There's a good chance that Israel will achieve a small victory over the Palestinian Authority this week: U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell is likely to postpone - though not cancel - his speech before the United Nations, the very speech that was scheduled for last month to include key points of a U.S. plan on the Middle East. It was a speech that caused Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to suffer from abandonment anxiety and represented a huge victory for the Palestinians.
It was not, however, the plan itself that signaled a win for the Palestinians, even though it includes the idea of Palestinian state, but rather the manner in which it was formulated: through an Arab-Palestinian-American channel, one that did not consult with Israel or even keep it fully informed.
Israel panicked, not because it expected that it would be pressured to carry out far-reaching compromises in order to advance the peace process, and not because it believed, as Sharon whined in his Czechoslovakia speech, that the U.S. was about to cheat on it with the enemy, but rather because PA Chairman Yasser Arafat had won point after point without losing a game, according to the weekly scorecard.
All the efforts that same week to portray him as Osama bin Laden and the PA which he heads as a terrorist entity, all the investment in a public relations campaign that tried to resurrect the idea of the Israeli War of Independence against a gang of Palestinian thugs, were all in vain.
In Washington, Arafat was praised for fighting Hamas; in London, he was received practically like one of the Queen's sons; and in Paris, Jacques Chirac bent down yet again to receive a kiss from him, and another kiss. Few remember the Palestinians dancing on the rooftops during the Gulf War nor the handing out of sweets after the attacks on the Twin Towers. That week, Arafat became the player who scored all the goals.
And then, Rehavam Ze'evi was assassinated, and there was an upset in the neighborhood league. The Israeli side scored a victory. Once again, Arafat can be linked to terrorism, the American sponsors can be brought in and shown who is really disturbing the peace. Maybe even to postpone the threat of the American plan and escape from the negotiating table.
Because the only diplomatic battle Israel is currently waging is in the public relations field, each win is regarded as a real diplomatic victory and every loss is of course a national disaster. The Sharon government, after all, is not fighting to implement its own diplomatic program, but rather over its base in a reality where no diplomatic plan will be accepted, even a unilateral one. Thus, for example, it demands Arafat arrest and hand over Ze'evi's assailants, but in the meantime it continues to assassinate according to a separate shopping list.
The Shin Bet security services and Military Intelligence have still not managed to agree on whether Arafat does have control over every splinter group in the field, but the Israeli government is demanding total quiet before it will enter into negotiations. It thus decrees that it matters not if Arafat is in control or not, if he is a lasting partner or a curse.
The government is prepared to place the responsibility for the decision on continuing the diplomatic process in the hands of anyone bearing arms who happens along, or a murderer who wishes to avenge the death of his brother or son.
Now one can finally shake off the threat of the diplomatic process and return instead to the public relations brochures in which the Arafat=bin Laden equation is engraved. Even the American plan, which for a moment seemed quite serious, is not really that scary when one gets closer.
Bush may have spoken of some sort of vision or hope for the Palestinians, but immediately hastened to place on their wrists the shackles that have been named after Tenet and Mitchell. And so America comes off as the good guy, without doing too much. It supports a Palestinian state, but under such conditions that it will probably be impossible to meet in this generation.
Sharon, who realized that he is on to a good thing, now also supports a Palestinian state under almost the same conditions: First, will hairs grow on the palm of his hand, or will there be quiet in the territories and then the establishment of a state.
Until then, all one can do is to tally the score every week and update the table, and to pat the public relations people on the back for bringing about this marvelous achievement.
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