This could end in sanctions

Akiva Eldar

Haaretz

August 16, 2004

Why is it that there isn't a single juicy story, from New Zealand to New Jersey, in which Israel - a country that is about the size of the Kakadu National Park in Northern Australia - isn't mixed up? Don't be surprised if some guy turns up soon with the "scoop" that the young fellow from Rishon Letzion is a secret agent of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's who was planted in the entourage of the Democratic governor of New Jersey, James McGreevey, in order to improve the mood at United States President George W. Bush's reelection headquarters.

Truth to tell, there is something admirable about the extent of the restraint of the prime minister, who cannot be faulted (unlike some of his predecessors) and takes care only to whisper his prayers for the success of the incumbent president. However, there are situations in which even Sharon's good angel in the White House can't - and perhaps does not want to - rescue him from the stew he has cooked for himself.

Such a situation is the combination of the disengagement plan, the dismantling of the outposts and the High Court of Justice ruling regarding the route of the separation fence. What the three have in common is that they all involve promises that the prime minister has made, privately and publicly, to Bush. Breaking any one of them constitutes a direct blow to the trustworthiness of a candidate whose trustworthiness is in any case in doubt. Although Bush is bothered by more pressing problems than the situation of the Palestinians, like the unemployment rate at home and the guerrilla war in Iraq, precisely for that reason, the last thing he needs now is for the disengagement plan to crash on the shards of the road map.

Moderate Arab leaders and the heads of the European Union are demanding of the Americans what the latter are demanding of their Israeli protege - the implementation of everything that Sharon himself has proposed and promised. No less and no more. After all, the disengagement plan is not an Egyptian invention, it wasn't French President Jacques Chirac who publicly declared that a country where law prevails cannot condone illegal settlements and the International Court of Justice in The Hague was not the first to have ruled that the route of the fence is needlessly harmful to the Palestinian population.

Israel cannot fool all of the world all of the time, including itself. Even the forgiving Americans are insulted when they find out that their friends from Israel think they are idiots. What is Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz thinking when he says that he is only waiting for the latest aerial photographs of the territories in order to show the outposters who's in charge? Every child knows that for a few shekels one can download from the Internet satellite photos with such high resolution that it is possible to locate a flowerpot in the yard of a mobile home.

And Sharon himself? Does he really believe the world will stand still until he finds a job for Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom? The prime minister really should ask the folks at Shalom's ministry about what already awaits Israel at the approaching United Nations General Assembly.

According to reports that have come in from the Israeli delegation at the UN, Israel's decision to ignore the General Assembly resolution that called upon it to implement the ruling of the Hague tribunal has not removed the issue from the agenda; after the United States imposes a veto on the proposed decision that is emerging at the Security Council - to impose sanctions on Israel, under Provision 7, in order to force it to dismantle the fence - the Arabs are planning to toss the ball back to the General Assembly. Under the regulations, the General Assembly is entitled to call upon the member states and international organizations to impose sanctions on Israel. This is what happened in 1982, after the passage of the Golan Law that extended Israeli law to the Syrian heights.

Although the resolution by the General Assembly (as opposed to a Security Council resolution) is not binding, sweeping support for sanctions on Israel will put it into the family of leper nations. As in the previous vote in the General Assembly, this time too the key is in the hands of Europe. Bush's apron, large as it might be, is not large enough to cover a retreat from the disengagement, along with the evasion of the dismantling of the outposts, along with the continued postponement of the rectification of the fence's route, along with the ignoring of The Hague court, along with the scorn for the EU, along with the insulting of France.