As Oscar Wilde once said, there are only two tragedies in life: one is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it. Israel is now facing the latter tragedy. For years on end, we knew what we wanted: we wanted Arafat dead. Not that we just sat and waited for it: we used ceaseless incitement to prepare world opinion for his proactive elimination; we even endorsed a government decision to get rid of him, and we held the old man prisoner in his destroyed headquarters under conditions that would sooner rather than later kill the healthiest senior (the Palestinians missed a good point by propagating the legend that Arafat was poisoned, as if his incarceration by Israel was not enough to kill him). Anyway, Arafat is now dead, we got what we wanted, and we are not happy.
On the contrary. Together with Arafat, Israel buried its best excuse for perpetuating the occupation. How long can you blame the dead for terrorism? How long can you refuse to negotiate with the dead, to meet with him face to face? Not very long. More than two months after Arafat's death, even anemic Europe understands: "the 'Arafat excuse' no longer exists" (Jean Asselborn, president of the European Union Council of Ministers, Ha'aretz, Jan. 18, 2005). And what is worse: the Palestinians have now got a new leader who was elected democratically (goodbye to "ruthless dictator"), and, on top of all that, a leader who consistently and openly – in English and in Arabic – renounces the armed struggle against the occupation. On the other hand, Abu Mazen still demands complete Israeli withdrawal from all Palestinian lands, and an independent Palestinian state. This, of course, is in total harmony with international law, with UN Security Council resolutions, even with President's Bush Road Map: in short, it is totally unacceptable for Israel.
Puppet or Scarecrow
Israel can live with only two kinds of Palestinian leaders. It can live with a puppet who accepts Israel's sovereignty over the Palestinian territories (we may give him some "autonomy" in return), who is ready to give up 60 percent of the West Bank for Israeli settlements and apartheid walls (we may temporarily remove a checkpoint or two in return), who is willing to forget the Palestinian refugees (we may not insist on his conversion to Judaism in return). Israel has made several attempts to find or tame such a Palestinian poodle, but so far failed.
Alternatively, Israel can live with a fanatic, terrorist Palestinian scarecrow, with a murderous, uncompromising hardliner. The settlers often say it aloud: we prefer the Islamic Jihad, who want to throw us all to the sea. It is very easy to deal with such a leader, both nationally and internationally.
What we cannot live with is a moderate, sane Palestinian leader who wants peace in return for his people's lands, rights, and freedom. A leader who speaks good English and does not dress like bin Laden, who does not want to throw us to the sea but insists that Jerusalem is also a Palestinian city. Such a leader exposes Israel's rejectionism, and there lies the great danger of Abu Mazen. We cannot convince the world that we are the eternal peace-loving victims when a majority (54 percent) of Palestinians living in the occupied territories, as polls show, support a two-state solution on the basis of the 1967 lines, with border corrections and no massive return of refugees (Ha'aretz, Jan. 18, 2005). Because if this is the case, it becomes obvious that the only obstacle to peace is Israel's rejectionism, its refusal to make peace along these internationally accepted lines.
Demonizing Abu Mazen
So what can Israel do against this threat? Against the danger that it would be blamed for what it should be blamed, namely, for desiring peace much less than it desires the occupied Palestinian lands and water?
There are means, luckily. Obviously, Abu Mazen should be pushed into either of the two desired options for a Palestinian leader: if he cannot be turned into Israel's subcontractor, he should be portrayed as a terrorist. Attempts are already underway. The Israeli media was "appalled" when during his election campaign Abu Mazen referred to Israel as "the Zionist enemy." Appalling indeed: after all, only Israelis are allowed to call Palestinians "the enemy" – Palestinians are expected to call us their beloved big brother – and labeling Israel as Zionist is even a greater insult.
The context of Abu Mazen's angry words was not taken into consideration. Abu Mazen used these words upon hearing the news from Beth Lahia (Gaza Strip), where an Israeli tank had just fired at what the Israeli army shamelessly described as "Hamas activists," killing Mahmoud Raban (12 years old), his brother Bissam (17), their cousins Rajah (10), Jabir (16), Mohammed (22), and Hani (17), as well as their friend Jibril Kassih (16), and leaving Mohammed Raban (17) on a respirator with barely one leg and one arm, Issa Relia (13) with both his legs amputated above the knee, and the two cousins Imad al-Kaseeh (16) and Ibrahim al-Kaseeh (14) each with two legs amputated (Gideon Levy, Ha'aretz, Jan. 14, 2005). That's not appalling: it's "an exception" perhaps, though the army never bothered to express sorrow, not to mention apology or regret. But calling Israel "the Zionist enemy" in the aftermath of the bloodbath – now that's appalling.
Let's Engage Gaza
Portraying Abu Mazen as a terrorist is going to take some time, though; but Israel is impatient, it wants to act now. The dangers of peace are best coped with by the army: Israel has done this several times before, using the army to ignite the scene just when a cease-fire was at hand, most notably when it re-occupied the West Bank in "Operation Defensive Shield" (2002), the biggest military operation in the territories since 1967, just one day after the Arab League had adopted the Saudi Peace Initiative, acknowledging Israel's right to live in peace once it ended the occupation.
We are now in a similar situation. A big military operation can divert attention from "the new era," from the pressure to cease-fire; it can unify the masses behind our brave soldiers, and, above all, help Sharon postpone indefinitely his vague promises to dismantle Gaza settlements – a "plan" that, as Tanya Reinhart convincingly argues, he has little intention to carry out. So expect a large-scale operation in Gaza, soon. The immediate excuse – missile attacks on Israel – does not really matter: Abu Mazen, so the argument goes, does not stop the missiles, so we are forced to send the army to stop them; at the same time, the army itself admits it has no means to stop the missiles. So we are sending the army to do what it cannot do, because Abu Mazen does not do it either. After all, occupation is not about logic – it's about breaking bones.
A Liberal Demands War Crimes
There is no better seismograph for Israel's intentions than "liberal" senior columnist Yoel Marcus from the highbrow daily Ha'aretz:
"Our patience boiled over long ago. (…) There is a breaking point and a time when the government must take off its gloves and present the other side with a flat ultimatum: For every indiscriminate round of fire on a civilian target, we will retaliate in kind on the closest and most populated Palestinian city. We will give it to them good. An eye for an eye." ("An Eye for an Eye," Ha'aretz, Jan. 18, 2005)
When Marcus resorts to the style of propagandists of the darkest dictatorships in the 20th century, when he openly urges the government to take revenge on innocent Palestinian civilians, preparing the hearts of his readers for war crimes on a large scale, you can be sure the army won't lag behind.