Sharon's war on moderate Palestinians

By H.D.S. Greenway, 7/19/2002

IF ONE NEEDED further proof that Israel's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's real intentions are not just the suppression of terrorism but the relentless termination of Palestinian national aspirations, you need look no further than the recent closing of the offices of Sari Nusseibeh, the Palestinian representative for Jerusalem.

The Oxford- and Harvard-trained Nusseibeh, president of Al Quds University, is one of the Palestinian camp's most articulate voices for compromise between Palestinians and Israelis. Fluent in Hebrew as well as English, Nusseibeh is on record as recognizing the Jewish people's rights in the Holy Land, and he has publicly told the Palestinians that they must give up the right of return to Israel proper. He was also a leader in the recent move among Palestinian intellectuals to denounce the use of suicide bombings. He is also a voice for reform within the Palestinian leadership.

One might have thought that Nusseibeh was just the sort of leader President Bush was calling for to replace Yasser Arafat. As Israel's opposition parliamentarian, Naomi Chazan, told National Public Radio: ''This is a man who has courageously opposed terrorism.... This is a person who has been a pillar in the creation of a Palestinian-Israeli peace coalition and really a man who is a moderate voice and a very key person in the attempt by Israelis and Palestinians to keep some channels open.''

But Nusseibeh has earned the enmity of two powerful players in the Arab-Israeli drama - extremists in Hamas and the Islamic Jihad who are against compromise with Israel and the Israeli hard right, personified by Sharon and his security minister, Uzi Landau, who are against compromise with the Palestinians.

Nusseibeh's offense: undermining Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem, according to Landau. In other words, there is to be no compromise over Jerusalem if Sharon and Landau get their way. No Palestinian claim is to be recognized. Irony of ironies: Landau claims justification in his move against Nusseibeh by the Oslo accords, the destruction of which his government has assiduously sought until there is almost nothing left now that Israel has reoccupied the West Bank.

Mustafa Barghouthi, the head of the Palestinian Medical Relief, got it right when he told The Boston Globe's Charles Radin: ''Sharon hates us moderates. Israelis have been given a stereotype that all Palestinians are either terrorists or involved in extreme corruption. Sharon is punishing Sari Nusseibeh'' for showing otherwise.

The White House issued a mild rebuke, which Sharon simply shrugged off because he knows that, unlike the president's father, George W. Bush may bark, but he has no bite when it comes to Israeli actions against Palestinians.

Sari Nusseibeh comes from one of the oldest families of Jerusalem. His father, a Jordanian diplomat and Cabinet minister who stayed on in Jerusalem after the Six-Day War ended Jordanian rule, once told me that when Saladin drove the Crusaders out of Jerusalem in 1187, unlike the Crusaders who had murdered all the Jews and Muslims they could lay their swords on, Saladin respected other religions. But he found that the various Christian denominations squabbled so over their rights to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre that he gave the keys of the church to Nusseibeh's ancestors in order to maintain impartiality.

Today, it is men like Sari Nusseibeh who hold the keys to Palestinian-Israeli compromise in a two-state solution. But as the Labor Party's Yael Dayan, daughter of Moshe Dayan, has said, President Bush has given Israel ''a free ride ... a green light to do whatever the right wing want.'' And the Israeli right doesn't want compromise. It wants to call all the shots. President Bush may have his opinions about Yasser Arafat, but his biggest mistake has been to believe that Ariel Sharon could be a partner for peace.

H.D.S. Greenway's column appears regularly in the Globe.

© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.