The behavior of Ariel Sharon and Benjamin Ben-Eliezer over the UN fact-finding mission to Jenin has been very odd. They were forced to act against the committee not from their appreciation of the gravity of the matter, but as observers from the sidelines of IDF officers, like an audience in a courtroom rooting for the accused. Maybe the two of them did not understand (despite Sharon's own personal experience with military, police, and state inquiries), that they are also on their way to becoming the accused, because the chain of command begins with them.
Any criminal proceeding against a brigadier, corps commander, or command general will trickle upward to the chief of staff and from there to the political hierarchy above. The fate of corps commander Eyal Shlein is intertwined with that of Ariel Sharon.
Even if President Bush does indeed manage to dissolve the Jenin committee, as his part in the deal to free Yasser Arafat, it is a lesson that needs to be learned very quickly, before it comes back in the form of a new "Hebron committee," or a "Rafah team" - and with the permanent war crimes tribunal in Hague already in place, without any need for a special legal institution to judge Israel's misdeeds in the territories.
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, who came to his post from two areas traditionally hostile to Israel - Africa and the UN bureaucracy - regards the Palestinians as representatives of the Third World's oppressed, and Israel stands in the shoes of the Western, exploiting, land-grabbing occupier. That's a black and white world view.
In the Bush administration, Annan's ally is Colin Powell, who holds the minority and international organization portfolio. The secretary of state is finding it difficult to swim against the powerful currents of the administration. He risks drowning, or being tossed up on the opposite bank, because the president can always replace him with Condoleezza Rice without being accused of any discrimination.
By agreeing to Annan's tricks, Powell joined the presentation of the Jenin affair as "Israel against international law," while the real struggle is Bush against terrorism. Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld believe Palestinian fabrications as much as they believe the Taliban. Last week, an IDF general distributed to his colleagues a transcript of Rumsfeld speaking on the terrorism issue. It included references to Osama bin Laden and his cohorts maliciously using holy sites for their purposes. This week, while Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah was in Texas, Rumsfeld continued to support Israel's actions against terrorism.
In the division of authority in Saudi Arabia, Abdullah is responsible for the National Guard. American aid to the guard was delivered in the person of General William Nash, now retired, and now military consultant to the Jenin fact-finding mission.
He holds positions similar to those of the Clinton administration, believes in multi-national operations, and supported intervention in the former Yugoslavia. He even ran a think tank close to the Democratic Party. His attitude to Jenin will be derived from his personal experiences, as a teen whose father served in the American occupation forces in Japan after World War II, and as the helpless representative of the international civil administration in Kosovo.
During a congressional hearing he testified that consistency is critical for American policy on issues connected to the extradition of war criminals, returning refugees, and defending the rights of minorities.
The most horrible war crime, in Nash's eyes, is killing prisoners. As a young platoon commander in Vietnam, he was deeply impressed by a brigade commander who forbade his soldiers to shoot enemy fighters who surrendered. As a brigadier in Iraq, he was impressed by soldiers who brought blankets to prisoners. The U.S. Army's stand on killing prisoners appears in a one-page Ten Commandments handed out to every basic trainee. Nash holds those rules sacred. The IDF is now preparing such a leaflet, based on the Canadian Army's rules.
Nash may be convinced of the IDF's innocence, but the deciding factor in the committee will be the power above it. After the Jenin for Ramallah deal, that's Bush.
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