[The article went to Print a few hours before Israel's attempted assassination of Hamas spokesman in Gaza, Abdel Aziz Rantisi.]
The Israeli public discourse has been storming around "Sharon's revolutionary change of mind". The extensive debate on his psyche focuses on the question whether he has changed from the inside, or whether it is all just U.S. pressure. Either way, Sharon has turned suddenly into the beloved leader of the Israeli "peace camp". The right wing is furious and the peace camp celebrates, yet both sides agree on the substance of what they perceive has occurred: Sharon's Israel has already taken the fatal historical step, and gave up on the occupation. - "In Akaba, the State of Palestine was founded"! - declared the headline of Yediot Aharonot on June 5. This is because, following in the tradition of Oslo, the mere declaration of a willingness to give away something at some future time, is by itself the most painful and crucial of concessions. As stated by Abraham Burg in his excited address of appreciation to Sharon, "even if you will regret this later; even if you will not stand the pressure of your own party, you already made your contribution, because you said occupation, you said evacuation, you said peace, you started to believe" (Yideot Aharonot, June 5, 2003 ).
In the Israeli consciousness, it is not the test of actions that matters, but the test of words - the complex art of the simulation of peace, which so eased our conscience during Oslo. In this perception, Bush and Sharon are the indubitable proponents of world peace. Who would stop to notice what actually occurs in the real world?
From May onward we began to hear that:
"Hamas leaders openly declared their willingness this weekend to enter a temporary cease-fire (hudna) with Israel, for the first time since the establishment of the movement in 1987. If such a cease-fire is attained, it would mean a cessation of terror attacks against civilians in Israel. A senior Hamas spokesman in Gaza, Abdel Aziz Rantisi, who usually represents movement hardliners, said on Friday: 'The Hamas movement is prepared to stop terror against Israeli civilians if Israel stops killing Palestinian civilians ... We have told (Palestinian Authority Prime Minister) Abu Mazen in our meetings that there is an opportunity to stop targeting Israeli civilians if the Israelis stop assassinations and raids and stop brutalizing Palestinian civlilians" (Ha'aretz, Arnon Regular, May 25, 2003).
What could be more suitable for a new peace initiative then starting with a period of some calm - quiet for the Israelis without terror, quiet for the Palestinians without the constant presence of the IDF in their midst? Not in Sharon's view, who repeatedly rejected this proposal. On the eve of the Aqaba summit, the headline in Ha'aretz declared: "The prime minister: A Palestinian ceasefire is not enough"; and the text continued to explain that:
"in his meeting with U.S. president George Bush at the Aqaba summit, prime-minister Ariel Sharon will seek the U.S. backing of his demand that the Palestinian authority will use forceful [military] means against the terror organizations and their infrastructure in the territories, as a precondition for any diplomatic advance. Sharon will tell Bush that it is not acceptable to settle just for agreements between the Palestinian organizations to a cease fire (Hudna)...In return Sharon will promise Bush that Israel will evacuate illegal outposts in the West bank" (Ha'aretz Hebrew edition, Aluf Ben, June 2, 2003). (1)
In other words, until the Palestinian organizations willingly begin to kill one another, the IDF will continue to do this job for them.
In the plans of Sharon and the army, the situation in the territories will remain precisely where it stands today: IDF soldiers present everywhere, demolishing, killing, abusing, and causing starvation. Each week, another piece of Palestinian land is stolen under the auspices of the Separation Wall project. Even during the week of the peace summits, when in the world of simulation the headlines heralded an easing of the closure, the IDF made sure to clarify that nothing would change. On the contrary, the restrictions over Palestinian movement were increased. (Ha'aretz, June 3, 2003, see (2) below). The diabolical aspect of this plan is that from now on, only the Palestinians will be accused of whatever happens. Since the Aqaba summit, Palestinians shouldn't show any resistance to the IDF, because in the Israelis' perception, Israel has already fulfilled its part of the bargain when Sharon declared that he has had enough of the occupation, and will even evacuate a number of outposts (most of which are empty). Now it is the turn of the Palestinian Authority to fulfill its part of the generous agreement and to prove that it is capable of controlling terror, even without any change in the situation on the ground.
Thus, the People of Israel are left to wait for the next inevitable terror attack, following which, we will sigh and declare, "what could we do, we tried again, but with the Palestinians, making peace is just impossible."
