Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon became a champion for peace on May 25, when he persuaded his cabinet to accept the US’s ‘roadmap’ for peace. The decision was hailed as a mature and magnanimous move after the Palestinian martyrdom-operations the previous week, despite the fact that the Israelis listed 14 non-negotiable reservations, and Western commentators immediately threw the onus on the Palestinians to match the Israelis’ commitment.
The reality, of course, is very different. Sharon’s cabinet approved the plan only because he assured them it is unworkable and will not be permitted to work. Its purpose is not to achieve peace but to create the impression that the Palestinians are responsible for the absence of peace.
Sharon’s true attitude was made clear by his government’s conduct in the run-up to the much-publicised first meeting between Sharon and new Palestinian prime minister Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) on May 17, when thousands of Israeli troops launched two major offensives against Palestinian towns in Ghazzah on May 15 and 16, killing more than 20 Palestinians, almost all of them civilians. Sharon also announced a decision to permit Jews to pray at al-Haram al-Sharif. Both moves were clearly designed to provoke Palestinian anger at a time when Abu Mazen was hoping to persuade Palestinians to support him to make the roadmap work.
Abu-Mazen, meanwhile, revealed his weak position by going ahead with the meeting despite the Israeli provocations, and the advice of veteran Palestinian negotiator Sa’eb Erekat, who warned that Sharon was interested only in outmanoeuvring Abu Mazen for his own purposes. Abu Mazen’s response was to exclude Erekat from his meeting with Sharon, prompting Erekat to resign from the Palestinian Authority.
Yet Abu Mazen proceeded to visit Sharon at his office in West Jerusalem for a meeting whose proceedings could easily be predicted. According to Khalid Amayreh, writing in Al-Ahram Weekly, Sharon’s immediate demand was that Abu Mazen "destroy the infrastructure of terror", offering in return a vague promise to "ease Palestinian suffering." PA sources that Sharon demanded "an open war on terror."
Abu Mazen reportedly asked how he could do this while the PA has no control in either the West Bank or Ghazzah because of Israel’s attacks on it, but said that he would seek a one-year cease-fire from Palestinian mujahideen groups if Israel would reciprocate by withdrawing its troops from Palestinian towns. This Sharon brushed off.
Eager to justify his government’s existence, Abu Mazen also requested that Israel accept the roadmap unconditionally. This Sharon also refused to do, and Abu Mazen left with absolutely no result except the dubious honour of having met the Butcher of Beirut (and many places since).
The Palestinian Islamic movements, meanwhile, showed their far greater understanding of Sharon and the nature of the roadmap with a series of operations from May 17–19, in which five mujahideen martyred themselves and killed 10 Israelis. While Abu Mazen plays politics, some Palestinians show that they realise which language Israel really understands.