Ariel Sharon was elected prime
minister just over a year ago. He is the hard man of Israeli politics,
and there was a hope that given his own hard-line track record,
he might be the one who could cut a deal with Arafat and still
keep the right of Israeli politics on side. Those hopes have foundered
and instead the Israelis find themselves caught in a brutal quagmire
of tit-for-tat attacks with Palestinian guerrilla fighters, and
with no end in sight. Post hoc, legal experts in the IDF have even
found it necessary to lay down rules for the campaign of political
assassinations which Israel has now embarked on.
Sharon’s precondition for peace talks, that there had to be a genuine ceasefire,
has been abandoned in the face of worsening violence and the fact that other
members of his government have been opening channels to key Palestinian leaders,
if not Arafat himself. So now Sharon is speaking to senior advisers to Arafat,
while trying to shove Arafat into history’s dustbin.
Arafat has been under what is in effect house arrest by Israeli tanks for some
months while Sharon has preached his irrelevance to the resolution of the conflict,
but this has paradoxically not weakened Arafat. The Palestinians will not allow
their enemies to choose their leaders, and so the embattled Arafat becomes ever
more the father and embodiment of the Palestinian nation and its hopes for statehood.