Never before in the region have there been so many leaders so short-sighted that they can't see beyond the tip of their nose. Take the American administration, for example: The only thing that interests them right now is Saddam Hussein. The Cheneys and Zinnis may come and go, but their attention is mainly devoted now to one and only one purpose: Not letting us ruin the Bush family's settling of its score with the Iraqis. Take Arafat: All he cares about right now is taking part in the Beirut summit as a superstar. Or Sharon: He's only interested in reaching a cease-fire because he can't stamp out terrorism, and neutralizing Bibi who is trying to depose him as prime minister.
Thus turns the carousel of dependencies between the personalities. Because of his fear of Bibi, Sharon locked up Arafat in Ramallah and sent the army into the refugee camps of the West Bank, two moves that contributed nothing militarily, but did result in stepped-up suicide bombings. Nothing looks worse on TV than a powerful country (us) humiliating those perceived as the oppressed and powerless. What did Sharon get out of it? The Bush administration began getting annoyed, because we're ruining its goals, and ordered us to stop. So, Sharon gave up the seven days of quiet, asked for a cease-fire, and pulled the army out of the Palestinian Authority's towns. But it didn't stop Bibi, nor the terrorism.
Jailed, Arafat turned humiliation into a strategic asset and was proclaimed hero of the Palestinian street. A kind of local Mandela. It imbued his speeches of incitement with authenticity. It's one thing to call on his people to be shaheeds from suites in European palaces, and another thing entirely to volunteer to be a shaheed when a tank barrel is peeking into the bedroom window. And while Bibi calls for stamping out Arafat, Washington presses on Sharon's office with warnings that he shouldn't dare be tempted lest it harm Arab support for the elimination of Saddam.
So, caught between Bush, who only has eyes for Saddam, and Bibi, Sharon had his dear son Omri send Arafat the message that nothing bad will happen to him. At the last minute, under pressure from Fuad, the order to send the army into Arafat's compound was also canceled. Thus we've reached the absurd situation of Sharon becoming Arafat's personal bodyguard. Now, even if he were to die from the flu, heaven forbid, the Arab states will take out their anger on America, which will take out its anger on us, and we'll take ours out on the PA. And Saddam will dance on the rooftops.
Nobody can beat Arafat in the art of turning weakness and pitifulness, into power. It didn't take long for a "Free Willy" movement to form, and the level of the flames drew in the administration as lobbyists for letting him go to the Beirut summit. While Sharon sets conditions for Arafat's trip, to make sure Bibi doesn't use it against him, in this theater of the absurd, Arafat delivers orders instead of taking them. You want me to go? Then give me the Mitchell plan's "settlement freeze" now. You won't? Then I won't implement Tenet, which is in large part a cease-fire, arrests and eliminating the terrorist infrastructure in the PA.
Jailed in Ramallah, Arafat will have more freedom of speech and be more of a hero than if he goes to Beirut, where he will have to choose his words carefully so as not to ruin everything, angering the representatives from the Arab states in favor of toppling Saddam, or those in favor of the Saudi-American "peace plan." Sharon, more Bibi-ish than Bibi, delays his decision to the last minute, but at the end of the day, he'll do what America thinks is best for its purposes in Baghdad. We've reached the situation where we lose if Arafat goes to the summit and we lose if he stays locked up. In both cases, Arafat is the leading man and relevant.
To reach an agreement, what's needed is first and foremost a long-term political horizon and a retreat from solutions based on force alone. The instruments for that are embedded in the Tenet and Mitchell plans, and right now they are all that count. But for a "peace of the brave," brave, farsighted leaders are necessary. Not trapeze artists in the vanities fair, focused only on the end of the rope without seeing the abyss below.
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