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What's next after Sharon?
The "man of peace" who waged total war on Palestine

January 13, 2006 | Page 12

ERIC RUDER reports on the future of Israeli politics after Ariel Sharon.

THE MEDIA around the world were flooded with tributes to a war criminal after Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon suffered a severe stroke last week.

Sharon was still clinging to life as Socialist Worker went to press. And that fact produced fevered speculation about what a post-Sharon future would hold.

George W. Bush called Sharon a "man of courage and peace"--the same phrase he used to describe the Israeli prime minister in 2002 as the Israeli military decimated the West Bank town of Jenin, leveling homes and killing scores of men, women and children. Bill Clinton worried that without Sharon at the helm of the newly founded political party Kadima, the prospects for "peace" looked dim.

Sharon left the right-wing Likud Party in November and founded Kadima in order to free himself from Likud's ongoing opposition to his plan to unilaterally withdraw from Gaza, carried out last August.

Before his stroke, Sharon had succeeded in attracting to Kadima a number of prominent Labor Party leaders, such as former Prime Minister Shimon Peres; a significant number of less rabid Likud members; and the majority of voters who supported the Gaza pullout plan. He appeared likely to lead the new party to victory in upcoming parliamentary elections on March 28.

Because Sharon had forced small numbers of settlers to leave Gaza, where they had occupied one-third of the land, he even commanded support from many of Israel's supposed doves. Saying that he hadn't forgotten Sharon's long and violent history, Tzaly Reshef, a founder of the Israeli group Peace Now, nevertheless mourned Sharon's loss, adding that the "power and personality" that sustained Sharon when he led the vicious assault on Lebanon in 1982 "could maybe have made him the savior of Israel in the next four years."

But for Palestinians, Sharon will always stand for one thing--bitter violence.

"Some may take comfort in the myth that Sharon was transformed into a peacemaker, but in fact, he never deviated from his own 1998 call to 'run and grab as many hilltops' in the Occupied Territories as possible," wrote Saree Makdisi, author of the forthcoming book Palestine Without a Road Map. "His plan for peace with the Palestinians involved grabbing large portions of the West Bank, ultimately annexing them to Israel, and turning over the shattered, encircled, isolated, disconnected and barren fragments of territory left behind to what only a fool would call a Palestinian state.

"Sharon's 'painful sacrifices' for peace may have involved Israel keeping less, rather than more, of the territory that it captured violently and has clung to illegally for four decades, but few seem to have noticed that it's not really a sacrifice to return something that wasn't yours to begin with. His much-ballyhooed withdrawal from Gaza left 1.4 million Palestinians in what is essentially the world's largest prison, cut off from the rest of the world and as subject to Israeli power as before.

"It also terminated the possibility of a two-state solution to the conflict by condemning Palestinians to whiling away their lives in a series of disconnected Bantustans, ghettos, reservations and strategic hamlets, entirely at the mercy of Israel. That's not peace. As Crazy Horse or Sitting Bull would have recognized at a glance, it's an attempt to pacify an entire people by bludgeoning them into a subhuman irrelevance."

With Sharon out of the picture, Kadima's future is uncertain, and many Israeli political commentators are predicting that Benjamin Netanyahu, Sharon's chief rival in Likud, stands to gain by winning back Sharon supporters to Likud.

In recent years, Netanyahu has staked out the right-wing edge of mainstream Israeli politics, criticizing Sharon for making too many concessions to the Palestinian Authority. In early December, he pledged that if elected prime minister, he would not hesitate to carry out a pre-emptive strike against Iran, continuing Israel's long tradition of acting as the watchdog for U.S. interests in the Middle East.

Sharon's departure from Israeli politics, coming a little more than a year after the death of Yasser Arafat, also comes at a time of intense political turmoil within the Palestinian Authority.

Fatah, the ruling faction of the Palestinian national movement, which Arafat headed for decades, appears on the verge of collapse, due to internal wrangling over how to reform its decaying party structures and an impending electoral defeat at the hands of Hamas candidates in the January 25 elections.

Hamas has steadily gained in popularity by highlighting what sets it apart from Fatah--its unwillingness to enter into bad compromises with Israel, its provision of social services in impoverished Palestinian communities, and its criticism of the favoritism and corruption rife within Fatah.

But whatever the outcome of the Palestinian elections in January, and the Israeli elections in March, it's already clear that Sharon succeeded in pushing Israeli politics sharply to the right--and in securing tacit U.S. support for his plan to pull back from Gaza, while taking over even more of the West Bank.

Israel couldn't have maintained its grip over Palestine since 1948 without the political and financial support of the U.S. Israel's location at the heart of the oil-rich Middle East has made it the largest annual beneficiary of U.S. foreign aid since 1976, and the largest cumulative recipient since the Second World War, according to the Congressional Research Service in Washington, D.C. In 2005, the U.S. gave Israel nearly $2.6 billion in direct aid and provided an additional $3 billion in loan guarantees.

That's why opposing the U.S. drive to dominate the Middle East--beginning with the U.S. occupation of Iraq--also requires opposing U.S. support for Israel and its apartheid treatment of Palestinians.

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