Friday, April 12, 2002
I fully share with you the opinion, my dear brother President, that our Palestinian situation has great similarities to your situation, and as you have courageously embraced the peace initiative with the South African Government, under President De Klerk, we have been able to do the same, and as you have extended your hand to the opposition, we have done the same to the Palestinian opposition, so we can proceed together and continue to achieve our objectives.
It is a realization of a dream for me to be here to come and pledge my solidarity with my friend Yasser Arafat...the histories of our two peoples correspond in such painful and poignant ways that I intensely feel myself at home amongst my compatriots...The long-standing fraternal bonds between our two liberation movements are now translating into the relations between two governments.
And as I walked through the carnage on 18 September - the last day of the three-day massacre - with Loren Jenkins of The Washington Post, a fierce, tough, Colorado reporter, I remember how he stopped in shock and disgust. And then, with as much energy as his lungs could summon in the sweet, foul air, he shouted, "SHARON!" so loudly that the name echoed off the crumpled walls above the bodies. "He's responsible for this fucking mess," Jenkins roared. And that, just over four months later - in more diplomatic words and in a report in which the murderers were called "soldiers" - was what the Israeli commission of enquiry decided. Sharon, who was minister of defence, bore "personal responsibility", the Kahan commission stated, and recommended his removal from office. Sharon resigned.
As Ariel Sharon takes up the reins of power in Israel, there is no shortage of nervous people in the Middle East. The Palestinians are bracing themselves for some form of savagery. The Arab world has nurtured the legend of Sharon the megalomaniac, Sharon the war criminal. They naturally expect the worst. The Israelis are bracing themselves because they don't know what to expect. Prime Minister Sharon is not Gen. Sharon. Israel is a tumultuous democracy and the prime minister needs to cut deals to gain support for his policies, not just in parliament, but even inside his own Cabinet. There is precious little room for impetuousness in the Israeli political system.
After 34 years of occupation, including 24 years following Sharon's 1977 "Master Plan" for annexing the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza, the iron wall is nearing completion. The "facts" have been created, the Master Plan almost concluded. All that remains is to extinguish that "gleam of hope" among the Palestinians that they might eke out a small but viable, independent state in 22 percent of the land of historic Palestine. The conquest and consolidation have been accomplished; only the despair remains that will allow Israel to control the Greater Land of Israel while getting rid of Palestinians through forcing a bantustan upon them. Has the world seen the last of apartheid?
Now I'm prepared to believe that Arafat is more Mugabe than Mandela, but Arafat is the leader of the Palestinians. Only he has the legitimacy to sign a meaningful peace accord. And Arafat is just one Palestinian out of hundreds of thousands who are under siege. Could Sharon be any more abusive to Palestinian civilians? His troops wreck cars, knock down houses, ransack homes, round up adult males by the thousands, and deprive whole Palestinian towns of electricity, food, and water. These acts will not vanquish terrorism; they are its recruiting call.
Question: What's your reaction to Sharon calling the meeting [between Secretary of State, Colin Powell and Yasser Arafat] a tragic mistake?
Ari Fleischer: I don't comment on -- the policy of the United States is that the Secretary of State will work with whoever he can work with to try to bring peace to the region, and he'll spend more time with the people who can be most productive.
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