- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 4, 2003

Criticism of Israel’s use of force against Palestinians is “a new form of anti-Semitism,” Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told a group of visiting Canadian activists. Next day, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) chief, Gen. Moshe Ya’alon, disagreed with the boss. “Hatred of Israel is growing,” he said, not because of anti-Semitism but because of Israel’s hard-line treatment of Palestinians.

Gen. Ya’alon, not known for being soft on Palestinians, is strongly opposed to the snaking 360-mile, part wall, part electronic fence, part ditch with razor wire, and paved service road, whose cost is now up to $2.3 billion and which is designed, officially at least, to keep terrorists out. Its ultimate purpose is clearly the protection of some of the larger Jewish settlements on the West Bank, which will require the annexation of an additional 20 percent of the land that was to become a Palestinian state.

About 150 Israeli colonies, inhabited by 220,000 settlers, and the roads that link them, take up 30 percent of what could only be a truncated state. The wall’s planned extension along the Jordan River would shatter all hopes of a viable homeland for the Palestinians.

Army commanders in the West Bank have informed Gen. Ya’alon that Palestinians have reached new depths of despair; that the barrier digs deep into Palestinian territory, caging some towns and villages and eventually cutting off some 274,000 Palestinians from their fields and olive groves. Already 70,000 Palestinians find themselves marooned between the fence and Israel’s border, or in enclaves created by its snaking patterns.

Israel, Gen. Ya’alon told Israeli journalists off the record, “is on the verge of catastrophe.” So fraught with doom were the general’s words, they didn’t remain confidential very long.

Four former directors of Shin Bet — Israel’s famed internal security and intelligence service — also went public in joint interviews with the daily Yediot Ahronot. They served between 1980 and 2000. “We are taking sure, steady steps,” they said, “to a place where the state of Israel will no longer be a democracy and a home for the Jewish people. We must once and for all admit that there is another side, that it has feelings and is suffering, that we are behaving disgracefully. … We have turned into a people of petty fighters using the wrong tools.”

The former intelligence chiefs also said it was wrong to make Yasser Arafat irrelevant — “the mother of all errors” — as “nothing can happen without him.”

The most telling criticism of Mr. Sharon on his home front is that Israel, on its present course, will become an old South Africa under apartheid — a Jewish minority ruling a Palestinian majority confined to reservations in the West Bank and Gaza. Longer term, Jewish apartheid would have to give way to the emergence of a single Levantine state where Jews and Arabs would eventually learn to live together as Christians and Muslims have done in Lebanon. But that would be 10 to 20 years down a very bloody road.

In its first 90 miles, the Sharon line includes 29 “farm gates” designed to let Palestinian farmers through to the other side to tend their vines, and in some cases for children to attend school and for their parents to avail themselves of public services. But these gates are open only at certain times that are not announced in advance. Palestinians wait silently and sullenly for several hours. On some days, the gates don’t open at all “for security reasons.”

The road map to establish a Palestinian state by 2005 appears to end in a cul-de-sac. The new Palestinian prime minister, Ahmed Qureia, says if wall construction continues there is no point to negotiations.

President Bush has indicated his displeasure with the physical barrier, most recently during his state visit to the United Kingdom, but Mr. Sharon has responded that work will continue. He also realized Mr. Bush was under pressure to retaliate. The State Department at first suggested that $1 billion — the original estimated cost of the partition — be deducted from the $9 billion in U.S. loan guarantees Israel requested from the Bush administration after Mr. Sharon convinced Mr. Bush that Israel’s war on terror was part and parcel of America’s global crusade.

Mr. Sharon also calculated that with a presidential election campaign already under way, Mr. Bush could afford to antagonize neither the Christian Right, unconditional supporters of the Sharon government, nor the Likud lobby in Washington. Sixty-one percent of American Jews, according to a recent survey, thought they should “support the policies of the duly elected government of Israel, irrespective of what it does in matters of war and peace.” Mr. Sharon calculated the Bush penalty would probably be no more than a gentle slap on the wrist. But even a gentle slap could be negotiated to the point where it wouldn’t even be felt, let alone noticed.

So Mr. Sharon dispatched his chief of staff, Dov Weisglas, to Washington where he made sure the construction of the great divide between Israelis and Palestinians could continue with impunity. Israel will have to borrow $289.5 million at a slightly higher rate of interest than the balance of $8.7 billion. The net loss to Israel was negligible.

To sweeten the pot, Israel also agreed to dismantle some of its illegal two- or three-trailer hilltop outposts, which Mr. Sharon referred to as “painful concessions.” Meanwhile, construction continues on a number of Jewish colonies in the West Bank, and “legal” status is being granted to some of the illegal clusters of prefab dwellings encouraged by Mr. Sharon when he was foreign minister in 1998. Bids for hundreds of new homes have been published in Israeli newspapers. So far this year, the government has authorized the construction of some 1,700 additional settlers’ dwellings.

But the bulldozers building the wall continued blitzing through Palestinian territory as former Israeli officials and a Palestinian delegation met in Geneva to sign a symbolic “peace treaty.” Major concessions were made by both sides on all outstanding issues. Mr. Sharon made clear his distaste for peace by denouncing the “unauthorized” summit as “subversive.”

Arnaud de Borchgrave is editor at large of The Washington Times and of United Press International.

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