- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 7, 2001


Will Gen. Ariel Sharon become the Israeli version of Nixon and be the one to eventually make peace with the enemy Palestinians as the former U.S. president did with China? Well, it depends.

At a recent Council on Foreign Relations meeting the only U.S. interview Gen. Sharon has given before the Feb. 7 watershed elections the controversial, heavy-set, white-haired general voiced many of his old themes.

When I asked him via tele-conferencing hookup between Jerusalem, New York and Washington, for instance, whether he still believed “Jordan is the Palestinian state,” a position that in geopolitical shorthand means moving hundreds of thousands of Palestinians across the River Jordan to the East Bank, he answered with apparent clarity, but, in truth, with equivocality.

“Yes,” he answered, “I did believe that. But I never saw a Palestinian state on both sides of the Jordan River. But now they are in Samaria and Judea.”

So, does he or doesn´t he? Got me.

To a question about the new concept of driving immediately toward a near-total “separation” of the two uneasily cohabitating peoples, Gen. Sharon answered negatively.

“I know Prime Minister Barak has said that,” he said, “but it seems like a slogan. I don´t see that any political separation can last. I believe the two can live together. I believe that we can live together with the Arabs.”

In answer to another query, however, he stressed that it was necessary “to make every effort to make life easier for the Palestinian civilian population,” further indicating he would favor relaxing some of the maddening restrictions on the average Palestinian, while being “tougher than ever on terrorists.”

Israel, however, would take no responsibility whatsoever for the Palestinian refugee population since “most of them were urged to leave in 1947 by Arab leaders.” He would “not negotiate under pressure,” he said repeatedly, but there is “not going to be a war; there is no need for war… . I know the Arabs, and they know me. They know that yes is yes, and no is no, and they know that I say what I mean. First of all, we should be calm and quiet. My red line would be something similar to non-belligerency.´

“Jerusalem would be non-divided, under Israeli sovereignty; the Jordan Valley would remain the most important security zone, vital to our existence. A right of return´ for Palestinians? No.”

Throughout the interview, Gen. Sharon indulged in cliche after cliche of the type that liberal prime ministers Shimon Peres and Ehud Barak had tried so hard to avoid. Israel was only “a small country.” Only Israel wanted true “peace.” Indeed, his and his Likud Party´s campaign slogan is, “Only Sharon Can Make Peace.”

But is it true, in line with the Nixon-and-China comparison, that only a right-winger can bring peace with an implacable enemy? Well, not quite.

This is the man who boasts about never having mistreated an Arab prisoner-of-war in all of the wars he has fought in yet it was he who stood by while his Christian Lebanese militia slaughtered hundreds of Palestinian women and children in 1982 in the Sabra and Shatila camps. He had overseen a similar slaughter of 69 in the Jordanian village of Qibbiya in 1953.

“It will be difficult to predict a productive, stable future for Israel if Sharon wins,” says Hirsch Goodman, the respected deputy director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University.

“My great fear is that he has a lifelong penchant for grand strategic designs that go completely awry and that prove disastrous,” says Joseph Alper, a former director of the center. “That is his record. I listen to his statement about wanting to make peace, and being more capable than Barak to bring peace, but he presents no logical plan.”

Despite his engaging smile and outwardly courtly manner, one has the uneasy feeling he lives not only by the conflict, but for it. He keeps it going and then rides its turbulence. It was Gen. Sharon, after all, who started this Intifada II when he strode with 1,000 police and guards to the sacred Al Aqsa mosque on a “fact-finding” mission. Now it is Gen. Sharon who is ahead of Mr. Barak by 20 points in the election resulting from his “walk.”

Actually, his strategy has not changed over the years. It has always been to speak the language of peace, then to put forward positions impossible for the Palestinians to accept, and finally to turn aggressive. He´ll call on the Jewish community in the United States to rally around Israel and woo Jordan once again as his balance against the Palestinians. Really, it´s all tactics.

Is he going to change this time? What do you think?

Georgie Anne Geyer is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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