Henry Siegman in the New York Review of Books
Amid the unwarranted outbreak of optimism about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in the wake of Yasser Arafat’s death, Henry Siegman’s essay in the New York Review of Books on Ariel Sharon’s true plans comes as a breath of fresh air.
Sharon is giving lip service to things like the road map and the eventual goal of a Palestinian state, but his real goal is to permanently forestall such a state. The end game for him is the division of the West Bank Palestinians into three Bantustans completely surrounded by Israeli forces or settlements, and the maintainance of Gaza as a permanent slum that advertises Palestinians as wretched and dangerous. Sharon is dedicated to annexing probably 45% of the West Bank, which would not leave enough territory for a viable Palestinian state, anyway.
The horrible implications for the state of Israel is its descent into a permanent Apartheid state. If the Palestinians don’t have a state, they will remain stateless. The rump “Palestinian Authority” will not be able to keep internal order any better in the future than it has recently. The Israeli army will inevitably keep being drawn into re-occupying Palestinians.
A temporary and de facto Apartheid state, such as the Likud Party is now running, is bad enough. But a permanent one will spell the end of Israel in the long term. No European country is going to want to continue to cooperate with it under those circumstances, nor most countries in the global south. Most Israelis themselves do not want to keep another people in the slave-like condition of statelessness, or to interact with them only through brutal military raids. And, an ever-growing Palestinian population in Gaza and the West Bank without any nationality of their own may eventually successfully claim Israeli identity (opinion polling shows about a third of them are already open to this possibility).
The Palestinian uprising has had a profound impact on Israel. Retention of immigrants is down to only 50%, a historic low. Over a million Israelis are below the poverty line. If Russia’s economy begins improving substantially, substantial back-migration of many of the Soviet immigrants (about half of them not actually Jews) could take place. Despite Ariel Sharon’s dreams of ingathering the French Jews, that seems a highly unlikely scenario.
So, when we hear that Sharon is willing to meet with the new Palestinian leader, Mahmud Abbas, we have to ask, “for what purpose?” Most likely, it is to take his measure and see if he capable of policing the Bantustans for the Likud.
For a troubling discussion of the kind of self-examination being forced on Israelis by Sharon’s tactics, see The Guardian on Monday. It notes that the image of an Israeli checkpoint guard making a Palestinian play the violin has repulsed the Israeli public in a way that few other recent events have.
Omar Barghouti makes a shrewd suggestion as to why this image was so objectionable– it parallels the scene in the film, The Pianist, where German soldiers forced Jewish musicians to play for them.