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Reinventing Sharon, Tom Friedman style

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It 's rare when the New York Times Pulitzer-toting pundit, Tom Friedman, diverges from his favorite theme of globalization. But, when he does, it 's usually to scold the victims of Israeli occupation for failing to adjust to their ever-shrinking landscape. In Thursday 's column, Friedman rattled off a few fatherly reprimands to the errant Palestinians while offering advice on how to remake the Arab world.

"Is there an Arab Sharon? " Freidman wonders; implying that peace would be possible if only the Palestinians could produce leader similar to Ariel Sharon.

Sharon? "The Butcher of Beirut " or Sharon, "The man of peace "?

Apart from the cultural insensitivity (according to a recent Zogby poll, Arabs overwhelmingly voted Sharon the most unpopular world leader) Friedman 's musings hardly seem like the remedy that most Israelis would appreciate.

After all, it 's doubtful that the Israeli public would welcome the idea of a fiery Arab nationalist rising up and occupying Tel Aviv for 20 years; leaving devastation and 40,000 dead in his wake, as Sharon did in Beirut. Nor is it likely that Sharon 's cross-border killing sprees and targeted assassinations would be enthusiastically received if they were directed at Israeli citizens rather than Palestinians. And, we can be reasonably certain that no Israeli would be willing to endure endless checkpoints, house-demolitions, imprisonment and torture for the sake of accommodating an Arab Sharon.

So, what the heck does Friedman mean?

Friedman is a master at twisting language and events to make the most outrageous statements seem like the acme of reasoned analysis.

Imagine, however, the squeals of outrage if some political pundit in Iran were to suggest that the path to peace in the Middle East requires the emergence of an Israeli Arafat?

Do you think that might raise a few eyebrows in Israel or the US?

The fact is, Sharon blocked peace at every juncture just like every other Israeli leader dating back to Prime Minister Rabin. Sharon had no intention of following the Road Map and was quite blunt in that regard. As his minister Dov Weinglass candidly admitted, the peace process has been dunked in "formaldehyde " and would only be extracted when some political advantage could be gained by its revival.

At least Sharon has been honest in his intransigence. How tiresome it has been to see the steady rotation of conservative and liberal Israeli politicians boast of their commitment to the peace process while continuing the annexation of Palestinian land and increasing the number of settlers on the West Bank.

The names have changed, but the policy never has.

Sharon has been completely straightforward in his plan to see an expanded "Greater Israel " stretch from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River.

We can now discard the foolish notion that Arafat was the "obstacle to peace "; a moniker he bore until the day he died.

Just weeks after Arafat was buried and Mahmud Abbas took over, a poll showed that nearly 80% of the Israeli public wanted a negotiated settlement with the new PA leadership. Any negotiation, of course, would have derailed Sharon 's plan for expanding colonies and annexing more Palestinian land, so the will of the people was breezily ignored.

What greater proof do we need of Sharon 's determination to torpedo any effort for peace?

Friedman celebrates Sharon 's unilateral withdrawal from Gaza as, "his finest and wisest hour "; a judgment that has been unanimously accepted by the western media. Others, however, remain deeply skeptical.

Gaza was a logistical and security nightmare for Israel. Even before the settlers were evacuated and the settlements had been destroyed, twice the amount of land that was returned in Gaza had been annexed in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Needless to say, the details were obscured in the "unbiased " media coverage.

Although Friedman 's premature eulogy describes a Sharon that no one will recognize and who allegedly "reversed course " on "overbuilding settlements (that) imperiled Israel 's Jewish and democratic character "; the opposite is actually closer to the truth.

Sharon 's life was a straight line that never veered one millimeter off its original path. He may have been a friend to the power-hungry, hard-right advocates of "rule by force ", but he was the mortal enemy peace through negotiation. For Friedman to imply that an "Arab Sharon " would resolve this bitter multi-generational conflict shows his disregard for the facts as well as history.

What Friedman calls "the positive side of (Sharon 's) legacy " is a tidy bit of revisionism that borders on the absurd. If Friedman chooses to demonstrate his adulation of power and brutality, that 's his business, but Sharon never distanced himself from his murderous career. Friedman has no right to do it for him.
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Mike is a freelance writer living in Washington state.

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