If there is a God, he surely has a sense of humor. The career of Shimon Peres, who is about to finish his term as president of Israel, is clear evidence. Here is a life-long politician, who has never won an election. Here is the world-renowned Man of Peace, who has started several wars and never done anything for peace. Here is the most popular political figure in Israel who for most of his life was hated and despised.
Tag Archives | Ariel Sharon
In the middle of the 70s, Ariel Sharon asked me to arrange something for him - a meeting with Yasser Arafat. A few days before, the Israeli media had discovered that I was in regular contact with the leadership of the PLO, which was listed at the time as a terrorist organization.
I told Sharon that my PLO contacts would probably ask what he intended to propose to the Palestinians. He told me that his plan was to help the Palestinians to overthrow the Jordanian monarchy, and turn Jordan into a Palestinian state, with Arafat as its president. “What about the West Bank?” I asked. “Once Jordan becomes Palestine, there will no longer be a conflict between two peoples, but between two states. That will be much easier to resolve. We shall find some form of partition, territorial or functional, or we shall rule the territory together.”
My friends submitted the request to Arafat, who laughed it off. But he did not miss the opportunity to tell King Hussein about it. Hussein disclosed the story to a Kuwaiti newspaper, Alrai, and that’s how it came back to me. Sharon’s plan was revolutionary at the time. Almost the entire Israeli establishment – including Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Defense Minister Shimon Peres - believed in the so-called “Jordanian option”: the idea that we must make peace with King Hussein. The Palestinians were either ignored or considered arch-enemies, or both.
Can a country boycott itself? That may sound like a silly question. It is not. At the memorial service for Nelson Mandela, the “Giant of History” as Barack Obama called him, Israel was not represented by any of its leaders.
The only dignitary who agreed to go was the speaker of the Knesset, Yuli Edelstein, a nice person, an immigrant from the Soviet Union and a settler, who is so anonymous that most Israelis would not recognize him. (“His own father would have trouble recognizing him in the street,” somebody joked.)
Why? The President of the State, Shimon Peres, caught a malady that prevented him from going, but which did not prevent him from making a speech and receiving visitors on the same day. Well, there are all kinds of mysterious microbes.
From the first moment, I did not have the slightest doubt that Yasser Arafat was assassinated. It was a matter of simple logic.
On the way back from the funeral, I happened upon Jamal Zahalka, a member of the Knesset for the nationalist Arab Balad party, who is a highly qualified doctoral pharmacist. We exchanged views and came to the same conclusion. The findings of the Swiss experts last week only confirmed my conviction.
First of all, a simple fact: people don’t just die for no reason. I visited Arafat a few weeks before it happened. He seemed in reasonably good health. Upon leaving, I remarked to Rachel, my wife, that he seemed more sharp and alert than during our last visit. When he suddenly became very ill, there was no obvious cause. The doctors at the French military hospital, to which he was transferred at the insistence of Suha, his wife, and where he died, conducted a thorough examination of his body. They found no explanation for his condition. Nothing. That by itself was very strange. Arafat was the leader of his people, the de facto head of a state, and one can be sure that the French doctors left no stone unturned to diagnose the case.
That left only radiation or poison. Why was no poison detected at the autopsy? The answer is simple: in order to detect a poison, one must know what one is looking for. The list of poisons it almost unlimited, and the routine search is restricted to a small number. Arafat’s body was not examined for radioactive polonium. Who had the opportunity to administer the poison? Well, practically anybody. During my many visits with him, I always wondered at the lax security precautions.
Throughout the years, Lebanon’s demographics have experienced periodic influx. But particularly in the last two years, the demographic shift has been so overwhelming due to the flood of Syrian refugees in desperate need for shelter.
The situation is highly charged, if not perilous, considering Lebanon’s unmanageable sectarian balances, let alone the direct involvement of Lebanese parties in the brutal Syrian war. If not treated with utter sensitivity and political wisdom, Lebanon’s vastly changing demographics will not bode well in a country of exceedingly fractious sectarian politics. The numbers speak for themselves. According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), 790,000 Syrian refugees have crossed into Lebanon since the beginning of the conflict. The number is constantly increasing, as an estimated 75,000 make the difficult journey from Syria to Lebanon every month.
