Remember the Labor Party's election commercial that just a year ago depicted an apocalyptic scenario of security anarchy, despair, the crumbling of policy and a huge wave of terror expected after Ariel Sharon comes into power? Even from within the degenerating situation of the days of Ehud Barak as prime minister, this horrific vision seemed exaggerated and impossible at the time. Yet today - one year after the election - this same prophecy looks in retrospect like a pastoral idyll.
Indeed, it is hard to believe that only a year has gone by since Sharon, in the guise of the good grandpa, the peace-seeker, scoffed at all these warnings and scares and promised unambiguously: "I will bring peace... A government headed by me will work toward returning security to the inhabitants of Israel and achieving peace and stability in the region."
Even when the picture of Sharon's failure in these two areas, and in fact in all other areas, is so clear and unambiguous - more than 200 dead, thousands of people injured, the collapse of everyday life in Israel - the slogan "Only Sharon will bring peace and security" is still not perceived as a colossal political cheat. This is perhaps because Sharon was elected as a kind of desperate reaction to the depredations of Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat and the Palestinians, and the mandate he received from the voter was a bit ambiguous and vague.
But one thing has become clear during this past year: The hopes of those naive voters who were mesmerized by the "spin" of the metamorphosis of Sharon have been dashed; the illusion that the serial battle-seeker will bring peace has burst; and the notion that the screw-up specialist and the champion trouble-maker is the one who will cut the Gordian knot of the conflict has been proven false.
And indeed, the inevitable and the obvious happened quite quickly: The mask of the restrained grandfather dropped. Sharon is Sharon is Sharon - escalation, provocation, complication and all. Even as prime minister, he has turned out to be a "one-trick pony," obsessively repeating the exercise of encircling, tightening and siege remembered from the days of the Second Army in Sinai, through Beirut and on to Ramallah.
But it is doubtful that what worked for him as a general, and blew up in his face as defense minister, will succeed now that he is prime minister. The suspicion arises that even the Lebanon War will turn into an aperitif to the dish Sharon is now boiling up in the territories in a huge pressure-cooker. By closing off all the openings for negotiations, sealing the lid on his personal foe and raising the temperature of the motives of hatred and revenge - it seems that he is consciously cooking up some big explosion.
But to what end? A deep, dark mystery envelops Sharon and his motives even when a year has ended. It would seem that even he in his own mind is wondering what, in fact, his plan is. Meanwhile, he is trying to quietly implement some murky and inert agenda of negativism and destruction.
And indeed, even if we take the Arafatian wickedness and stupidity into account, we will find that during this past year there was not even one single opportunity for dialogue, for calm, for minimal creativity in the direction of some sort of agreement or understanding that was not intentionally scotched by Sharon, and this when he did not initiate an intentional provocation.
It is as if there were one characteristic plot-line - ever more entangled, wasteful of blood, tough and merciless - that runs from Sharon's provocative visit to the Temple Mount, through the torpedoing of the initiatives for a cease-fire, via the obdurate opposition to separation, to the systematic detonation of the "days of quiet" in clashes and the revenge attacks in their wake. But what is this plot-line? Where is it leading? Is Sharon himself aware of the inertia that is propelling him?
Last week, two headlines appeared side-by-side in the newspaper: "Mass terror attack in Jerusalem" and "Government satisfaction at the suspension of Zinni's mission." This is no random juxtaposition: It sums up the essence of the year of Sharon's government, during which a strange split, if not a real contradiction, has occurred between symbolic political principles and the survival interests of the man in the street. The latter is killed, bleeding, afraid to go out in the street, whereas the others rejoice at the suspension of the envoy-conciliator's mission (Is this what Defense Minister and Labor Party Chairman Benjamin Ben-Eliezer meant this week when he said that "the nation is rejoicing?"). Perhaps the Israelis want a wall, perhaps they want American mediation, perhaps they want calm and quiet - but this is not what the Sharon's "government-of-the-Jewish-people" is saying.
Indeed, it is a mistake to see Sharon as just another security-minded tough guy, or as a kind of mutant Mapainik who somehow resembles leaders like David Ben-Gurion or Yitzhak Rabin. This year has made it clear how very different Sharon is from that secular and pragmatic leadership that rebelled against the "Jewish fate" and made Israel's real interests its main concern.
Sharon, as a kind mirror image of the Islamic transcendentalism represented by Arafat, sees himself as representing the conceptual, symbolic "Jewish people." This is a transcendental people - beyond borders and beyond time - and in its being abstract, it is not afraid of a thousand terror attacks and is capable of fighting for a thousand years and has no need of normality, or peace-shmeace, or borders and fences. It needs only predatory might and a sense of victimization - two things of which Sharon is the supreme expression.
No wonder then that this prime minister, from whose day of election we have not known a single day of quiet and security nor a shred of hope for normality and peace, has declared that his main aim is to bring to this infernal place "another million Jews," in the equivalent of "to hell with life, the main thing is quantity." Perhaps this is what he meant when he said: "We have found the way to fight terror."
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