Yesterday’s Man
 
By Dr. Hanan Ashrawi
Jerusalem, February 7, 2001
 
 
Disillusioned with Barak’s inconsistencies, angered by his unfulfilled promises, enraged at his insensitivity and high-handed style of decision-making, the Israeli public looked elsewhere for salvation.
 
Barak had set himself up for the great fall by repeatedly pledging to accomplish the impossible: He sought to make peace with his Palestinian victims while pursuing the policies and measures of the military occupier; he separated the “process” from its substance and application; he promised to deliver security to each Israeli while relentlessly battering the Palestinian people; he reinvented the peace process to comply with illegal Israeli facts on the ground rather than complying with the legal requirements of peace; he pursued a policy designed to bring about his peace partners’ destruction rather than their empowerment.
 
Barak also tried to be all things to all people, thus managing to activate a self-destruct mechanism whereby each component neutralized the other—the settler camp vs. the peace camp, religious fundamentalists vs. secularists, rightists vs. leftists, ethnic groups vs. other special interests, Israeli Jews vs. Israeli Arabs, military vs. political institutions.
 
Ultimately, he failed to deliver.
 
While it may be convenient for the disillusioned public (and the Western press) to blame the Palestinians for Barak’s downfall, Israel has to look within—to search its soul, so to speak—for the causes of its recurrent political crises.
 
The fact that a third candidate (the dovish Shimon Peres) could have defeated Sharon is sufficient to expose the fallacy of finding an external (Palestinian) scapegoat.
 
So long as the Israeli political leadership continues to attempt the impossible—to promise the Israelis security without peace or peace without fairness or “separation” without full withdrawal or Palestinian docility without sovereignty or statehood without Jerusalem or “ending the conflict” without the right of return—the domestic crises within Israel will persist.
 
Regardless of the flip-flopping, no government will enjoy stability or longevity until it comes to grips with the real requirements of peace while shedding the mentality of occupation and violence.
 
Having come face to face with the substance of the agenda on final status, the Israelis balked.
 
Instead of forging ahead boldly and decisively, grasping the real opportunity for a historical peace, they decided to step back into the darkest period of their history.
 
Fear remains a powerful negative motivation, and as such has been successfully fuelled, fed and exploited by the most extreme right wing governments and individuals in Israel.
 
In a knee-jerk, visceral reaction to this latest crisis, the Israeli body politic groped into its past and came up with a regressive anachronistic, though familiar, escape: unbridled brutality and violence on the rampage personified in the figure of Ariel Sharon (see Key Issues, “The Sharon Factor”).
 
The euphoria of victory should not blind the Sharon camp to the underlying reality of the overwhelming protest vote as expressed by a resounding defeat for Barak—the inevitable outcome of a familiar hubris.
 
Seeking the safety of the familiar, though repugnant, refuge is a temporary recourse.
 
Now that a “reinvented” Sharon has been pulled out, dusted, polished, and displayed, it is time to begin thinking of the post-Sharon era.
 
At best, this is a temporary lapse that is best left behind as soon as possible.
 
At worst, Sharon (and what he stands for) may do irreparable damage to the long-term prospects of peace by reviving the conflicts and bloody legacy of the past.
 
Yesterday’s man has already left a shameful imprint on Israel’s past and has indelibly marred the collective memory of the peoples of the region.
 
Today is the right time for the peace camp in Israel to begin a process of genuine soul searching and remobilization.
 
The mistakes and horrors of the past must not be allowed to repeat themselves.
 
The future is in need of the women and men of tomorrow.