Peres: Agreement over 1967 Borders, Only Final Touches Left

Tel Aviv- Israel’s former President Shimon Peres has announced that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu approved to settle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict based on a two-state solution.

Peres, 93, called in Jaffa for the prompt resumption of the negotiations that have led to an agreement over the borders that existed before the 1967 war.

He said: “The two sides have agreed over the majority of issues and only final touches remain … The current situation is unacceptable; both parties should act to complete the mission, mainly the border issue.”

“The Arab Peace Initiative fits as a solid foundation for these negotiations since it hints to a possibility of achieving regional and comprehensive peace after resolving the Palestinian case,” he said. “Yet, amendments could be made upon the request of Palestinians and Israelis.”

During the inauguration of an institution for technology sciences in Jaffa, Peres said that the world’s nations can no longer endure wars and bloodshed.

He added, “While leaders are busy talking about the past and fighting to occupy territories, new generations who prefer sciences and progress over war and destruction are emerging. These generations are more concentrated on the future rather than the past; hence they call for peace and sciences.”

Peres said that all Israeli prime ministers since 1992 have endorsed the two-state solution. They are: Yitzhak Rabin, Ariel Sharon, Benjamin Netanyahu, Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert.

“Withdrawing from Gaza was a missed chance by Palestinians to transform Gaza into a launching point for an independent Palestinian state,” said Peres as he expressed his confidence in Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas who has proven his sincere intentions to reach a peace agreement.

The former president criticized the media in Israel for not informing the public of the positive updates in the Arab World. “There are 400 million people in the Arab World, 60 percent of them are less than 25 years old. Fifty to sixty thousand of them believe in aggression, terrorism and hatred; however the rest of youths believe in life, sciences and progress.”

“Why does the media focus on the aggressive minority and overlook the majority which calls for peace?” he questioned.

Opinion: We Should Be Ashamed

Had shame found its way into the hearts of many Palestinian leaders, they might have saved their people much pain and misery. This is not to mention their responsibility for the Palestinian fathers who died as martyrs, leaving widows, orphans and bereaved mothers.

Some of these leaders have feigned shame. Some have even made a living from doing so, touring world capitals, becoming rich and showing off those riches while trampling on people’s modesty.

You might ask me what has brought on all this talk about shame. ‘You are writing like someone who has been irritated by something in particular,’ you could even say.

Well, as for being irritated, I am, and as for what led me to mention shame, it was the way in which Zien Al-Abidine Al-Rikabi chose to end his article in this newspaper on Saturday, January 11, by saying: “How can people be victorious when they try to defeat their enemy by doing what the enemy wants, which is achieving the permanent division of Palestinians? Be ashamed, be ashamed for yourselves, for your children and families; be ashamed for your friends and the supporters of your cause. Be ashamed . . . Be ashamed . . . Be ashamed.”

It is possible that the anger of another caused by their concern for a cause you both love can move something in you that you had previously stifled, revealing what has been hidden for many years. I had thought the pain had passed, numbed by all the other tragedies that followed.

Rikabi’s conclusion was a mix of anger, regret and sorrow towards a process of division which has taken control of the Palestinian leadership, prompting his angry cry: “Be ashamed . . . Be ashamed . . . Be ashamed.”

How can I not be angry when I feel this writer’s pain and anger even though I am far away, particularly when I am suffering from the same pain? He talks about the place where I suffered the pain of asylum as a child and then as a young man dreamed of returning from Gaza to Beersheba. And my own professional experience as a journalist gave me access to Palestinian leaders to discuss politics with them, and listen to what they said “off the record” in their local gatherings.

How can I not be angry by the call to “be ashamed . . . Be ashamed . . . Be ashamed.” I recall the number of times many souls wept because of the actions of those who imposed their leadership on the Palestinians. It is true: if you have no shame, you can do whatever you like.

These days, I see the shameful actions of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad in Yarmouk Refugee Camp in Damascus, and it reminds me of the tragedy of Sabra and Shatila, and other places in Lebanon, during what became known as the War of the Camps of 1985. This was when Palestinians who led Palestinian organizations affiliated themselves with the elder Assad, and became allies of the Amal Movement, which was allied to the Syrian regime at the time, in order to expel the Fatah Movement led by Yasser Arafat from Lebanon.

Those who paid the price for that vicious war were the innocent refugees besieged and starved by those who claimed they were leaders of a revolution whose aim was to liberate the stolen homeland, but in reality were not ashamed to sell the Palestinian cause in favor of the interests of the Syrian regime and its agenda.

