Sharon and the Myth of the Peacemakers

The following article is reprinted from Palestine Chronicle, June 02 2003.

By Ramzy Baroud*

"Sharon referred to the Israeli occupation of the occupied Palestinian territories as 'occupation' during the debate that preceded the approval of the Road Map peace initiative late May. For a right wing extremist, we are told, such a word was taboo, and might signal a fundamental shift in the Israeli governmentís policies toward the Palestinians .."

History is already remembering a handful of Israeli Prime Ministers as well intending peacemakers.

Former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, although affiliated with terrorism in his early years, then bloody wars in later years, was made a peacemaker when he struck a deal with former Egyptian President Anwar Sadddat, virtually ending hostilities between both countries, while sidelining the Palestinian question altogether.

History has also shown its soft side depicting the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, another Israeli Noble Peace Prize recipient, for his role in the signing of the Oslo agreement of 1993, in Norway. Interestingly, both Israelis and Palestinians see the document as an infamous one. Rabinís own violent history was almost completely scrapped the moment he signed his name, endorsing the agreement on the White House lawn.

Ehud Barak, also relatively young and still vibrant, was spared by history from any blame. After all, the retired General and former Prime Ministerís name shall also be synonymous to the term "generous offer," allegedly offered to Palestinian President Yasser Arafat at Camp David in July 2000. Although Barakís offer largely failed to address the important topics regarded by Palestinians as fundemental, he remains nonetheless, a "peacemaker."

For Palestinians, the signing of a document resolves nothing, their own reading of history taught them such a lesson.

On one hand, Beginís association with the ethnic cleansing of over a million Palestinians, and a list of bloody massacres, from Palestine to Lebanon, were greater witnesses to Beginís true merit than the signing at Camp David. The late 1970ís agreement, like Oslo and Camp David 2, satisfied little of their long held aspirations for freedom, the right of return and a sovereign homeland.

Rabin is also remembered by thousands of Palestinian men and by their families. The former Israeli Defense Minister was the one who initiated the "broken bones" policy during the first Palestinian uprising, which started in 1987. Such a legacy was overlooked after his signing of the Oslo accords, and following his assassination by an Israeli terrorist. But the cheers that followed the historic signing of Oslo on the White House lawn could never be loud enough to cover the screams of thousands of men and children whose hands and legs were broken, because the Israeli economy couldnít handle their uprising and quest for freedom.

There is history, and there is Palestinian history. The first refers to how Israel or pro Israeli pundits wish to see history written, joined by the collective efforts of the media. The second refers to how Palestinians choose to remember their own plight and those who contributed to their misery.

Palestinians are not selective in their memory as it may seem, and are indeed forgiving. After all, the day Oslo was signed Palestinians marched in every town, village and refugee camp. In Gaza, they carried olive branches and handed them to Israeli soldiers, while the soldiers were in the process of subjecting the Palestinians to a brutal occupation.

History can be of a great value if it is depicted accurately. Such remembrance is due now more than any time in the past, for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has uttered a word, which some have already described as "historic." Sharon referred to the Israeli occupation of the occupied Palestinian territories as "occupation" during the debate that preceded the approval of the Road Map peace initiative late May. For a right wing extremist, we are told, such a word was taboo, and might signal a fundamental shift in the Israeli governmentís policies toward the Palestinians.

I am still not clear how Sharonís admission will change the political discourse governing the Middle Eastís most durable conflict. What seems clear to me, however, is the fact that Israeli leaders, whether "peacemakers" or "right wing extremists" have excelled in manipulating certain terminology to fit their own political agenda, but without associating any tangible meaning they become irrelevant. Various Israeli leaders spoke openly about a Palestinian state, while actively slicing up the potential state into Bantustans, separated by fortified settlements and barbed wire. Israeli officials are actively using the term "peace," but considering the number of Palestinians and Israelis killed demonstrates the lack of substance to such an assertion.

Sharonís first day in office was a day where he spoke of a Palestinian state, but if we recall such statements, such a state fails to include more than 42 percent of the size of West Bank and Gaza, a state crowded with illegal Jewish settlements, bypass roads, Israeli military zones, without its refugees, without Jerusalem, and without real territorial integrity.

The chances are that Sharonís words were simply a political maneuver, rather than a genuine change of heart. By uttering the word, "occupation," Sharon might have enlisted himself into the category of "peacemakers."

On the "historic" day when Sharon used the word "occupation," Israeli tanks attacked the West Bank town of Tulkarm and killed a Palestinian boy. Two children were also wounded in the Israeli attack, one was seven and the other nine. Sharonís word made no difference to the families of the children killed and wounded, and most likely to millions of Palestinians, who still regard Sharon as a violent leader who holds no respect for their long denied rights. Looking back at their experiences with Begin, Rabin, Barak and Sharon himself, Palestinians already know: expressions of peace that are soaked in blood just donít count.

*Baroud is the editor-in-chief of the Palestine Chronicle, and the editor of the anthology "Searching Jenin: Eyewitness Accounts of the Israeli Invasion."