace

JERUSALEM – The morning after Ariel Sharon’s sweeping victory, a Palestinian translator showed me where to scramble over a pile of rubble to get to the West Bank. We were on our way to interview the parents of a young suicide bomber. Brilliant and beautiful, she was just 17 when she blew herself up.
Her parents mourn their daughter. But they’re also furious with Mr. Sharon and the Israelis, who have made their lives a misery. (And make no mistake: They have.) Like nearly all the Palestinians I’ve met, they can find no fault with their own side, not even with the people who obtained the explosives and strapped them to their beautiful girl and took her to a supermarket on the other side. All their misery is due to the Israelis. They tell me, no wonder children detonate themselves in protest.
The Palestinians (as well as Israel’s die-hard doves and the entire European and Canadian left) are certain that Mr. Sharon is about to rain down even more disaster on their heads. But there is another possibility. Mr. Sharon could be the best shot they’ve got at peace.
That’s the view of some of Israel’s most interesting thinkers. One is Eran Lerman, a long-time military intelligence officer who now heads the Israel office of the American Jewish Committee.
For starters, the Sharon victory means that Yasser Arafat is really through. “Arafat is convinced he’s the great master of Israeli politics,” Mr. Lerman says. “The purpose of his strategy for the past two years was to convince Israelis that Mr. Sharon could not give them security.” He figured people would get so fed up with terror that they would head straight back into the arms of the Labour Party, which, after all, has resurrected Mr. Arafat’s career more than once before. But this time he was wrong. This time, people got so fed up with terror that they endorsed the man who vowed never to negotiate under fire. In fact, they doubled his mandate.
Mr. Arafat – and other Arab leaders – now know with certainty that Mr. Sharon is here to stay. Yesterday, Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak was quick to call Mr. Sharon and suggest a meeting. When a television crew interviewed Mr. Arafat, he sounded almost plaintive. “I don’t know who there is left to talk to.”
There isn’t anyone. Historian Michael Oren passionately articulates the new view. “There’s a tremendous urge to deny it, but we’re in a war. We’re in 1943. First we win the war. Then we can begin to give things up.”
The Israelis have been shocked into reality. But Mr. Lerman believes the stalemate won’t be broken until the Palestinians get their own shock: Iraq.
“The Americans are going to create a completely different strategic environment in the Middle East,” he says. He and many others believe that the Americans’ longer-term goal is not simply to kick out the world’s most sadistic tyrant but to drain the swamp of Islamic totalitarianism in the Middle East. Saddam Hussein’s ouster could be the shock of reality the Palestinians need.
Mr. Sharon knows he needs George W. Bush to bring the Palestinians back to the table, that nothing will happen until after the action in Iraq. So his game plan has been to hold fast. Both left and right have criticized him harshly. “But he knows it’s not wise to make important decisions when the entire environment is going to change,” says Mr. Lerman.
Lots of people argue that the Middle East’s hostility toward the West will never ease until the Palestinian issue is resolved. Mr. Bush and Mr. Sharon think it’s the other way around. They think the Palestinian conflict is just part of a bigger problem, the Arab world’s general dysfunction. Bernard Lewis, the great historian of Islam, agrees. He says the Palestinian conflict is just another example of the bloody clashes that arise on the margins of Islam, whenever it encounters a competing civilization.
Mr. Sharon as a man of peace? Many would laugh in disbelief. His critics say his vow never to negotiate under fire is really an excuse never to negotiate at all.
Mr. Lerman thinks otherwise. All Mr. Sharon wants, he says, is evidence of a serious effort to stop terror. “At the moment, there is not a 100-per-cent effort. There is maybe a 15-per-cent effort. At the moment, Arafat’s position is still that terrorism serves his purpose.”
After my guide and I scrambled back across the rocks to Jerusalem, I went to see some propaganda videos that have been running for the past two years on Palestinian TV. Their aim is to inspire teenagers to embrace martyrdom. In one, a girl wearing military clothes is singing a song as kids dance happily behind her. It’s cut like a rock video, and the girl uncannily resembles the 17-year-old who blew herself up. “I will even willingly fall as a Shihad,” she sings.
It will take more than one miracle to bring peace to this place. And peace will be impossible until the Palestinians take their poisoned messages off the air.
Categories in this Analysis