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Shattered promisesBy Ibrahim Nafie
A few days ago, an Israeli MP and prominent Labour Party figure, Shlomo Ben Ami, described Netanyahu as a "raging bull in a china shop". Nothing could more aptly describe the Israeli prime minister's recklessness in a delicate environment. To me, this saying does not merely denote a temporary rashness brought on by the brutal electoral competition among rival political parties. Rather, it depicts quite accurately the consistently detrimental attitude of the Israeli leadership.
For decades we have heard that the Israeli people desire above all things to establish "warm", constructive cooperative relations with their neighbours based on mutual recognition and acceptance. Yet Netanyahu's record since he became prime minister in 1996 conveys precisely the opposite message.
Over the past few days, Netanyahu has once again launched a series of actions that appear especially calculated to transform the "cold peace" which his policies had engendered into a "cold war" -- with the potential of growing warmer.
First, he annexed Arnoun, a Lebanese village outside the Israeli-occupied border zone, and backed this act of aggression up with a brutal spate of military operations targeting Lebanese civilians. Second, he accused Jordan of seeking to join forces with Iraq against Israel, supporting this contention with an allusion to Amman's role during the Gulf War. Of course, he was forced to make an embarrassing retraction on the eve of his visit to King Abdullah II. This was followed by more mixed signals when he announced that he was prepared to implement the second phase of the Wye River Memorandum, and then backed down on that with his customary caveat that the Palestinians have to abide by their commitments first. All this took place against both a constant refrain of threats against the Arabs, and a recurring string of vows to conclude peace -- even with Syria -- by the end of the year.
Netanyahu seems to have forgotten the experience of his predecessor, Shimon Peres, who also sought to play the Lebanese card as an electoral gambit. The "Grapes of Wrath" assault waged by Israeli forces at the time culminated in the horrendous Qana massacre, adding yet another notch to Israel's record of atrocities against Arab civilians. Clearly, too, Netanyahu remains oblivious to the fact that the Arabs, be they Lebanese or Palestinians, will continue to resist foreign occupation of their land. In the first half of this century, the Arab people successfully fought colonial empires far more formidable than Israel. New military operations will not bring Israel any closer to its goal of subjugating the Lebanese people. On the contrary, it will only leave behind more scars of hatred in the region and increase the numbers of Israelis forced to mourn the sacrifice of their sons to a futile, pointless war.
If Netanyahu really wanted peace and security, he could have implemented Resolution 425, which calls for the unconditional withdrawal of Israeli forces from Lebanon. He could have resumed negotiations with Syria, in keeping with the pledges of the former Israeli government. This would have given Israel the peace with its neighbours that Israeli leaders always claim they aspire to.
But rather than take such a sensible course of action, Netanyahu continued to play the game at which the Israeli right excels, which is to generate a permanent state of fear in Israeli society. It is in this context that we should understand his accusations against Jordan. Jordan has always been touted in Israeli and American circles as the one nation that has developed "warm" relations with Israel, as opposed to the "cold peace" between Israel and Egypt. Netanyahu and his cohorts, however, do not really want peace with anyone. The sole concern of the fundamentalist Zionists is to forever fuel the Israeli phobia of enemies lurking everywhere, maintain a high state of military mobilisation and have a ready pretext for recourse to violence. Netanyahu's allegations of Jordanian-Iraqi collusion should, therefore, fool nobody, particularly given Iraq's vastly deteriorated military capacities, not to mention Israel's absolute superiority in conventional, biological, chemical and nuclear weapons.
It is highly likely, therefore, that Netanyahu is laying the psychological groundwork for annexing Palestinian land west of the Jordan river in the event that the Palestinian-Israeli final-status negotiations get under way following the Israeli elections.
If Netanyahu's diplomatic faux pas has any implications regarding the Israeli elections, it is as a bid to divert the attention of the Israeli electorate away from his appalling record in achieving their hopes for peace and security. Netanyahu's hands are indelibly stained with the blood of Israeli soldiers, fallen not in a war of self-defence, but in a vicious assault on innocent civilians. He is responsible for the stagnation of the peace process, for jeopardising every peace agreement Israel has signed, and, inside Israel, for the deteriorating economy, rising unemployment and growing social strife.
His paltry offer to implement the second phase of the Wye Accord will do little to offset these failures. Moreover, his attempt to blame the Palestinians for the non-implementation of an accord which he himself voided of all substance upon his return from Washington is little more than a ruse to engage in the collective punishment of a people. At least the US, as the monitor of the implementation of the Wye Accord, refuted Israel's allegations by stating unequivocally that the PA has abided fully by its commitments, whereas Israel has not taken a single step towards implementing the very modest demands of the first phase.
The Middle East, including Israel, will have to pay an unthinkable price if Israel continues to wreak havoc. Ultimately, however, the Israeli people have the chance to choose their future. Their prime minister has steered away from a peace process which briefly brought their country the highest economic growth rates in its history. Their prime minister's every action appears calculated to close off all avenues to a secure and brighter future. Certainly, they must see that if his campaign rhetoric is at times contradictory, his actions amount to a consistent record of destruction.