Only the blind or those who diplomatically avert their eyes could not see the purpose of Israel’s systematic destruction of Palestinian Authority offices and those of numerous cultural and civic NGOs with no connection to the intifada. Serge Schmemann writes in the New York Times of the damage inflicted on ministries in Ramallah, including “a systematic effort by the Israeli Army to strip institutions of the Palestinian Authority of as much data as possible.” An “administrative massacre,” one Palestinian called it. Sharon’s goal has been laid bare, like those bulldozed homes in Jenin: to destroy Yasir Arafat, the Palestinian Authority and indeed all political life in the occupied territories, thus realizing the right’s dream of “Greater Israel.”
Against the backdrop of Sharon’s scorched-earth invasion, there was an air of unreality about Secretary of State Colin Powell’s diplomatic mission to the region. The trip ended as it began, with no forceful action or statements by Powell, and no sense that he had achieved anything other than buying time for the Israeli army to continue its incursions into the West Bank. Sharon’s brushoff of George W. Bush’s hollow demands that he end Operation Defensive Wall without delay made it seem that the President was calling in from some parallel universe. Sharon can read the Washington political winds–the Administration’s essential tolerance of his “war on terrorism” and its aversion to pressuring him by cutting off the military aid that paid for those Apache helicopters and F-16s that pounded Jenin refugee camp into a humanitarian disaster. How could Sharon perceive otherwise, given the Likudnik sympathies of Bush’s national security and Pentagon staff, the near-unanimous Congressional backing for Israel’s hard-line policies, the influential neocon and Christian right publicity offensive against pressuring Sharon and the sight of US legislators entertaining the archfoe of any negotiations with the Palestinians, Benjamin Netanyahu?
Yet there are still principled and pragmatic voices of peace in Israel, like the brave journalist Amira Hass, who derided the Israeli obsession with Arafat (trapped in his offices, unable even to flush the toilet, let alone stop the terror, in the words of a Palestinian official) or the veteran Israeli peace activist Uri Avnery, who pointed out that “the more fighters and suicide bombers are killed, the more fighters and suicide bombers are ready to take their place…. Thus Sharon and his chief of staff, Shaul Mofaz, create the terrorist infrastructure.” And there are the members of the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Coalition, led by Yasir Abed Rabbo and Yossi Beilin, who are experienced negotiators striving to keep lines of communication open between the two peoples. These and the civil society groups in Europe and America bearing witness for peace in the area are keeping the flame of hope alive. The elements of a political settlement now exist. The International Crisis Group has suggested an externally imposed solution within the parameters discussed at Taba in January 2001. If the Palestinians are to disavow violence, there must be a real pullback of Israeli troops in return, and a US blueprint for a final political settlement enforced by international monitors.