It's All About Arafat.
Whatever steps Israel takes right now, whatever actions she pursues in the near future - it's all about Arafat.
And even though Israel's Arafat-related actions may seem to be counter-productive to the prevailing world situation, Israel has and will continue with her own plan of action. Up to the point where it seriously jeopardizes her Western alliances.
It may seem like an incongruity, but plain and simply put, the security and safety of Israel and her people are Ariel Sharon's main concern right now - not world politics. And right now, the prime minister's priority is applying pressure against Yasser Arafat - not the scuds that will fall after the United States invades Iraq. Arafat.
And that explains why Ariel Sharon chose to encircle and renew the process of destroying Yasser Arafat and his Mukata, his headquarters compound in Ramallah, now.
It seems like just when the president of the United States is working very hard at cobbling together a coalition of support for his intended attack on Iraq and her missile bases, Israel goes and rocks the boat. It seems like Israel, once again, coalesced the Arab world against the West, because Israel is, after all, a symbol of the West. It even seemed like Israel was putting the Bush coalition and plan of action at risk because greater Europe does not like to see an unhappy Arab world.
And so, Israel lifted the siege on the compound.
Yasser Arafat is free to leave - the compound, the city of Ramallah, the area of Palestine. And that is Sharon's whole objective. To get Arafat to leave. Only, he won't go.
Did Prime Minister Sharon deliberately wait for calm in the media to strike at Arafat? No, of course not. Sharon specifically does not want world attention focused on Arafat. And no, Sharon did not attack when it was least convenient for U.S. foreign policy simply to irritate the United States. He is smart and savvy enough to understand that Israel's actions are not independent of other Western democracy's policies.
And that is also why Sharon lifted the siege against Arafat. He did it as an act of friendship towards the United States. Did that act of friendship neutralize any gains that Sharon might have made during the siege? Did it render the siege a mere waste of time? I don't think so, not at all. It was a piece of the puzzle in the Sharon plan.
Bottom line - Sharon cares about some things and not about others. He cares about Israel's security and safety; those are the main issues in his sights. He doesn't care about the international media.
Sharon consults with the United States when he needs to and he is secretive when he deems it essential. There are times when he informs the White House of his intentions and times when he strategizes with them. Most problematic though, are those times when he is a one-man-band and has not thought through the international ramification of his actions. That's when even the White House becomes informed about events from the media.
He doesn't court the media, but does he ever use it? Sure, he holds press conferences and gives select interviews when it fits into his larger plan.
And Sharon's plan is clear and consistent. It has not changed. Whether it is surrounding Arafat in September, in May, this past week or even some time in the future. The plan identifies Arafat as the problem. Arafat is an obstacle to any new leadership arising for the Palestinian people. He is an obstacle to peace. In the world of the Ariel Sharon plan, a change in leadership is essential in moving the process forward.
Simply put, Sharon wants what Bush wants. Both agree that while Arafat is in the region there is no possibility for an alternative leadership to arise. So the plan is to periodically crank up the pressure on Arafat to aid him in making the right decision for himself and for his people. The decision to leave.
Yasser Arafat must flee into self-exile. That is the Sharon plan.
The objective of surrounding Arafat, of turning off his air conditioners, of destroying his literal and figurative infrastructure, is to torque up the pressure - to isolate him but also to frustrate him.
As of now, Sharon and Israel will not exile Arafat nor will they assassinate him. They need him to leave, to flee, of his own volition.
This is very unlikely.
If Arafat were to depart on his own it would be a crushing blow to his stature and to his leadership. It would be a defeat from which he would never recover. From outside the region Arafat would be free - to travel, to raise money, even to dispatch terrorists and develop plans to strike against Israel, Israelis and Jews throughout the world. But the price he would pay would be to lack the local strength to really lead the Palestinian people.
An Arafat outside the borders of Palestine is a marginalized Arafat. Palestinian leadership must be local because the Palestinian game is played not on foreign soil but in Palestine.
January elections as declared by Arafat are ludicrous. Democracy is not only about voting. Assad was elected in Syria and Mubarak was elected in Egypt. Both are called president, but neither is a democracy. Democracy is about dialogue, about freedoms and lifestyle, it is the debate of ideas concerning the future and vision of a society. Democracy is not about fear and subjugation.
Only with a change in leadership will there be a potential to bring quiet and peace to the region and only when their leader is truly and democratically elected into office can a Palestinian State thrive alongside Israel in security and freedom.
The present siege on Yasser Arafat's compound was lifted - in the name of friendship and world alliance. My prediction? It will be resumed. Again. And again. Until the desired result is achieved.Micah D. Halpern is a social and political commentator.
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