No doubt that the deterioration of the Intifada into armed struggle brought disaster upon the Palestinians. No doubt that it would be better to return to a path of non-violent struggle, but for that, one basic condition must exist that Israel will make this path possible for the Palestinians. The only significant sentence in the Road Map text requires that already at the first stage, Israel should withdraw from Palestinian areas that it entered since the beginning of the Intifada and allow for a restoration of the status quo existing then. If a peace camp had actually existed in Israel, instead of marveling at the wonders of Sharon's soul, it would demand that he implements at least this minimum requirement.
(1) Is it just an incident that in the internet English version of Ha'aretz, this piece of information was eliminated altogether, and the headline announced only Sharon's willingness to evacuate outposts?
(2) Here is the full report of Arnon Regular on the closure situation at the week of the summits, in Ha'aretz, Tuesday, June 3, 2003
No signs of eased conditions in West Bank By Arnon Regular
"The picture that emerged yesterday after a day of driving up and down and back and forth across the West Bank is of tens of thousands of people who have seemingly been thrown back into the Middle Ages, when the only mode of transport was by foot."
On road to Ramallah, thousands
still travel by foot from village to city and back Haj Yusuf Musa, 77, is on
his way back to his village, north of Ramallah, after he made
the trip to the city to get medicine for his bad back.
He makes his way - on foot - down the road to the checkpoint that marks the start of the area where Palestinian vehicles are not allowed to travel. From there, he makes his way down a steep hill, for about 500 meters into a wadi, and then back up another hill, for another 500 meters, to reach another checkpoint. Only when he's through that checkpoint can he look for a Palestinian taxi to take him to his village.
Yesterday, like every day, thousands of people crossed this checkpoint on foot. Cripples on crutches, elderly people and children, women, the pregnant, old and infirm, some on horses others on donkeys, everyone goes through the humiliation. Those who need medicine or those who want to visit family.
Adal, a handicapped man from Silwad, needs his crutches to stand. He's sweating in the hot sun after somehow making his way down the 500 meters and then back up the 500 meters. The pity of the others goes out to him. Someone offers him water, another suggests he lean against a railing. After he catches his breath, he explains he couldn't find a car that would take him.
Like him, thousands of people have to go through the Surda checkpoint at the northern entrance to Ramallah every day. And the long queues are characteristic of all the checkpoints.
At the Halhul and Sa'ir checkpoints, the same picture was seen yesterday as it was at Qalandiyah and at the Gush Etzion junction.
At first, it seemed the Surda checkpoint only handed the tens of thousands of villagers from north of Ramallah, on their way to the city, but the checkpoint explains the reality created during the nearly three years of intifada. People from Nablus, Jenin, Tul Karm and Qalqiliyah, who have made their way through four, five and sometimes six previous checkpoints to reach this one, line up.
Palestinians are not allowed to use the thousands of kilometers of new highways and "bypass" roads built in the territories over the past decades. Only settlers and the army are allowed on those roads. They aren't allowed on Highway 60, the main road in the West Bank.
Hundreds of mounds of dirt and mobile and stationary checkpoints force them onto the side roads, old one-lane roads, sometimes made of dirt, often in bad repair, and those who want to go to Ramallah from Nablus, for example, have to take the narrow village roads. Eventually, they all end up at Surda.
A few months ago, the civil administration decided to let Palestinian buses move on main roads. But the lengthy security checks required to get a pass to use the buses, has kept them empty. There are parking lots with the buses in Halhul, al Khader, and in the northern West Bank. A lot of buses. Very few passengers.
The picture that emerged yesterday after a day of driving up and down and back and forth across the West Bank is of tens of thousands of people who have seemingly been thrown back into the Middle Ages, when the only mode of transport was by foot. Nobody is allowed to take a vehicle from a village to a city. Instead, they must get off at checkpoints, walk the extra few hundred meters, and then, if they have the money, take a cab to the next checkpoint, where again they have to walk the few hundred meters - sometimes more - to the next point where they can get a taxi.
The Palestinians might have heard about Israel's easing conditions for travel, but they haven't seen this on the ground. In fact, there are signs that nothing at all has changed. Take the little checkpoint at Ein Ariq, west of Ramallah, used by hundreds of villagers from the area. It's a relatively small checkpoint, consisting of a couple of jeeps that sometimes are there and sometimes not. On Friday, less than 24 hours after the summit of prime ministers in Jerusalem and announcements of abatements, an Israel Defense Forces bulldozer showed up for the first time in the intifada and dug a channel across the road, ending the possibility of using a car to get through the checkpoint, even if the jeeps aren't there. Thus, the thousands of villagers in that area yesterday joined their brethren at checkpoints elsewhere in the West Bank, lined up at the blockade. A line of about 1,000 people lined up in front of the checkpoint, on their way by foot to Ramallah.