Middle East

Middle East

Digging In

Across the Arab world, the name Ariel Sharon signifies violence and contempt for Arabs. So, predictably, the Arab press reacted with revulsion to Sharon’s victory over incumbent Prime Minister Ehud Barak in Israel’s Feb. 6 election.

“There is no doubt that the election of Sharon as prime minister of Israel signals the degree to which Israel has arrived at a position of extremism and indifference to the just peace,” declared Jerusalem’s pro-Palestinian Authority Al-Quds (Feb. 7). In Syria, Al-Baath (Feb. 7), published by Syria’s ruling party, announced that “the victory of the terrorist, war criminal, butcher…Ariel Sharon as Israel’s prime minister is a clear announcement of war from the Zionist entity to the Arabs. It leaves few choices and no room for discussion.”

And in Beirut, the independent, English-language Daily Star (Feb. 8) served notice: “For many people in this part of the world, a long-feared nightmare has finally come true: Ariel Sharon is now the prime minister of Israel. His is a record of enthusiasm for violence and disdain for dialogue, of outright blood lust rarely seen among even the ranks of Israel’s uncompromising right wing.”

According to the Saudi-owned Al-Sharq al-Awsat of London (Feb. 9), Sharon rebuffed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s expres sion of preparedness to negotiate peace with the new government, describing the Syrian position as untenable. He has also reiterated his positions that Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza will stay in place and that Jerusalem will remain in Israeli hands. “Then about what will Sharon negotiate if he refuses to negotiate on all the topics with which he disagrees?” the paper asks.

“The most ruthless of all Likud toughs, Sharon got himself elected because he promised to bring an end to the Al-Aqsa Intifada and the bloody tensions in the occupied territories,” stated an editorial in Amman’s independent, English-language Jordan Times (Feb. 8). “This entails that his first moves will likely be aimed at either defusing the Intifada through offers of negotiations or drastically cracking down on the uprising. Neither tactic ensures the desired result of restoring order in the West Bank.”

In an editorial, Al-Quds (Feb. 8) noted, “It is certain that the Arabs will not find it easy to negotiate with any Israeli leader.” But it added: “Sharon’s arrival in the seat of power will not end the Palestinian national movement.”

In the eyes of The Daily Star’s managing editor Marc Sirois (Feb. 8), a number of checks and balances exist to restrain the general’s “war-like instincts.” These include a strengthening of Israeli institutions over individual leaders, a more peace-conscious and conflict-weary Israeli public, and a divided Knesset. But like the Jordan Times editorialist, Sirois believes that “Sharon figures to take an even harsher line than Barak, and the concomitant rise in casualties of this approach is a recipe for escalation and intensification.”

Some commentators take a less apocalyptic view of Sharon’s election. Editor Abdel Bari Atwan of the Palestinian expatriate Al-Quds al-Arabi of London (Feb. 7) says his election can be viewed as a relief, assuming it means an end to the disastrous and unjust Oslo peace process and a reversion to U.N. resolutions as the basis for negotiations.

The peace treaty Israelis want, whether under Sharon or Barak, is one imposed by force, Atwan wrote. “By choosing Sharon as their prime minister, the Israeli people have once again confirmed their aggressive intentions toward the entire region,” he said.

Despite their flaws, the Oslo and Madrid processes represented progress, The Daily Star’s Sirois wrote (Feb. 7). “Sharon and his equally distasteful comrades must not be allowed to undo all of the achievements realized over the past decade,” he said.