Israel's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's recent decisions rather than advancing the peace process will probably contribute to stall it even further. Although Sharon insists that the "separation fence" being built is necessary for security reasons, the fence is separating Palestinians from Palestinians, while imprisoning them in more than a dozen isolated enclaves, and cutting them from their basic sources of livelihoods, schools and hospitals. His "unilateral disengagement" plan is aimed at in effect annexing most of the West Bank, deceiving in the process both international and Israeli public opinion about his desire for peace.
A recent assessment of the disengagement plan was published in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. Dov Weisglass, Ariel Sahron's senior adviser stated, "The disengagement is actually formaldehyde. It supplies the amount of formaldehyde that is necessary so there will not be a political process with the Palestinians." And he added, " The significance of the disengagement plan is the freezing of the peace process. And when you freeze the process, you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state, and you prevent a discussion on the refugees, the borders and Jerusalem."
In her book The March of Folly, historian Barbara Tuchman identifies four components that characterize a bad government: oppression; extreme ambition; incompetence; and folly or perversity. With the exception of the first characteristic (which, although not directed to the Israelis themselves it is carried out against the Palestinians), Ariel Sharon's government fulfills the other three.
How else but extreme ambition can one call the unrelenting invasion and construction of settlements in Palestinian lands? Just this year, Sharon's government has approved the construction of 1.727 new homes in Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. This is approximately the same number of homes built in the previous two years. In addition, Deputy Defense Minister Zeev Boim has indicated that several unauthorized settlement outposts would soon been categorized as legitimate settlements.
Yosef Lapid, Israel's Justice Minister, criticized the settlers stating that they…"in their hear of hearts dream of the transfer of Palestinians to the [eastern] banks of the Jordan River, a solution which is not only barbaric but also utterly impossible."
Sharon's incompetence has been clearly demonstrated by unrelenting and increasing levels of violence, both from the Palestinians and from the IDF with no positive results in sight. And his folly is shown by his belief, contrary to all evidence, that blind and unrelenting oppression, home demolitions, assassinations and illegal occupation of Palestinian land could ever solve the problems with the Palestinians.
Sharon's incompetence has been matched by those in the Palestinian leadership, notably Arafat, who have been also unable to offer a clear and coherent alternative to the senseless carnage that continues to take place in the occupied territories. On both sides, the leadership is becoming increasingly at odds with the wishes and true interests of the people they govern.
Four former directors of Shin Bet (Israel's security services) have warned that prime minister Sharon is leading the country to catastrophe by failing to pursue peace with the Palestinians. And one of the chiefs, Yaakov Perry, stated in an interview with the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, "If we go on living by the sword, we will continue to wallow in the mud and destroy ourselves."
The former security chiefs indicated that peace plans calling for gradual steps were likely to fail, and that the Palestinian leadership was unlikely to crack down on violent Palestinian factions --risking a Palestinian civil war-- without a guarantee for the emergence of a Palestinian state. This is a position reaffirmed by veteran Israeli peace activist Uri Avnery who stated, "Changing hell into a less than total hell will not induce the Palestinians to give up their national goals."
What can be done to end a policy that has brought disastrous results? Nothing less than responding to the legitimate Palestinian demands for a state comprising the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, and dismantling the settlements while respecting Israelis' legitimate security concerns. These are difficult goals to achieve, demanding a complete overhaul of Israel's policies.
What the region needs are leaders like Sadat and Begin who, at tremendous cost for them and their countries, achieved a state of non-belligerence between both parties in conflict. It is only by supporting and implementing bold steps as those indicated in the Geneva Accord that peace will eventually be reached in the region.
Dr. César Chelala, a co-winner of an Overseas Press Club of America award for an article on human rights, writes extensively on human rights and foreign policy issues.