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Thursday, November 14, 2002 Kislev 9, 5763 Israel Time:  17:41  (GMT+2)
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People and Politics
The 'road map' has been folded up
By Akiva Eldar
Sharon: Washington's favorite

The last few days have reminded Israeli diplomats of the worst days of the unity government. What's an Israeli ambassador supposed to tell a foreign minister or a TV interviewer who asks if the Israeli government will expel Yasser Arafat - that the prime minister opposes it and the foreign minister is in favor? Or maybe they should explain that because of the war in Iraq the government opposes it, but on the day after, when President Bush can tell the Arabs whatever he wants, Arafat can meet up with Saddam Hussein to compare notes.

Every hour Benjamin Netanyahu spends at the Foreign Ministry instead of at his campaign headquarters confirms the view that Sharon put him between a rock and a hard place. If he shows restraint, he'll appear to Likud voters as little more than a Sharon clerk. According to the polling data in Netanyahu's hands, confirmed by the applause-o-meter at the Likud convention, he has nothing better than aggressive horizontal hand motions accompanying the promise to "toss out Arafat." But that thundering pushes Sharon straight into the arms of the president of the United States, whom even Netanyahu has to say is "Israel's greatest friend."

Netanyahu is the darling of the neo-conservatives in Washington and their loyal follower, and they are the political forces maneuvering Bush toward war with Iraq. They won't like any move that could disturb their plans, even if it comes from their favorite Israeli.

Netanyahu's decision to choose the aggressive option can be seen as proof that the polls in the Israeli press worry him more than the cables from Israeli legations in the U.S. According to reports from the embassy in Washington, Netanyahu's battle cry has turned Sharon into Washington's favorite son, with both Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice praising the prime minister.

The "road map" has been folded up until further notice. In response to a declaration by Terje Larsen, the UN secretary-general's special envoy to the Middle East, that the Quartet was awaiting responses to the road map by the middle of December, the Foreign Ministry said that Larsen is in no position to dictate anything to the government.

Even the one issue that sparked a bit of a dispute between Sharon and the administration - the freeze on Palestinian Authority funds - has been taken off the agenda. In briefings to American reporters, government and army spokesmen are saying the murders at Kibbutz Metzer revealed new facts about Arafat's involvement - and that of his aides, including PA Finance Minister Salam Fayad, an American loyalist - in the financing of such terror activities. The U.S. may have rejected the Israeli proposal for a mechanism to transfer money to the PA (even the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem says it would turn Fayad into a clerk in the General Accountant's office in the treasury), but until further notice, the term "American pressure" regarding the funding, or anything else, for that matter, has been erased from Sharon's agenda.

If Bibi hadn't been returned to the Foreign Ministry, the prime minister would have had to drag him there by force.

Mofaz's days at Elkana

Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein has already declared that in a properly run country a government does not come down on the side of lawbreakers, even with a hint and a wink. Rubinstein knows that at the end of the day he'll be the one who has to defend the state in case a petition is filed to the High Court of Justice in the matter of the illegal outposts. The albeit limited operation conducted by former defense minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer freed the attorney general from that unpleasant duty.

Now the new defense minister, Shaul Mofaz, has the same official documents that dictated the attorney general's position. Every outpost was closely examined with legal magnifying glasses before finding its way to the list of those that have to be dismantled. Now, says the attorney general, it's up to the defense minister, by virtue of his authority to uphold the law in the territories, and the government does not have the authority to appeal any move against the illegal outposts.

A quick examination of the list of illegal outposts shows that many of the buildings were snuck into place during the Barak administration. Although the IDF knew about every movement of every bulldozer on the ground, no orders were given by then-chief of staff Shaul Mofaz to stop the lawbreakers. One possible explanation for that, can be found in an Arutz Sheva interview given last week by Nisan Slomiansky, a former National Religious Party MK and the chairman of the Elkana local council.

