Likud's territorial imperative


Jerusalem -- BUSH administration officials are to be forgiven if they are, at least at this moment regarding the Arab states, adopting a modest "We told you so" attitude toward their cynics in the aftermath of the gulf war. But they also ought to take with extraordinary seriousness the other attitude in the Mideast equation -- the "We told you: No!" of Yitzhak Shamir's Israel.

For there is certainly a "new world order" trend revealing itself in the Arab world, with Syrian, Egyptian and other Arab promises to end the long-standing Arab boycott of Israel in exchange for an end to expansion of the Israeli settlements.

Here in Israel, however, the settlement situation is so far gone, so cynical in its manipulation of American policy and those behind it so intent upon total control of all of the territories that policy-makers should start by understanding that the Shamir government is not going to change, period.

The funny thing is that everyone here, whether Israeli right or left, whether national or foreigner, knows what is going on. More than 50 percent of the land of the "territories" is now in Israeli hands in one way or another. Anyone who drives into the West Bank today sees shiny and provocative new settlements everywhere. Grids of sewers and water links from Israel show clearly on maps in Housing Minister Ariel Sharon's office. In the last two busy years, the numbers of settlers have risen to 100,000, plus 3,000 in the Palestinian horror that is the Gaza strip.

What Secretary of State James Baker III calls "de facto annexation" is already today something else: very close to ultimate annexation.

Instead of focusing on this cynical maneuvering, Washington has let itself be drawn by Prime Minister Shamir into endless discussions and arguments over the $400 million in loan guarantees for settlements and over Soviet immigrants to the West Bank. These diversionary discussions are deliberately contrived by Housing Minister Ariel Sharon in order to (1) annex all the territories, even if it means bankrupting Israel, and (2) embarrass and perhaps force from office his nemesis, Shamir.

"Sharon even wants a confrontation with Bush," explains Ze'ev Schiff, the renowned Ha'aretz newspaper correspondent, "not because he hates Bush but because that is the way to show Shamir is not the boss. In the inner party struggle, Sharon corners Shamir and tells him, "You have to decide what is more important for you: ideology, Greater Israel or relations with the White House. If it's the White House, you are betraying your ideology and you are not fit to lead us."

Former Labor Prime Minister Shimon Peres was equally pessimistic when I spoke with him in his Knesset office. "One must understand," he told me simply, "that Likud is not a rightist party; it is a territorial party."

When one speaks with the hard-line Likud officials, it is impossible to focus on reality with them. Part of their obfuscation is meant to confuse and frankly to mislead through half-lies and illusionary promises. The Likud, with its fear, hatred and contempt for outsiders, is basically a tribal party, with all that means in terms of the illusions of power.

And what about the 3,000 settlers in Gaza, which has to be the hellhole of the Western world? Surrounded by a million violent and desperate Palestinians, the Gaza Jewish settlers in their mowed-lawn enclaves, protected by super-expensive security, everything paid for by the state, give their answer regularly to journalists as to the outcome.

Theirs is a "Big Bang!" theory. "Something will happen . . . the Palestinians will one day leave . . . a war will come." With grotesque irony, these fanatic Jewish settlers parallel in their thinking the Palestinians. Both groups do not have to plan or think or act because some "man on horseback," like Saddam Hussein for the Palestinians, will magically come and save them.

Prophetic minds in Israel see only the worst coming, if things go on as they are. "The American press and officials do not reflect correctly the Israeli Likud government's position," reflected Professor Yehoshophat Harkabi of Hebrew University, in conversation with me. "Their position is metaphysical -- we want the West Bank. The tendency with a metaphysical position is to define it as though it is derivative of one's adversary's positions, serving as a response to them. But this position does not arise from Arab intentions.

"I foresee a great crisis coming with the United States. People will say that our leaders misled us; they will calculate all the moneys gone down the drain with these settlements." He paused, then added, "Metaphysical positions can change only with some showdown with a greater force, from outside."

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