It is in the nature of a quarterly that while it is impossible to analyze crucial developments immediately it is equally out of the question to ignore them completely. Thus we feel the need to address, if only in brief, the impact of recent events as they affect our lives and the geo-politics of the region today.
On September 11, 2001 a group of extremist commandos, apparently affiliated with Ossama Bin Laden, hijacked four civilian American planes and used them to destroy the Twin Towers in New York and part of the Pentagon in Washington, killing thousands of innocent people in the process. This heinous attack induced President Bush to proclaim all-out war against terrorism, starting with the massive bombing of Taliban forces in Afghanistan, with the aim of flushing out, and eventually capturing or killing, Bin Laden and his followers.
Meanwhile, the hardening of the armed confrontation between Israelis and Palestinians is making a mockery of successive cease-fire proclamations and seems to be eliminating prospects of renewed peace talks between leaders of the two nations.
How is the international war against terrorism affecting the Israeli¬Palestinian dispute? The Sharon government is trying to convince other governments and the public that all forms of Palestinian resistance are terrorism (Bin Laden style), and that the Arafat-Ied Palestinian Authority is no partner for peace negotiations.
This attitude by the Sharon government is also reflected in a local development. The co-founder and co-editor of this journal, Ziad Abu¬Zayyad, who lives in the Jerusalem suburb of El Azariya, has been forbidden by the Israeli authorities to enter Jerusalem. He is thus prevented from reaching our editorial offices in East Jerusalem. This act of intimidation aims, among other things, to disrupt the normal work of the Palestine-Israel Journal. But we are continuing publication despite the difficulties caused by Ziad Abu-Ziyyad's enforced absence. A statement issued by us called "Harassment," protesting against this treatment, was published in English and in Hebrew by the Israeli daily Ha'aretz (see page 6). The statement evoked wide public support and identification. Yael Oayan, Labor Knesset member, and prominent Hebrew novelist Oavid Grossman jointly wrote to the Israeli government to seek redress. Moreover, several international human rights organizations such as Reporters sans Frontieres Qournalists without Frontiers, based in Paris) have shown interest in the case of Ziad Abu-Zayyad, and Human Rights Watch, based in New York, has been provided with relevant information.
It is not accidental that the Sharon government has targeted Ziad Abu¬Zayyad. An elected member of the Palestinian Legislative Assembly and a minister in Arafat's cabinet, a man of principle and of dialogue, Abu-Zayyad has refused to be deterred by the collapse of the peace process. The patient search for mutually acceptable compromise solutions in the protracted Palestinian-Israeli dispute remains high on his agenda. Is this Ziad Abu¬Zayyad's capital sin in the eyes of Israel's present government? Does this make him so "dangerous"?
Sharon is adamant about not resuming Israeli-Palestinian political discussions until he gets his "total quiet." Such an attitude clearly renders peace negotiations hostage not only to terrorist attacks but also to a single bullet fired by any Palestinian. And this is precisely Sharon's goal: to prevent at all costs the possibility of re-launching Israeli-Palestinian talks, to destroy what is left of both people's faith in the peace process, as well as to delegitimize and demonize Yasser Arafat. What will happen if a discredited Arafat, incapable of protecting his people against Sharon's brutal military onslaught i:md of rekindling negotiations leading to the emergence of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel, is forced to resign or leave the country altogether? In this case, an impoverished, frustrated and embittered Palestinian population, having lost all hope for a better life in a fair peace settlement with Israel, might well favor the choice of an extremist Islamic leader.
Such a scenario would be welcome relief to Ariel Sharon. On principle, Islamic or other extremists oppose the very existence of the state of Israel. With them there is no "danger" of entering into political discussions. Sharon's purpose would thus be met, since he has no intention of ending the occupation of Palestinian territory, or of dismantling Jewish settlements, which are the major obstacle to creating normal borders between a Palestinian state and Israel. According to Sharon's strategy, the replacement of Arafat (say by a Hamas leader) is a perfect solution: there will no longer be any U.s. pressure on Israel to be more flexible in the face of Palestinian demands for withdrawal, no more room for Peres's peace posturing. Such a development would offer an ideal opportunity to finalize Israel's territorial expansion at the expense of the Palestinians.
Sharon may be miscalculating, though. President Bush wants his anti¬terrorist coalition against the Taliban to remain united. It has wider implications. He needs the goodwill of Arab and Islamic nations. Bush will therefore continue to push for reducing Israeli-Palestinian tensions. What seems impossible today, namely UN-sponsored military intervention, may well become the reality of tomorrow. A U.N. Security Council resolution, backed by a U.S. angered at Israeli policy, would grant the Palestinians international protection against Israel's excessive military might and would impose on the two warring parties if not peace then at least a cease-fire.
Sharon may realize that the Americans are losing patience with Israel. But he remains optimistic in the belief that time may work to his advantage. He expects the Bush administration to become disillusioned with reluctant support for the campaign in Afghanistan from Arab and Muslim states. Sharon hopes that very soon, an angry and impatient Bush may decide to drop these unreliable allies. Israel will then regain its place in the US-led anti¬terrorist coalition (or so the thinking goes), and US pressure on Israel for a peace settlement based on the creation of a Palestinian state will become a thing of the past.
This scenario is not necessarily completely far-fetched. However, Sharon's error lies elsewhere. He overlooks the fact that though US pressure on Israel may temporarily abate, the Palestinian problem will not. Even if Sharon intensifies his brutal strikes against Palestinian towns and villages, and if the number of Palestinians killed increases to many thousands, the 3.6 million¬strong Palestinian people in the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem will not fade away. The frustrated Palestinian hopes for freedom and independence will more than ever find expression in an implacable struggle against occupation, conducted with all available means. This will bring neither peace nor security to the Israeli people.
Thus wherever one turns, as long as Sharon's policies are maintained, with or without Shimon Peres's blessings, the future for both nations, Palestinians and Israelis alike, looks bleak indeed.