GUSH SHALOM - pob 3322, Tel-Aviv 61033 - http://www.gush-shalom.org/
[The following article of Uri Avnery is the translation from Hebrew of his Ma'ariv column, to be published Tuesday,
Uri Avnery 22.12.01
So, Who Is Relevant?
The year 2001 is about to end, but at the last moment a new word - a Latin one to boot - has entered the Hebrew
political lexicon: "irrelevant".
This is a new phase in the fatal duel between the two veteran gladiators, both experienced and shrewd, Ariel Sharon and
Yasser Arafat. Sharon has declared that Arafat is "irrelevant". Arafat has turned the tables by making a speech that
focused world attention on him. All the while Sharon's tanks are parked a hundred yards from Arafat's office, their
cannons aimed at his head.
If Sharon imagined that Arafat would run away or plead for his life, he doesn't know the man. In 1982 I met him in a
besieged West Beirut, during the heavy bombardments, when hundreds of Sharon's agents were searching for him in order to
kill him. He was in high spirits, at his best.
If Arafat imagined that by the speech he would disarm Sharon and cause him to stop, he doesn't know the man. Sharon
never lets up. When he encounters an obstacle, he goes around it. When he doesn't get what he wants on the first try, he
will wait and try again and again and again.
If the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a clash between two great historic movements, Sharon and Arafat are their most
outstanding representatives. Sharon is the ultimate Zionist. Arafat is the embodiment of the Palestinian national
This is a clash between an irresistible force and an immovable object. On the one side, Zionism, whose consistent aim
is to turn all the land between the Mediterranean sea and the Jordan river (at least), which is called in Hebrew "The
Land of Israel", into a homogenous Jewish state. This to be achieved trough a "strategy of phases" - a Zionist method,
and the settlers implement it. On the other side is Palestinian nationalism, whose aim is to establish an independent
Palestinian state on Palestinian land. For lack of an alternative, the Palestinians have given up 78% of the land
between the Jordan river and the Mediterranean sea, which they call Filastin, and the intifada is designed to turn the
other 22% into the State of Palestine.
When Sharon came to power, he presented himself as the benign grandfather, who loves sheep and children, and whose only
desire is to enter the history books as the man who brought peace and security to the area. That was a successful fraud,
in the spirit of "make war by tricks". The Israeli public, which wants peace and longs for security, believed him and
elected the Israeli de Gaulle, the old general who has lost his best comrades in battle and understands that nothing is
more precious than peace.
For people who know Sharon, is was both sad and frightening to behold: a naive public following a pied piper.
Sharon doesn't care a damn either for peace or for security. For him they are signs of weakness and degeneration. From
the moment of attaining power, he had a quite different agenda: to destroy the Oslo agreement, remove the Palestinian
Authority and its armed forces, give new impetus to the settlement movement. For that purpose he acquired Shimon Peres
on the cheap, in order to camouflage his true designs in the eyes of the world, and started the great campaign.
(Actually, he had started it even earlier, when he went to the Temple Mount and lit the fire.)
Those who assert that "Sharon has no political plan" are quite wrong.
He has got a clear plan: to go on with the offensive and liquidate the Palestinian leadership, in order to break the
spirit of the Palestinian people, bring Hamas to power, so that he will be able to say that there is nobody to talk
with. He believes that the Palestinians will eventually flee the country (as in 1948) or resign themselves to a life in
several isolated and surrounded enclaves (like South African Bantustans). Faced with this onslaught, Arafat resorts to
the classic Palestinian strategy: Sumud (steadfastness). Survival. Not to move. Not to surrender. Not to be dragged into
a civil war. To use the meager means in his arsenal - political action, diplomacy, violence, in varying doses - in order
to enable his people to hold on. His greatest asset is the ability of his people to absorb punishment, which makes
Israeli generals mad with frustration.
The battle is far from finished. I believe it will end in a draw - no mean feat for the weaker side. And the draw will
lead, inevitably, to a historical compromise.