Jewish World Review August 5, 2003 / 7 Menachem-Av, 5763
Sharon is ready to pound Palestinians the way Bush whipped Saddam
By Zev Chafets
Last week, on a visit to Jerusalem, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, described the ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinians as "paper-thin." That overestimates the durability of paper. All signs point to an outbreak of fighting by the end of the summer.
The Palestinians lost the last intifadeh, which is why they asked for a ceasefire. And they will lose the next. The difference is, this time it will be Israel's intifadeh. And America won't be there to stop it. In fact, the United States will be rooting Israel on.
The Palestinians were warned about this when Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas visited the White House last month. Abbas came with complaints: the security fence (Abbas calls it a wall) Israel is building across the West Bank, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's refusal to open the prison gates and release thousands of inmates and the general difficulties of life under occupation.
President Bush was polite. He agreed that the fence might be a problem, although he didn't sound as if he cared much - an impression confirmed during Sharon's subsequent visit to Washington. On the other hand, Bush was unsympathetic on the subject of releasing terrorists and downright hostile to the Palestinian claim that under the terms of the road map, they are obligated to nothing more than a ceasefire.
In the road map, the Palestinians agreed to make "visible efforts on the ground to arrest, disrupt and restrain individuals and groups conducting and planning violent attacks on Israelis anywhere." In other words, Abbas and his colleagues have promised to take on Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and the rest of the armed terrorist groups.
Obviously, the Palestinians knew this when they signed up for the road map. What they didn't know is that Bush would hold them to it. As the late Udai Hussein observed, in a related context, Bush isn't like Bill Clinton. The president is deadly serious about fighting terrorism, including Palestinian terrorism. And so is Sharon (you could say he isn't Ehud Barak).
"For the past three years, we have paid a heavy price for Israel's restraint over the daily violations of the Oslo Accords," he told the graduating class of Israel's National Defense College last week.
But that's all over now. Sharon is demanding nothing less than "a total cessation of violence" and "the fulfillment of every obligation included in the road map." In plain Hebrew, this means that if the Palestinians don't go after the terrorists, he will.
The day after Sharon's speech, Palestinian security chief Mohammed Dahlan responded by saying he would not disarm Hamas and other groups because it would lead to a civil war. He's calling Sharon's bluff. And Bush's.
This will be a painful mistake. Sharon and Bush are operating under the same motto: Bring 'em on.
Sharon has been building toward this moment since he became prime minister. First, by retaking the West Bank in the spring of 2002, he exploded the myth that the Palestinians could win a guerrilla war. Then he isolated and discredited Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Finally, he pounded the Palestinians into exhaustion, forcing them to ask for a temporary truce.
None of this could have come to pass without the backing of the Israeli public - or the support of the Bush administration. The price of this support was signing up for the road map. Sharon - who doesn't necessarily want the Palestinian state the plan envisions - was ready to pay. He figured Abbas' check would bounce, and then he'd get a refund from the Americans.
Sharon seems to have been banking on a sure thing. Palestinian terror groups already are engaged in a recruiting drive and an effort to replenish their weapons, including stocks of crude mortars. Arafat is stridently calling Abbas' patriotism and manhood into question. It's just a matter of time before the Palestinians whip themselves into a delusional state of righteous indignation over Israeli crimes, real and imagined. Then the shooting starts - and Israel's intifadeh.
The campaign Sharon has planned will take its tactical cues from U.S. operations in Iraq. Rules of engagement will be the same. Leaders once considered immune - the chief of Hamas, the heads of Islamic Jihad in Damascus and perhaps Arafat himself - will get the Saddam Hussein treatment.
When the fighting stops, Sharon intends for the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority to be as dead as the Iraqi Baath Party. Any future Palestinian government will have to conform to the criteria America has set for self-government in Baghdad: constitutional government and a full commitment to peace.
It is, of course, unclear that the United States can pull this off in Iraq. And it is perhaps even less likely that it will work in the West Bank and Gaza. But that doesn't trouble Sharon. Having adopted the American gold standard, he comes out ahead. Pentagon stock market or no, Palestinian futures are a loser.
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© 2003, New York Daily News