Pastrami & Champagne

By Carey, Roane; Shatz, Adam | The Nation, May 10, 2004 | Go to article overview

Pastrami & Champagne


Carey, Roane, Shatz, Adam, The Nation


Three decades ago Winston Churchill's grandson asked Ariel Sharon how Israel should deal with the Palestinians. "We'll make a pastrami sandwich out of them," he replied. "We'll insert a strip of Jewish settlements in between the Palestinians, and then another strip of Jewish settlements right across the West Bank, so that in twenty-five years' time, neither the United Nations nor the United States, nobody, will be able to tear it apart."

Mission accomplished. On April 14 in Washington, Sharon unwrapped his pastrami sandwich and received George W. Bush's seal of approval. Bush supported Israel's retention of several large Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank and said that Palestinian refugees should be resettled in a "Palestinian state"--however notional that "state" might be. In return Sharon promised to evacuate 7,500 Jewish settlers from Gaza as part of a "disengagement" plan that will leave Gaza to Israel's tender mercies, and to remove "certain military installations and settlements" from the West Bank. On his flight back to Israel, Sharon and his colleagues uncorked a bottle of champagne. The celebrations were capped a few days later by an Israeli missile strike killing Hamas leader Abdel Aziz al-Rantisi. Like the assassination of Sheik Ahmed Yassin weeks earlier, Rantisi's killing drew no criticism from the United States, just a decorous call for "restraint."

In hailing Sharon's "bold and courageous decision," Bush was not exactly breaking new ground. Like Bush, President Clinton also argued that Israel should not be expected to withdraw to the 1967 borders and that most Palestinian refugees should eventually resettle in a Palestinian state rather than in Israel. But Palestinian and Israeli negotiators did discuss exchanging parts of the West Bank for commensurate parts of Israel proper. The effect of Bush's speech is to remove large settlement blocs from the negotiating table, thus condoning Israel's unilateral land grabs. Similarly, the Palestinian refugee question has always been considered a final-status issue, to be resolved in negotiations and not by Israeli and US fiat.

Reaction from our erstwhile European allies was swift and furious. "The European Union will not recognize any change to the pre-1967 borders other than those arrived at by agreement between the parties," said EU spokesman Brian Cowen, the Irish foreign minister. Presidential hopeful John Kerry, on the other hand, showed a disappointing deference to the Israel lobby, praising the Bush-Sharon plan and repeating the shibboleth that "Israel has no partner. …

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