To be dependent on the ruler in Damascus mirrored Palestinian leaders’ submission to the ruler in Baghdad. Saddam Hussein began to plant in the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s soil any factions he wanted to plant, paying them handsomely at times and reprimanding them at others, aiming to divide the Palestinians, even using murder and assassination. Meanwhile, those of the ilk of Sabri Al-Banna (Abu Nidal) were not afraid, let alone ashamed, to fire their bullets at those who were once their comrades.

The allegiance of some Palestinian leaders moved from Damascus and Baghdad, again with no shame, to Muammar Gaddafi’s Tripoli. There were rumors that some of them even stood beside the despot and fought against the Libyans in the February 25 revolution, as though bolstering the dictatorship of Bab Al-Aziziyah [Gaddafi’s main base] was a prerequisite to enter a liberated Jerusalem, just as someone previously said Amman was the “Hanoi of the revolution,” as though the Jordanian capital must be destroyed in order for the Palestinian phoenix to rise from the ashes.

Jordanian–Palestinian, Lebanese–Palestinian, Syrian–Palestinian or Palestinian–Palestinian, who cares? As long as the twisted logic of “my brother and I against my cousin” prevents the Palestinians from feeling guilt when they fight against their brothers in arms and their comrades—or, worse, they don’t question it and they don’t feel shame.

The infighting that erupted in Gaza between the leaders of Fatah and Hamas at the end of 2006 and the beginning of 2007 was not the first conflict between Palestinians, either between one faction and another or within the same faction, although people hoped it was the last one and that the leaders of both sides would respect the Mecca Agreement signed on February 8, 2007.

Then there was the Doha Agreement signed on February 6, 2012, which went the same way as its predecessor, with the divisions remaining the same, possibly because the minority who benefited from it was not interested in the harm inflicted on the majority. So, again, where was the shame?

The Israelis buried Ariel Sharon, whose coffin was covered with wreaths. Some saw him as a “hero” and some called him a “king,” but the so-called “honor” he deserved in the eyes of all those with consciences outside Israel, and some inside, should be the “dishonor” reserved for a war criminal. On the other hand, the Palestinians’ “pride,” which destroyed itself as a result of this shamelessness, allowed Sharon himself to celebrate a victory that was presented to him by his very enemy more than once.

Is there any possibility of any shame or remorse, dear leaders who are responsible for the people of Palestine and their cause? I repeat the question, using the cry of Zein Al-Abidine Al-Rikabi at the end of his touching article. And so that despair does not take hold, we must hope. Perhaps one day.

The Mixed Legacy of Ariel Sharon

[inset_left]Arik: The Life of Ariel Sharon
By David Landau
Alfred Knopf, 656 pages
New York, 2014[/inset_left]How history judges a political leader has always depended, at least in part, on the timing of his departure from power or death. In that context, Ariel Sharon might be an exception; he did not leave center-stage in any of the usual ways that such a momentous event happens in politics. Nor did he die in the way most people do. In fact, he had been dying since January 2006. Kept biologically alive but in a coma, the former Israeli prime minister was an illustration of the adage that old soldiers do not die, they just fade away.

However, having now finally ended his days, Sharon’s memory, and in some cases his fingerprints, will not fade away from Israel’s stormy politics. The last member of the founding fathers of Israel to serve as prime minister, Sharon was also among the first to take up arms, initially against the British and then against the Arabs, to realize the Zionist dream of a state for the Jews. Thus this new biography, though focused on Sharon, is also a narrative of Israel’s emergence as a state and the dramatic events that have marked its six decades of existence.

David Landau is well placed to tell that story. An Israeli journalist of British origin, Landau is enough of an insider to understand the mindset of people like Sharon. At the same time, he is sufficiently an outsider to be able to regard Sharon, and indeed Israel as a whole, from enough distance to be objective.
Leafing through the album of Sharon’s political portraits that Landau provides, one encounters a remarkable degree of diversity within sameness. We first encounter Sharon as a Kibbutz boy, the son of immigrant parents from present-day Belarus in search of a better life and a surer measure of security. Ariel is a fat, quarrelsome, but ultimately obedient son with no easily attestable talents. Next, we see Sharon as a young man who joins clandestine armed groups to fight for an Israeli state while all the time dreaming of becoming a farmer. Turn the pages of the album and you find Sharon fighting in the first war against the Arabs in 1948, an event that convinced him of his vocation as a professional soldier. By 1956, Sharon is already the rising star of the Israeli army with a “brilliant performance” in the war against Egypt over the Suez Canal. Next, according to Landau, Sharon played a “decisive role” in the 1967 and 1973 wars against Israel’s Arab neighbors. Following the example set by other Israeli generals, Sharon entered politics and rose to become Minister of Defense, and thus the man in charge of invading Lebanon in 1983.

