Al-Ahram Weekly Online
9 - 15 May 2002
Issue No.585
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Sharon's own lebensraum

Everyone is calling for an international conference these days. But why, asks Hassan Nafaa

Hassan NafaaDuring his recent visit to the US Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Abdullah recently presented an eight-point plan for ending the current impasse in the Middle East conflict. It called for Israeli withdrawal from reoccupied territories, a lift of the siege on Ramallah, the reconstruction of Palestinian areas demolished in the incursions, the mutual renunciation of violence, the commencement of political negotiations, a ban on Israeli settlement construction and, lastly, the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 242 calling for the Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank, Gaza and the Golan Heights.

Following the visit, which succeeded in as much as the siege of Ramallah's PA headquarters ended, preparations got underway to convene a meeting between representatives from the US, the EU, Russia and the UN. Following the meeting, held on 2 May, the US secretary of state issued a statement reiterating some of the points in the Saudi proposal and revealed that a new international peace conference would be held at the beginning of summer.

Curiously, Sharon foreshadowed the announcement with a call of his own for a new regional peace conference to be held in Washington. He had even drawn up a list of those who would be invited. Included on his list were Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Morocco -- with a question mark next to it -- and, of course Israel and the US. Syria, Lebanon and, of course, the PA as represented in the person of President Arafat, were not to be asked.

If the scene is indeed set for a new international peace conference, it is clear that Israel is in a position to force on such a conference its own version of a settlement. The regional and international configurations of power are such that it will be difficult to pressure Israel into accepting a balanced, viable and lasting solution to the Middle East conflict.

It is important to note that Sharon's proposal for a regional conference only came after the success of the first phase of "Operation Preventive Wall." The objective of this operation was to undermine the foundations of the Oslo Accord and to destroy the PA infrastructure that had evolved. By creating new realities on the ground Sharon hopes to impose a new basis for a settlement, which, as he has stated, revolves around the creation of a Palestinian state on 42 per cent of the West Bank. This so-called state will not be geographically cohesive; its disparate patches of territory will be ringed by Israeli settlements and axial roads.

The logic behind his guest list for the regional conference is sufficiently simple that even Bush will understand. For just as Bush has divided the world into the forces of good -- championed by the US and its allies and embracing all who cooperate with it -- and evil, so Sharon has divided the Middle East into the good -- Israel and all who agree with it -- and the evil, ie those who do not agree.

Sharon wants his conference to serve as a façade for the creation of a regional alliance led by Israel and aimed at isolating Syria and Iran and eliminating all forms of resistance to Israel's occupation of Palestine in preparation to striking at those states -- Syria and Iran again -- that support Palestinian resistance.

Sharon has stated, most recently in his meeting with AIPAC, that his plan for peace with the Palestinians involves three phases: an end to all forms of violence and incitement to violence, a very protracted interim agreement and, lastly, a final peace accord that would establish borders between Israel and Palestine.

In the meantime Sharon has undertaken part of the actions he considers necessary to end violence and ensure Israeli security. He has transformed the West Bank into a vast demolition zone and, in Jenin alone, murdered some 600 people and detained another 6,000. Now he is preparing a similar mission in Gaza. He will not, however, be able to put into effect phase two of "Preventive Wall" without Arab cooperation in reaching a long term truce with the Palestinians, one in which Jerusalem becomes Israel's undivided capital, in which the settlements remain and in which Palestinian refugees are nationalised in their current countries of residence. This phase, moreover, cannot be implemented without eliminating Hizbullah and, perhaps, the Syrian and Iranian regimes. When this is accomplished all the pieces will be in place to conclude a peace between the peoples of the region, led, of course, by the ones God has chosen.

Beyond the details it is difficult to perceive any fundamental difference between the Sharon formula for peace and Hitler's vision of peace and unity in Europe. Within an astoundingly short period of time, the armies of the Nazi regime succeeded in invading and exerting German hegemony over almost all Europe. By 1941 all that remained was to complete the invasion of the Soviet Union and break the British spirit of resistance.

Hitler's vision of a "new Europe" rested upon an ideology of racial supremacy, with the Germanic people at the pinnacle of the human race. This inherent superiority, Hitler believed, gave Germany the right to dominate the rest of Europe and transform it into a lebensraum for the German race. It would be Germany's prerogative to redraw and restructure Europe in accordance with the racial hierarchy espoused by Nazi ideology: it would annex those nations or provinces that deserved to be included in the greater Reich, subject other areas to direct civil or military administration and utilise other peoples to perform those functions necessary for the advancement of the mastermind of the "new Europe" and its engine of growth and prosperity.

Such a vision was abhorrent to those who did not belong to the Germanic race, which is why Nazi propagandists took care to repackage it in what they believed would be a more palatable form. Europe, united under the Reich, they claimed, would have ended Anglo Saxon imperialism, creating a vast space that would permit for a modern, effective restructuring of the European economy and generate the regional environment conducive to ending once and for all inter- European conflicts.

Oddly, a not insignificant number of European intellectuals, particularly in Belgium and France, were taken in by such ideological assertions, heralding the "end of the age of parliamentary democracies" and the onset of a new "revolutionary" and "progressive" European order, one deriving its vitality from the Nazi regime.

Sharon has been lauded in the most powerful country of the world as a man of peace. No less astounding, some Arab intellectuals have suggested that the regional conference that Sharon called for is worth considering. Right, though, sometimes has a way of winning out in the end. In the face of Nazi expansionism and occupation there emerged a broad-based European resistance prepared to fight Nazi terror and oppression at all costs. This movement remained steadfast in its resistance from the outset of World War II and gained in strength when the US and Soviet Union joined forces against the Axis powers.

Similarly, in the face of Sharon's vision of regional peace and security, founded upon an ideology of hegemony and racial supremacy, there must be a united Arab resistance front. One strategy this front could adopt to counter the Sharon project would be to promote the notion of an new international peace conference, held under UN auspices and attended by the five permanent members of the Security Council and by the parties concerned in the peace process: Israel, Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and the PA. The advantage of such a conference would be that it could resolve all outstanding issues at once in accordance with an agreed upon agenda backed up by a Security Council guarantee.

However, the success of such a conference is contingent upon Israel's acceptance of the principle of withdrawal to pre-June 1967 borders (this removes the issue of land from negotiations, which should be restricted to security arrangements and how to build peace in the post-settlement period) and the introduction of international peacekeeping forces in the Palestinian territories occupied since June 1967 before the conference begins.

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