Napoleon at the Gates of Ramallah
In his epic "War and Peace", Tolstoy
describes the battle of Borodino, one of the cruelest in history, in
which Napoleon opened the way to Moscow. In the middle of the terrible
battle, the hero of the book looks for the Russian commander, Kutusov.
He finds him sitting on a chair on the top of a hill, looking calmly at
the battle and doing nothing.
The hero is, of course, amazed by this
inactivity, until the Russian general explains that at this stage he has
nothing more to do. The battle is a clash between two great human
masses, and the stronger and more determined mass will win.
|I was reminded of the scene from the
book this week when I visited Yasser Arafat in Ramallah. His office
was quiet, activity low-key. The Palestinian leader was calm, more
so than I have seen him for a long time. The trembling of his limbs
has disappeared, and so had the tired look. He reminded me of our
first meeting in besieged Beirut, July 1982, in the middle of the
battle. He was in a jovial mood when he led us to the window and
showed us the Israeli tanks which are stationed a hundred meters
away, their cannons targeted on him.
the dozen senior journalists who accompanied our Gush Shalom
delegation got the impression that he has given up, that he "has
resigned himself to his fate". If they had met Kutusov in that
battle, they would probably also have said that the he was finished,
a beaten general resigned to defeat.
The Israeli-Palestinian war, now 120 years
old, is reaching one of its decisive stages. Two great masses are
confronting each other: an irresistible force and an immovable object.
The Israeli commander, Ariel Sharon, knows
exactly what he wants. All the columnists who tell the public that he is
temporizing, that he doesn't know what he wants, that he has no plan
etc. just do not know the man. A normal person like Yossi Beilin is
quite unable to grasp his way of thinking.
Sharon is acting in a consistent,
determined and logical way to execute his master-plan. For decades now
he has thought that he is ordained by history to implement real Zionism
- one that aims to conquer all of Eretz-Israel, to cleanse it of the
local population and to cover it with settlements.
In pursuing this historic mission Sharon is
ruthless and merciless. Rivers of blood do not deter him, the number of
casualties (theirs and ours) is just one item in his calculations. He
acts cautiously, uses ruses and does not shrink from committing war
He knows that he does not have much time
left, and that he must use the remaining time in order to destroy the
Palestinian people as a political factor. To achieve this, he has to
break thir leadership, defeat their armed forces, smash their will and
ability to resist.
What is the final aim?
The minimum: To imprison the Palestinians
in several enclaves, each one cut off from the others and from the world
at large, each one surrounded by settlements, by-pass roads and the
army. In these big prison camps, the Palestinians will be allowed to
"manage their own affaires," supplying cheap labor and a captive market.
He does not care if they are called "a Palestinian state".
The maximum: To exploit a war situation or
a world crisis to expel all Palestinians (including those who are
Israeli citizens) from the country. Sharon is quite capable of
instigating a war to create such an opportunity. He has only contempt
for the people around him, who are unable to think in such historic
Under the leadership of Sharon this great
mass is confronting the opposing mass ? the Palestinians. They cannot
compete with the attacking force in any field but one: the capability to
absorb punches. The Palestinian national strategy is summarized by one
word: Summud, steadfastness. After the terrible lesson of 1948, the
Palestinians know that this is a fight for their life ? the life of the
Palestinian people and the life of every single Palestinian man and
woman. This generates a force of resistance that amazes Sharon's
generals, as the Russian resistance amazed Napoleon's marshals.
Yasser Arafat symbolizes this ability more
than anyone else. Even those Palestinians (mainly Western educated
members of the intelligentsia) who used to criticize his style of
management know that there is nobody like him in an existential crisis.
The man sitting in Ramallah facing the tanks is the personification of
the Palestinian determination to defend their national existence in
their homeland, whatever the price.
The Israeli Napoleon does not understand
the Palestinians, as the original Napoleon did not understand the
Russians. He and his followers believe that Arafat is an isolated,
crippled, "irrelevant" figure. They cannot understand that precisely in
such a situation, Arafat is stronger and more influential than ever.
A propos the original Napoleon: he won the
battle of Borodino and entered Moscow as a glorious victor. But a few
weeks later the same Kutusov defeated him decisively. Napoleon had to
flee back home, leaving behind him the remnants of a beaten army, dying
of hunger and cold.
[The author has closely followed the career
of Sharon for four decades. Over the years, he has written three
extensive biographical essays about him, two (1973, 1981) with his
A Flash Presentation of
Barak's "Generous Offers".
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haGalil onLine 20-02-2002