Mar. 25, 2004
With the killing of Sheikh Yassin, Israel has altered the very nature of the Middle East conflict. It has done what even certain “sane” military and right-wing elements in Israel have warned against: transforming a political conflict with the Palestinians into a war between the Israeli and Palestinians peoples. The danger of conflicts between peoples and religions is that they have no political solution; they often lead to repression, endemic conflict, displacement, massacre and genocide. Even more threatening, Sharon has fanned the flames of Holy War between the Judeo-Christian world and Islam, skillfully harnessing for his purposes the Neo-Cons ambition for American Empire and Christian Fundamentalist anticipations of Armageddon.
In some ways this is no transformation at all. For Israel, the Middle East conflict is not a conflict at all, merely a process of redeeming the exclusive Jewish claim to the country from its Arab usurpers. The Palestinians are irrelevant to this process, although some accommodation must be found for (not with) them. Because of this Israel denies that it even has an occupation; one cannot, after all, occupy one’s own country.
Ironically, it has been the Palestinians who have kept the conflict within political bounds. Despite attempts in the pre-1948 period of Haj Amin el-Husseini to frame the conflict in absolute either-or religious terms (a framing that found little support), the PLO, together with the Arab governments, never eliminated the possibility of a political solution. Even Hamas, whose creation was nurtured by Israel in the 1980s as a counter-weight to the secular and political PLO, considered itself part of the Palestinian liberation movement. Its ideology may have rejected the existence of Israel, but its political program did not.
Sharon knows this well. He also knows that Hamas terrorism did not pose a strategic threat to Israel comparable to opening a Holy War with the Arab and Muslim worlds. Why, then, did he alter the very nature of the conflict by assassinating Sheikh Yassin? The answer has to do with a timetable dictated by two political careers. Sharon has endeavored for a quarter century to permanently incorporate the West Bank into Israel, thereby establishing de facto Israeli control over the entire country to the Jordan River. He is now approaching the end of his political career, and if he leaves office without transforming a military Occupation into an approved political “fact” then he leaves his life’s enterprise at risk. Approved by whom? By the US, of course, with Europe following along obediently.
But Sharon’s closest ally, Bush, also faces a difficult election. Sharon’s only hope of unilaterally imposing a solution” by which Israel retains control of 90% of the country and the Palestinians are confined to the enclaves on the other 10% is to blame them for the violence on the ground and for the failure of the road map. The killing of Shekh Yassin, Sharon calculates, will unleash a wave of violence that, though containable, will render the Palestinian Authority irrelevant, destroy any political process and thereby give Israel the pretext to force its hegemony in the name of “"self-defense.” Bush will play his part in backing this ploy in the guise of approving Sharon’s “disengagement plan.” In the nick of time, before both (may) leave office, Sharon has imposed his Pax Israeliana/Americana on the Palestinians.
Sharon is pursuing the right-wing Israeli version of Armageddon, egged on by American Christian fundamentalists (40% of the voters for Bush and Cheney) and Neo-Con advocates of American Empire. The prospect of an all-out war against the Muslim world bothers none of them, least of all Sharon. On the contrary, the confluence of American unilateralism with his own unilateral plans only encourages him. As a by-product for aligning with American and its compliant allies in Europe against “Islamic Terror,” Sharon will eliminate the Palestinians’ claims to any part of the Land of Israel, thereby forcing them to submit to a mini-state ensuring Israeli control forever.
Sharon has always been a person of grand strategic plans yet a simplistic view of the world based on military might. His grand scheme for reconfiguring the Middle East through the war in Lebanon in 1982 ended in a huge failure, but at least it was confined to the Middle East. By transforming a political conflict into a war of peoples and religions, Sharon is liable to push us all into a global catastrophe. In the wake of Sheikh Yassin’s killing, Hamas issued a statement saying that Sharon has opened the Gates of Hell. Let us hope that a Western world intoxicated by power and self-righteousness will sober up and stop Sharon before he does us all in.
(Jeff Halper is the Coordinator of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD). He can be reached at +972-50-651425. Until April 2 he will be at +39 335 661 1913.)