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Home > News & Politics > Israel >Sharon's New Partner: A Unity Government

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Sharon's New Partner: A Unity Government

The Jewish Advocate
February 7, 2001

BOSTON -- Yasir Arafat has played his card again, and this time has chosen to dance with Arik Sharon.

Sharon is Arafat's fifth peace partner in six years. Oslo has swallowed up Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, Benjamin Netanyahu and now Ehud Barak. The photo opportunities now fade with the promise of Oslo: The Rabin-Arafat handshake at the White House; Peres leading the Nobel Peace Prize contingent; Netanyahu's cigar-smoking epiphany in Gaza; Barak's plea for a final agreement at Camp David.

However one spins the election-the Israeli left rejecting Barak, the Israeli Arabs abandoning Barak, the abdication of Netanyahu-the pervasive feeling is that more violence lies ahead.

Arik Sharon is a much different politician in 2001 than he was even ten years ago, when he used to carry around a map of Jordan and refer to it as "Palestine."

This year, Sharon ran on a platform of peace and said he would accept a Palestinian state "under the right conditions." He is clearly willing to talk to Arafat, and as he showed at Yamit, in the Sinai, he's capable of dismantling an entire city if it means peace.

Given that he has 45 days to form a government, and with Barak dropping out of sight, Sharon may have no alternative but to sign Labor's Shimon Peres to a coalition arrangement. Sharon has removed Barak's offer of a divided Jerusalem from the table and has cut in half the amount of West Bank land the Labor government was willing to hand over to the Palestinian Authority. With Peres in the picture, the pressure will begin for more Israeli concessions.

There's a delicate balance between bravado, guerrilla warfare and real war in Jerusalem. One nightmare scenario, presented by a friend in Jerusalem who is a noted Israeli political scientist and leftist (who did not vote for Barak), is an immediate confrontation that would involve the PA, Hezbollah and Iraq. If the PA begins shelling the Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo, Sharon has vowed a strong retaliation into Beit Jallah. Hezbollah would then launch suicide-bombing attacks into Israel, followed by Iraq invading Jordan. While Syria and Egypt would hold their troops at the border, the Arab world would unite against Israel, with Saddam Hussein entering the fold as a true military leader. Unlike the Gulf War, Israel would respond this time, until a truce was brokered.

It's easy for us to sit 7,000 miles away from Israel and dismiss this as hyperbole. But let's examine the facts on the ground: Arafat was not entirely happy with Rabin; gave the green light to Hamas during Peres' regime; demonized Netanyahu; and announced that Barak was a war criminal who should be put on trial. Hezbollah, like Hamas, does not recognize Israel, and is currently holding three Israeli soldiers and a civilian it kidnapped last year.

Iraq has attacked Israel before.

The Barak referendum is over. Arafat's last dance may be approaching. His subordinates-like Marwan Barghouti and Jibril Rajoub-are no longer content to roam the sidelines as county strongmen. They see a new dawn approaching, which does not include Arafat.

Until now, Israelis clung to the hope that Oslo would succeed; that land would turn a dictatorship into a democracy; that life would be better for their children. Now, they're hunkering down again, preparing for a difficult future.

Arik Sharon won a landslide because Yasir Arafat could not stomach real coexistence with Israel. Sharon will coexist with Arafat as long as he possibly can, to buy time to establish a real government. He knows there are rough days ahead. The question remains just how he will handle it.

Steven Rosenberg is the editor of The Jewish Advocate.

© JTA Inc., 2001. May not be reproduced without written permission.


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