Originally Published 2004-04-26 07:04:21 Published on Apr 26, 2004
An old maxim has it that, you can drive a man to murder, but can't make him think. What President George W. Bush's shameful and imperious encouragement to the unilateral Gaza pullout plan and the land grab that it entails in the West Bank do mean to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is in evidence.
Rantissi: Murder most foul
An old maxim has it that, you can drive a man to murder, but can't make him think. What President George W. Bush's shameful and imperious encouragement to the unilateral Gaza pullout plan and the land grab that it entails in the West Bank do mean to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is in evidence. Three days after Sharon got the US seal of approval to the plan and 26 days after the murder of Hamas founder and spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, the Israeli military killed his successor Abdul Aziz Rantissi on April 17 in yet another targeted assassination. It was in continuation of Israel's stated policy of targeting top Hamas leaders who, it says, are "directly responsible for the deaths of scores of Israelis".

As thousands of mourners cried revenge in Gaza after the latest assassination, a delighted Sharon has promised more such targeted killings. Why does Israel think it can vanquish an armed resistance group enjoying mass support and broad appeal by helicopter gunships alone? How many more extrajudicial killings will make Sharon and the other two members of the security troika--Defence Minister Sha'ul Mofaz and Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) chief Gen Moshe Ya'alon--realise that they are on the road to perdition? In what way is Israel's security enhanced if all the collective punishment it meted out to the Palestinians over the decades only served to harden their resolve that without extreme violence they will not get a fair deal at all?

The sad truth is that the more Israel tries to "take out" militant leaders, the greater is the probability that conviction is steeled among the Palestinians population living in the occupied territories about the effectiveness of deadly attacks and suicide bombings as a weapon to counter the enemy. What this seemingly never-ending spectacle does to civil society on both sides is remarkable: while it condemns Israeli civilians to lead their lives in perpetual fear and hate the other side as pure terrorists, adulation for suicide bombers and their actions rises among the Palestinian masses. This process, in which forces of peace in civil society are viewed as a sign of weakness, leaves no space for any genuine peace movement to emerge on either side. This deep divide is a key element of the conflict, which will only be widened by the killings of Sheikh Yassin and Rantissi.

Will it solve Israel's Hamas problem? Prime Minister Sharon's aim has been to weaken the organisation by eliminating its top leadership, but it is hard to see how he will achieve this end. It is not that Rantissi did not know that he, too, had been marked for death. "We are all waiting for the last day of our life," Rantissi said a couple of days before he met death. "If it is by an Apache or by cardiac arrest, I prefer that it will be by Apache." This telling comment sums up the direction the conflict is taking, the rancourous environment in which only the use of force will work and the deep frustration that engenders mass reverence to martyrdom. At the same time, it was no brilliance on the part of the IDF that it could kill Rantissi from the air, who, like Sheikh Yassin before him, continued to move about Gaza freely despite the threat of an impending strike.

On April 18, Hamas pledged "100 unique reprisals" while its leaders threatened to unleash a "volcano of revenge" against Israel. It has chosen a replacement for Rantissi but did not disclose his name, which has fuelled suspicion that the group is on the defensive in the face of a sustained Israeli campaign ahead of Sharon's planned withdrawal of Jewish settlements and troops from Gaza. When Yassin was assassinated on March 22, the Hamas had vowed to "send death to every house, every city and every street in Israel". There is already considerable heartbun in Izzedine al Qassam, the armed wing of Hamas, that it had not been able to act on its vows of revenge over the killing of Yassin. The enormous shock on seeing Rantissi assassinated as well, coming on the heels of the political blow that the Palestinians were dealt in Washington, Hamas may well rework its war strategy. Even it were to wreak on Israel a fraction of the havoc it promised, it has scored a point. Together with its fury, the popularity of Hamas is bound to grow to unprecedented levels.

Such an outcome is only natural because the impression that has got stuck is that Israel and the US are ganging up to deny the Palestinians their legitimate right to a separate state. Excepting the US, the whole world is unanimous in condemning Isael's extrajudicial actions. Yet, what has exposed the US duplicity is the Bush administration's blind support for Sharon's unilateral Gaza pullout plan, thereby validating the claim that Israel has no legitimate Palestinian partner, including Yasser Arafat, to carry forward the peace process. In an absolute negation of the long-held US policy over the Middle East conflict, the Bush administration has conceded the four major guarantees Sharon had sought: that in any future agreement, Israel should keep some West Bank territory; rejection of ''right of return'' to what is now Israel for Palestinian refugees of the 1948 Arab-Israeli war and their descendants; Israel would remain free after withdrawing to strike into Gaza if it felt threatened from there; and Israel has the right to complete a new barrier it is building against West Bank Palestinians before evacuating any settlements. These have allowed Sharon to earn support of right-wing in his Likud party--- led by Benjamin Netanyahu, it had balked at the idea of pullout-- ahead of the party ballot on the plan scheduled for May 2.

Both President Bush and his "courageous" ally in the Middle East are facing a battle of political survival. The US President needs to cultivate the Jewish lobby without the support of which, he must surely know, he will meet the fate of his father in the reelection bid in November. Yet, it is the same fate that stares him in his face if he doesn't improve his record on the increasingly disastrous "democracy" mission in Iraq and the listless "war on terror". Sharon, on the other hand, has achieved a victory of sorts over his rightist Likud colleagues and coalition allies when he gained Bush's support in tearing the so-called roadmap that envisioned a viable Palestinian state by 2005 to shreds. His chief concern now is to weaken Hamas so that it cannot take over Gaza and make the claim that it pushed the Israelis out through force, as the Hizbollah did after Israel withdrew its troops in 2000 from the "safety corridor" it held for 22 years in South Lebanon.

Will he achieve the goal of weakening resistance in Gaza as he time one targeted assassination after another to his promised pullout from the strip? During the 1967 war, fearing that if Israel limits its offensives to the northern Sinai the Egyptians would not bother to negotiate for peace, the then Defence Minister Moshe Dayan thought up a plan, which he put it at the time this way: "Keep Gaza with its 400,000 Arabs. Choke on them." It is clear that, 37 years later, it is the occupying power that is being choked, reeling from self-inflicted wounds and not knowing how to extricate itself honourably from there.

* Views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Observer Research Foundation.
The views expressed above belong to the author(s). ORF research and analyses now available on Telegram! Click here to access our curated content — blogs, longforms and interviews.