- The Washington Times - Monday, January 5, 2004

Next to Benjamin Netanyahu, Ariel Sharon is a political softy. The super hawk and former Israeli prime minister, who is finance minister in the Sharon government, is slowly but surely working his way back to the top. Universally known by both friend and foe as “Bibi,” the 54-year-old combat veteran of two wars (1967 and 1973) does not believe the lack of a Middle Eastern peace settlement is Israel’s main problem.

Speaking at a recent conference in Herzliyah, Mr. Netanyahu blamed Israel’s economic morass on the country’s original socialist structures, established at its birth 55 years ago. The social contract is tantamount to immutable Mosaic Law, and Histadrut — the all-powerful labor council — clings to the foggy notion that a rising tide will sink all boats.

Israel’s debates about the egalitarian principles of founding father David Ben-Gurion deftly sidestep the principal cause of the economic predicament — the growing financial drain of Israel’s war of occupation in the West Bank and Gaza; the $2 billion barrier going up to separate Palestinians and Israelis; and the fraying social fabric of Israel’s compact with 1 million-plus Israeli-Arabs.

Now a growing number of Israelis are more concerned about the day when Arabs on both sides of the divide will decide that one-person-one-vote is more toxic for the Jewish state than weapons and suicide bombers.

There is also greater media awareness of the miserable treatment of Palestinians. Israeli newspaper editorials worry about a demographic time bomb, the fast approaching time when there will be an Arab majority between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean.

Mr. Sharon’s plan to defuse the population bomb is to move the Green Line — the pre-1967 war borders — eastward; complete the 360-mile wall/fence/ditch, including a segment along the Jordan River and a no-man’s-land to a depth of 6 miles from the river valley into the West Bank; squeeze East Jerusalem into an ever-tighter security belt; ensure what’s left could not possibly be a viable Palestinian state; and as the daily Haaretz wrote, “throw away the key.”

While Mr. Sharon ordered the dismantling of six hilltop outposts with a handful of people and a few trailer trucks, the Defense Ministry confirmed a new paved road has been built to Tapuah Maarav, a settlement where a seminary is being built by a Jewish group on the U.S. State Department’s list of terrorist organizations. Its members are followers of U.S.-born Rabbi Meir Kahane whose teachings advocate the expulsion of all Arabs from Israel and the West Bank. Kahane was assassinated in New York in 1990.

The Yesha Settlers Council said the government had approved this particular outpost five years ago. Not so, and the seminary should be torn down, said Justice Minister Yosef Lapid. Over the three years Mr. Sharon has been prime minister, the number of settlers in the West Bank has grown steadily. When he was foreign minister in 1998, Mr. Sharon openly encouraged Israelis to build more settlements in what Palestinians hoped would become their independent state.

No more than a two-family outpost with a rickety, rusty bus and a trailer as shelters, Havat Maon, one of six tiny outposts designated by Mr. Sharon for removal on Jan. 4, was dismantled several times in the past — and promptly reoccupied. Some 50 illegal outposts — no more than an Israeli flag and a few campers — remain untouched. Many of the 150 legal settlements in the West Bank, with some 240,000 inhabitants, will be protected behind the Sharon wall.

This kind of tokenism is a far cry from the “road map” to create a Palestinian state by 2005 unveiled last summer by the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations. It is now glaringly obvious neither Mr. Sharon nor Mr. Netanyahu, should he succeed him, have any intention of allowing a viable Palestinian state to emerge.

With Israel’s Chief of Staff, Gen. Moshe Yaalon, and four former Israeli intelligence chiefs, warning Palestinians have reached new depths of despair, some Israeli journalists and writers have conceded they have been almost entirely focused on Palestinian violence.

Under the headline “Daily Dehumanization,” Gideon Levy wrote in Ha’aretz, “The process of dehumanizing the Palestinians has spread to every sector of Israeli society. What started in the Israeli Defense Forces and Shin Bet security service, and spread to other branches of power and to the media (which has for years deliberately emphasized the violent side of Palestinian reality) has now permeated every part of Israel’s social fabric. That’s apparently the only way a state can continue with a conquest and oppression without being overly concerned about what it means to be conquered. The dehumanization is characterized by insensitivity to the value of human life.”

That has to be the mother of all paradoxes for the Jewish people. American and European Jewish leaders are warning about a dangerous resurgence of anti-Semitism in Europe. They are right to do so. But isn’t this phenomenon linked, at least in part, to dehumanization? Mr. Sharon’s critics have long charged he is pushing Israel to commit moral and economic suicide by pursuing an ultra-Zionist dream of conquering the West Bank. This also is destroying the more-moderate Zionist vision of a secure homeland for the Jewish people.

Hardly surprising the Bush administration reluctantly concluded its multibillion-dollar public relations drive in the Arab and Muslim world was an unmitigated flop. Arab satellite networks show television footage of U.S. counterinsurgency operations in Iraq juxtaposed with Israel’s targeted counterterrorist killings in the West Bank and Gaza. Recent visits of IDF officers to U.S. military bases to pass on techniques used against the Palestinian intifada became the latest QED in the Arab media.

Prone to verbal overkill, Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak predicted, “Instead of having one Osama bin Laden, we will have 100 bin Ladens.” But even if it’s only one or two more, it doesn’t bode well for 2004.

Saddam Hussein’s meek surrender sans token resistance stoked the fires of injured Arab pride. The thirst for revenge is strongest among Arab youth.

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

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