A tactical peace in the Middle East

Ariel Sharon has a lot of things to worry about these days, and I’d like to add one to his list. The Israeli Prime Minister is primed and ready to continue on the West Bank

Ariel Sharon has a lot of things to worry about these days, and I’d like to add one to his list. The Israeli Prime Minister is primed and ready to continue on the West Bank and Gaza Strip pullout plan with or without the support of his party. But prudence should give him pause before he rebukes his own advisors and runs heedlessly into the arms of a historical enemy whose motives for peace-making seem purely tactical.

On March 17, a budget vote will determine whether Sharon retains his power in Israel. There’s a little catch there. The same blokes who have to approve that budget have called for a referendum on the pullout. Seems they think the people should have a say. Whether they hold one or not is immaterial, because Sharon has created tension within his own party by forging ahead without regard to the referendum movement, putting his job on the line and alienating his friends just when he’ll need them most.

The world has hailed Sharon and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas for their efforts toward peace in the wake of Yasser Arafat’s death last November. It’s no surprise that Abbas has made peace a priority, according to Daniel Pipes, the director of the Middle East Forum in Philadelphia. Abbas had been outspoken for several years in favor of ceasing violence. But there’s a big difference between dropping weapons and becoming friends.

“It’s a tactical decision, and it’s a correct tactical decision, but it’s merely a tactical decision,” Pipes said in an interview with Australian Broadcasting Corporation in February. “It’s not saying that we accept Israel and we’re going to live in harmony with Israel. It’s saying violence at this time is counterproductive.”

Abbas promised again to end violence when he spoke in Brussels earlier this month. According to an Associated Press article, “In contrast to Yasser Arafat … Abbas is embraced as a moderate who genuinely wants to end the fighting that broke out in 2000, derailing a peace effort … to establish a Palestinian state.” Abbas’ desire to end the fighting is not in question, but his motives should be, and the evidence says that he’s not the moderate the world so wishes him to be.

Pipes said that Abbas has been reticent to say that he actually aims to end the war, instead choosing words carefully to call only for a cease-fire.

“He has celebrated the elements in, for example, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade who have clearly called for the destruction of Israel and he has associated with them. He has used terms like ‘the Zionist enemy.’ [Take] his record as an aide to Yasser Arafat for 40 years,” Pipes said. “I need to ask you: What evidence do you have that he has actually given this up, because everything, I think, points to his still holding onto this goal.”

Maybe Pipes is a doomsayer, but he’s also a respected expert on the Middle East, appointed in 2003 to the U.S. Institute of Peace by President Bush. And if he’s right, it’s a major concern that world governments, the media, commentators and academics have universally accepted Palestinian rhetoric as an indication that since the Oslo accord they have given up hope of destroying Israel.

“The peace of the brave is within our reach,” Bill Clinton said in September of 1993 when then Israeli Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin shook hands with Arafat on the White House lawn. Over a decade later, that peace still eludes the Middle East. It is clear that Arafat had no true intention of living peaceably with Israel then, and it is foolish to assume that Abbas is not simply playing the same tactical game, and playing it well.

Elizabeth Vaughn can be reached at minestrone2005@hotmail.com.

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