Ha'aretz 23 December 2002
Why is this Christmas Eve different from all other Christmas Eves? Because on this Christmas Eve, the hundreds of millions of Christians who will see the Jewish soldiers besieging Jesus’ birthplace will not hear a Nobel Peace Prize laureate explaining that it is all the fault of his fellow peace prize laureate, Yasser Arafat. This year, the world will get Ariel Sharon’s policies, net, with Shaul Mofaz as the executor and Benjamin Netanyahu as the public relations man. This time, Israel has a foreign minister who is not welcome at the home of British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the international leader closest to President George Bush. Blair, who opened the doors of 10 Downing Street to Syrian President Bashar Assad and will also open them for Labor Party Chairman Amram Mitzna, explained that as prime minister, he does not receive foreign ministers.
The Israeli voter has a rare opportunity to find out how the right-wing government looks to the world when the rouge provided by Shimon Peres and Benjamin Ben-Eliezer has been wiped off. Israel’s image in December 2002 is beginning to be reminiscent of Michael Jackson’s after he took off his mask. With Netanyahu in the Foreign Ministry, the Israeli ambassador to the United Nations is not allowed to use the “two-state vision” powder in Sharon’s bathroom. Now the rest of the world is seeing what we see at Likud Central Committee meetings, such as decisions to reject any talk of a Palestinian state.
Mitzna is convinced that if Labor had left the government a year ago, it would be the Likud trailing in the polls. Maybe. A year with Netanyahu and Mofaz instead of Peres and Ben-Eliezer would have taught the Israeli voter that it is impossible to reconquer all the territories and still ask the world to treat it as a peace-seeking nation. For example, there is now growing pressure in the World Trade Organization to reconsider its 1995 decision to admit Israel, which was a reward for the peace policies of the Rabin government. And there is talk inside the European Union about it being time to teach Israelis something about the relationship between settlement policy, convenient trade agreements and unemployment in Israel.
One more injured UN worker in the territories, accompanied by rude assaults by the foreign minister on the secretary-general’s envoy, Terje Larsen, and Israel will be added to that dubious club of countries such as Somalia and Afghanistan from which the UN has withdrawn its personnel. UN agencies distribute some NIS 400 million a month to residents of the territories. The Israeli government, which is having trouble providing welfare services to its own children, will not be able to feed the children of Gaza who are already suffering malnutrition. Faced with photographs of hungry Palestinian children, it is doubtful that even Bush and his new Jewish neoconservative advisor, Elliot Abrams, would be able to stand up alongside the rightist government.
South Africa was also an American ally in the guerrilla war against the communists in Angola. But when the issue of human rights reached the crisis point, public opinion decided American policy and put an end to the apartheid regime. In closed door discussions with European and Middle Eastern statesmen, Bush associates are already promising that after the Iraqi affair, Bush will turn to the conflict in the territories. They expect that even Bush will get fed up with fighting the entire world so that Sharon can enjoy the best of all worlds: talking about a “Palestinian state” while dividing Gaza and the West Bank into cantons, South Africa-style.
That has not escaped Sharon’s attention. No wonder he misses Peres and makes sure to keep in touch with Ben-Eliezer. He needs them the way he needs the Thai workers who clean the sheep pens at his Sycamore Ranch. With Sharon’s luck, Israeli voters will hear the results of the elections while sitting in their sealed rooms and bomb shelters. Then they will no doubt hear the Labor Party’s upper echelons singing a chorus of “We have no other land,” and they will once again hear that Sharon gave permission to Peres to meet with Abu Ala. If it is up to them on January 29th, then at Christmas next year, it will be Ben-Eliezer imposing the curfew in Bethlehem and Peres explaining it to the world.