Landau shows that, all along, Sharon’s political profile was depicted in chiaroscuro. At one level, he was always the brilliant general capable of exploiting the slightest opportunity. At the same time he also had a darker side that made many Israelis uneasy. It is obvious that Landau did not like Sharon personally. The best he could offer was a grudging admiration for a man who wrote an unexpecteddenouementfor the drama of a checkered career.

Consider just two facts. Sharon was the only Israeli senior general to have enjoyed the support or admiration of almost all the top figures of Israeli history. Israel’s founding father and first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, intervened on more than one occasion to enhance Sharon’s career and protect him from his rivals. Prime ministers Levi Eshkol and Golda Meir loved Sharon, while another prime minister, Menachem Begin, was even ready to overlook Sharon’s penchant for ignoring many rules. Politician Moshe Dayan and Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin were among the older generation of Israeli top brass who had a soft spot for “fat Ariel.” Those who ran into Sharon ended up calling him by his diminutive name, Arik, as a form of endearment. To them he was the chubby, not to say cuddly, teddy bear with the abrasive manners of a hedgehog when it was required.

How and why Sharon managed to seduce so many wily politicians and generals remains a mystery that Landau is unable, or unwilling, to explain. Nor does he tell us how and why so many Arab leaders started by hating Sharon but ended up liking him, to say the least. Sharon forged a half-hidden friendly relationship with the Syrian leader Hafez Al-Assad. He believed that the fact that Assad was in control of Syria in 1973 was “a golden chance for Israel.” Sharon started by calling for the transformation of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan into “the Palestinian state” that everyone asked for. However, he ended up abandoning that mantra and developing very close ties with King Hussein. The Egyptian President Anwar Sadat also liked Sharon despite the fact that in 1973 the Israeli general had led an expeditionary force to the western bank of the Suez Canal. As Minister of Agriculture, Sharon made frequent visits to Egypt, where he was always greeted personally by Sadat.

Sharon committed what to most Israelis was akin to the crime oflèse majesté by publicly declaring that, if necessary, Israel should go to war without consulting the US. “No nation can survive if it kowtows to others, even a superpower,” he said. And, yet, Sharon was the darling of the American political establishment and, as prime minister, developed exceptionally close ties with President George W. Bush.

For decades, Sharon was arguably the most controversial and, to put it mildly, the least liked Israeli politico-military figure. Not all Israelis bought into Sharon’s image as “the dedicated soldier” or “guardian of Jewish interests across the world.” Josi Beilin, a protégé of veteran Labour Party leader Shimon Peres, had this to say: “Sharon is the ugly Israeli, a dangerous man.”

Even Sharon’s friends were uncomfortable with what they perceived to be his lack of scruples. This is how one of Sharon’s closest friends in the Likud Party described him: “Sharon is a man without principles, without human feelings, without any moral norms whatsoever.” When news of the massacres in Sabra and Shatila hit the headlines, more than 400,000 Israelis assembled in Tel Aviv to call for Sharon to be tried for “war crimes” after the Kahan Commission ruled that, as Minister of Defense, he bore “personal responsibility.” Sharon’s critics even doubted his sincerity as a Jew. After all, he made no fuss about his food being kosher, cared little about religious rites and had only a fuzzy notion of who was who in Israeli mythology. Nevertheless, Sharon always managed to land on the right side of things. The conclusions of the Kahan Commission were dismissed by Israel’s highest judicial authorities. Attempts at dragging Sharon into corruption scandals that hit other prominent Israeli leaders, among them Rabin, Ehud Olmert and Benjamin Netanyahu, led nowhere.

Many Israelis regard Sharon as the father of the Jewish settlements that have transformed the West Bank into a geopolitical version of Swiss cheese. As Minister of Housing, Sharon literally bulldozed his way through Palestinian lands, speeding up a process that has led to the settlement of half a million Jews in what he called “the disputed territories.” And yet, Sharon never stopped surprising friend and foe. He jettisoned Likud, the party that had been his political nursery, to form the Kadima (Future Party), now buried deep in the past, to pursue a new policy that he named “disengagement.” This was to lead to a gradual but amicable geopolitical divorce between Israel and the Palestinians. The first phase of the plan was implemented in the Gaza Strip when all Israeli settlements were dismantled. Much to everyone’s surprise, the scheme did not provoke an Israeli civil war even on a small scale in Gaza. Landau provides ample testimony and evidence that Sharon was serious about applying the same scheme to the West Bank, albeit by preserving some of the Jewish settlements plus East Jerusalem.