In the interview marking Mofaz's appointment as defense minister, Slomiansky said that in May 1977, three weeks before Menachem Begin became prime minister, 17 families set up Elkana in the Samarian hills. Among them were the young couple Shaul and Orit Mofaz. Orit became Slomiansky's secretary, the young Sayeret Matkal officer Shaul became the community's security officer. Two or three years later the Mofaz family moved back across the Green Line to Kochav Yair. Slomiansky said the settlers of Elkana are still "in touch" with the Mofaz family. He made sure to note that the short period in which the Mofaz family lived in Elkana does not necessarily testify to the defense minister's political views.

14 bullet shells

The names of Revital Ohayon and her two sons, Noam, 4, and Matan, 5, as well as the names of Yitzhak Dori and Tirzah Damari, don't say much to the residents of Nablus. For them, at most, those are more numbers in the statistics of the war dead in the long campaign against the occupation. Most people from Nablus don't find any place in their hearts for the pain of a father saying kaddish over the graves of his two children. For the people of Nablus, the significance of the murder is Israeli soldiers in the streets of their city, a curfew, want and fear. It doesn't really interest them now that the kibbutzniks of Metzer probably will vote for either Yossi Sarid or Amram Mitzna.

For most Israelis, the name Shaden Abu Hijla, a Palestinian woman in her 50s, is completely foreign. Shaden was killed last month while sitting on her porch, by a burst of bullets. Her husband was seriously wounded in his head. Her son was shot in the neck.

No Israeli politician, not even from the left, is demanding the IDF hand over the investigation into the death of the doctor's wife from Rafadiyeh, an upscale neighborhood in Nablus.

The Israelis have pain and anger of their own. It doesn't really interest them that Abu Hijla was a veteran activist in a women's organization that promoted peace and worked against violence.

At least 14 bullet casings were picked up from the street by neighbors after the IDF jeep disappeared around the corner after the shooting. The markings on the shells could easily lead to the weapon that fired the bullets and to the shooter. A few days after the incident, which took place on the eve of Sharon's latest visit to Washington, American Ambassador Daniel Kurtzer sent a report on the Abu Hijla case to the White House, to make tangible to the administration the other side of the term "the war against terror."

Sharon promised the White House the case would be thoroughly investigated and that if someone were found guilty, he would be punished. The European Union received a similar promise.

This week, a month after her mother was slain (the IDF Spokesman's Office said this week "the investigation continues") Abu Hijla's daughter, Lana, sent an e-mail to all those who sent their condolences.

"... When I heard the terrible news of my mother's murder as she was sitting on the porch of our home, I kept on screaming `don't let her become just another number in the long list of Palestinian victims of the Israeli occupation.' The sad fact we are living in these days is that we have become faceless people and mere numbers reported on, by the way, in the news, if even mentioned.

"Our victims have lost their names as if they had none, as if they have no families and friends that love them and will terribly miss them," she writes.

Lana promises to do whatever she can so her beloved mother won't also become a number, so "her belief in a better future, in freedom of choice, in peace, in our rights as Palestinians," won't be forgotten.

"We, the family and friends of Shaden, vowed to pursue the case of her murder to try to bring the ones responsible to justice, that is if justice exists in this part of the world, particularly for Palestinians ... I am sure if we, together, are able to make the next Israeli soldier on such a mission hesitate for a second before pulling the trigger and killing one more Mom, we will have won."

Among the Palestinians there are also those for whom the massacre of the helpless in Metzer is considered a victory. There are some for whom Sirhan Sirhan, the suspected murderer, is similar to what Baruch Goldstein is for the zealots of the Israeli right wing. Both are fighting in the name of their God for the land, and meanwhile soaking it with the blood of children.

There is only one way that Avi Ohayon's bereavement won't become another bit of data in the Israeli political election campaign and the bereavement of Lana Abu Hijla doesn't become another number in the Palestinian propaganda machine: each side should bring the guilty to justice, so the criminals on both sides will see and fear.

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