Those refugees also include tens of thousands of Palestinians that have borne the brunt of the war in the last two years. In addition to approximately 250,000 Syrians working and living in Lebanon, the country already hosts hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees who were driven out of Palestine in several waves, starting with the Nakba, or Catastrophe in 1947-48. While the refugees were initially welcomed by their host country – as Syrians were initially welcomed in Lebanon – they eventually became a party in Lebanon’s war of numbers, as each sect was terrified by the prospect of losing political ground to their rivals.
“It sounds to me like Arabian Tales from One Thousand and One Nights.”
– Moshe Yaalon, Israeli Vice Premier, Aug 29, 2012
It is the language of brutal indifference – words that are chewed, gnawed, spat out with derision. But when asked whether the Israeli authorities might have had a hand in the death of Yaser Arafat, the reaction is stubbornly predictable. “Israel did not have any hand in this,” claimed Dov Weisglass, the relevant chief of staff of then Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in 2004. “We did not physically hurt him when Arafat was in his prime…so all the more so we had no interest in this kind of activity when he was politically sidelined.”
Indeed, at the point when Arafat was in his prime, it could be said that Israel was as well – at least its assassinated leader Yitzhak Rabin, whose reluctant peace feelers eventually found their mark. If painful realities are to be ignored, violence is often the only dumbfounded answer. Given that Arafat’s PLO was on the terrorist watch lists for years, and only brought out of the cool of diplomatic exclusion during Rabin’s period in office, harm was a permanent prospect. The suggestion that Israel had no intention of hurting him is caricatured nonsense.
What is easily avoided is the state of emergency that the Palestinians were placed under as Arafat lay dying. For one thing, the Ramallah compound was being besieged with unrelenting ferocity by the Israeli Forces. Death was a casual affair. The second Intifada was in full swing, and assassinating Arafat was always on the books, an option to be put on the meeting agenda when the well of ideas ran dry.
“It is not in our hands to prevent the murder of workers…and families…but it is in our hands to fix a high price for our blood, so high that the Arab community and the Arab military forces will not be willing to pay it.” – Moshe Dayan, Warrior: the autobiography of Ariel Sharon
As Israel has faced the threat of Arab armies and Islamic terrorism throughout its history, it has struggled to maintain a strong deterrence in the Middle East, one that will prevent other countries in the region from continuing to attack and to kill Israeli citizens. One of today’s most important issues in foreign affairs is Iran’s quest to obtain nuclear weapons and how their journey towards nuclear dominance in the Middle East might bring America and Israel into the conflict.
In Israel this issue is arguably more pertinent than anywhere else. The fear of a second Holocaust at the hands of an unstable regime in Iran is feared by most every citizen in Israel and their government is doing everything in its power to prevent Iran from achieving that goal. From a country who has called Israel “a true cancer tumor on the region that should be cut off,” Israelis have every right to be afraid of Iran achieving their goal of nuclear weapons and Israel has every right to continue to defend against that threat.
Israeli writer, Uri Avnery, recently wrote an article entitled “How Godly Are Thy Tents?,” which began with the words, “First of all, a warning.”
The reference was made to the tent cities that have sprung up across the country by middle class Israelis demanding change and reforms. The organizational style of these demands was not entirely different from Arab uprisings. To everyone’s surprise, the limited Israeli mobilization, which extended from concerns about sky-rocketing real estate prices to calls for ‘social justice,’ was seen as Israel’s Tahrir Square moment. The movement was yet to articulate a political agenda, although such enunciation would have been a natural progression. So what was Avnery’s warning about?
The “social protest movement is gathering momentum,” wrote Avnery. “At that point, there will be a temptation – perhaps an irresistible temptation – to ‘warm up the borders.’ To start a nice little war. Call on the youth of Israel, the same young people now manning…the tents, to go and defend the fatherland.” It was an unnerving warning, not only because it came from Avnery, a veteran well-versed in his understanding of the Israel ruling class, but also because it actualized in its entirety a few days later. The ‘war’ had indeed commenced, starting on August 18. The ‘provocation’ had supposedly demonstrated without doubt that Israel’s security was greatly compromised and that the small state with ‘indefensible borders’ was paying a high price for Gaza’s armed intransigence and Egypt’s post-revolutionary chaos.