Casting himself as a man of peace, the quintessential Israeli “warmonger” became the darling of peaceniks who staged a 150,000-strong demonstration in support of his “disengagement” strategy. By telling the story of one man, Landau offers us a detailed and highly readable story of one of the world’s newest nation-states, and possibly the only one whose right to exist is still questioned by many across the globe. Sharon’s personal life was full of colorful anecdotes, depicted by Landau against the sepia background of Israel’s political history.

Ariel Sharon, former Israeli PM, dies at 85

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon looks on during a meeting at his office in Jerusalem in this October 10, 2005 file photo. (Reuters/Ronen Zvulun)
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon looks on during a meeting at his office in Jerusalem in this October 10, 2005 file photo. (Reuters/Ronen Zvulun)

Jerusalem, AP—Ariel Sharon, the hard-charging Israeli general and prime minister who was admired and hated for his battlefield exploits and ambitions to reshape the Middle East, died Saturday, eight years after a stroke left him in a coma from which he never awoke. He was 85.

As one of Israel’s most famous soldiers, Sharon was known for bold tactics and an occasional refusal to obey orders. As a politician he became known as “the bulldozer,” a man contemptuous of his critics while also capable of getting things done.

He led his country into a divisive war in Lebanon in 1982 and was branded as indirectly responsible for the massacre of hundreds of Palestinians at the Sabra and Chatilla refugee camps outside Beirut when his troops allowed allied Lebanese militias into the camps. Yet ultimately he transformed himself into a prime minister and statesman.

Sharon’s son Gilad announced the death on Saturday afternoon. Sharon’s health had taken a downturn over the past week and a half as a number of bodily organs, including his kidneys, stopped functioning, and doctors on Thursday pronounced his condition “grave.”

“He has gone. He went when he decided to go,” Gilad Sharon said outside the hospital where his father had been treated in recent years.

The life and career of the man Israelis called “Arik” will be remembered for its three distinct stages: his eventful and controversial time in uniform, his years as a vociferous political operator who helped create Israel’s settlement movement and mastermind of the Lebanon invasion, then his successful term as a pragmatist prime minister, capped by a dramatic withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and curtailed at the height of his popularity by his sudden stroke.

The Gaza pullout culminated a gradual abandonment of the hard-line policies for which he was known. In the tumultuous summer of 2005, he pulled all of Israel’s settlers and soldiers out of the seaside strip, having played a key role in putting them there in the first place. “The fate of Netzarim is the fate of Tel Aviv,” Sharon had famously said, referring to a Gaza settlement, just three years earlier.

Characteristically, the move was unilateral; Sharon was dubious that much good could come of talks with the Palestinians.

Sharon painted his “disengagement” plan as a step to reduce friction between Israelis and Palestinians. It was accompanied by construction of a massive separation barrier in the West Bank. While presented as security measures, they also represented an admission of sorts that continued control of the fast-growing Palestinian population could threaten Israel’s Jewish and democratic character.

A few months later he left the hawkish Likud party, which he helped found, and created the centrist Kadima as a vehicle for himself, planning to lead it to a third election victory. But a few months laterAP—77 years old, and considerably overweightAP—he suffered two strokes. The second one, in 2006, left him comatose in a Jerusalem hospital. His deputy, Ehud Olmert, became prime minister and led Kadima to victory in the election.

“Arik was a brave soldier and a daring leader who loved his nation and his nation loved him,” President Shimon Peres, a longtime friend and rival of Sharon, said Saturday, using Sharon’s nickname. “He was one of Israel’s great protectors and most important architects, who knew no fear and certainly never feared vision.”

Ariel Sharon was born to Russian immigrant parents on Feb. 26, 1928, in the small farming community of Kfar Malal, north of Tel Aviv. He joined the Haganah, the pre-state Jewish defense force, at 14 and later went on to command an infantry platoon during the 1948 Mideast war over Israel’s creation. He was seriously wounded in battle with the Jordanian Legion over control of the road to Jerusalem.

By 1953 he was commanding Unit 101, a commando force formed to carry out reprisals for Arab attacks. After the slaying of an Israeli woman and her two children, his troops blew up more than 40 houses in Qibya, a West Bank village then ruled by Jordan, killing 69 Arabs, most or all of them civilians. Three years later, after Israel’s invasion of the Sinai Peninsula, Sharon was rebuked for engaging in what his commanders regarded as an unnecessary battle with Egyptian forces in which some 30 Israeli soldiers died.

But accolades mounted as well. His finest hour in uniform, as he described it, came after Egypt and Syria attacked Israel in the 1973 Mideast war. Sharon was brought out of retirement by an army desperate for leadership and commanded 27,000 Israelis in a daring drive across the Suez Canal, an operation that turned the tide of the fighting. A photograph of a boyish, 45-year-old Sharon, a bloody bandage around his head, remains one of the most enduring images of that war.

Sharon later became a Cabinet minister in the hawkish government led by Menachem Begin. When Begin shifted to the centerAP—much as Sharon would do decades laterAP—and signed a peace agreement with Egypt that required an Israeli withdrawal from the Sinai, Sharon voted against it.

He served as Begin’s defense minister, even though the prime minister once said he was reluctant to give Sharon the job lest he “encircle the prime minister’s office with tanks.”

Next came the episode that most assumed would end his political career.

In 1982, after a string of attacks by Palestinian gunmen based in Lebanon, Sharon engineered Israel’s invasion of that country, portraying it as a quick, limited strike to drive Palestinian fighters from Israel’s northern border.

Later it emerged that Sharon’s plan had always been far more ambitious: He wanted to reach Beirut and install a regime that would make peace with Israel. That plan was concealed not only from the public, but also from the Cabinet ministers who had approved it. It was, some Israeli commentators said, the closest the country had come to a coup d’etat.

That September, the Israeli military, controlling parts of Beirut, allowed members of the Phalange, a Lebanese Christian militia allied with Israel, to enter the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Chatilla in Beirut to root out “terrorists.” The militiamen systematically slaughtered hundreds of civilians, including women and children. The massacres sparked mass protests in Israel and abroad.

An Israeli commission rejected Sharon’s contention that he had not known what was coming and he was fired, though his popularity and political clout left him in the Cabinet as a minister without portfolio. His political ambitions were crippled, but not destroyed.

“Those who didn’t want to see him as army chief got him as defense minister, and those who don’t want him as defense minister shall get him as prime minister,” Sharon’s longtime confidant, Uri Dan, presciently said in the wake of the commission report.

The fast operation Sharon had promised eventually left Israel mired in Lebanon for 18 years. It also led to battles in the courtroom.

In 1983, Sharon filed a 50 million US dollar lawsuit against Time Magazine for alleging that Sharon, while defense minister, had discussed avenging the murder of Lebanese President-elect Bashir Gemayel with Lebanese Christian militia leaders. Time said the discussion was held the day before the Sabra and Chatilla massacres. A six-member jury in New York concluded that the Time report was false but acquitted the magazine of libel, saying it published the report in good faith.

Later, an Israeli court rejected a libel suit filed by Sharon against the Haaretz daily over a 1991 article that claimed he misled Begin about his military intentions in Lebanon.

Over the years, Sharon rehabilitated his political career and used various Cabinet posts to build dozens of settlements in the West Bank and Gaza, despite international protests. As foreign minister in 1998, Sharon famously called on Jewish settlers to occupy as much land as possible before a deal was reached with the Palestinians.

“Everyone there should move, should run, should grab more hills, expand the territory. Everything that’s grabbed will be in our hands, everything that we don’t grab will be in their hands,” he said.

In 2000, as leader of the opposition, he paid a high-profile visit to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary. The tense site is holy to Jews and Muslims, and houses Islam’s third-holiest shrine.

The visit came at a time of heightened tensions. Peace talks had stalled at a time when the sides were on the verge of an agreement, and Palestinian riots escalated into a full-fledged uprising that lasted years and claimed thousands of lives.

Critics said the visit was an act of recklessness at a time of rising tensions. Others maintained the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, who rejected an Israeli peace offer not long before, used the visit as a pretext to unleash the uprising.

Four months later, with suicide bombers exploding in their cities, Israelis elected Sharon by a landslide. The new prime minister led Israel’s aggressive military response to the uprising, including a tough offensive in the spring of 2002 following an especially bloody Passover suicide bombing inside Israel, and had all but ended it by 2004.

At the same time, he began to soften his opposition to territorial withdrawals. He called Israel’s presence in the West Bank and Gaza an “occupation” for the first time, conceded that an independent Palestinian state was inevitable, and spearheaded the Gaza pullout.

Domestically, Sharon became the latest in a long line of Israeli prime ministers whose terms were marred by corruption probes.

He was accused of improper fundraising and accepting bribes, allegedly paid to one of his sons, from a prominent real-estate developer, but never charged. His oldest son, Omri, however, later served seven months in prison for fraud convicted to campaign fundraising for his father.

Sharon, who lived on a ranch in southern Israel, was widowed twice. His second wife was the sister of his first, who died in a car accident.

He is survived by two sons. A third died as a child in a firearms accident in 1967.