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By Carlos Fuentes, Juan Goytisolo and Edward Said

Carlos Fuentes is one of Latin America's most acclaimed novelists. Juan Goytisolo is the Spanish writer. Edward Said, a prominent Palestinian voice and critic of neocolonialism, is a professor of literature and comparative studies at Columbia University.

-- That "stroll" through the area of Jerusalem's mosques, surrounded by a thousand gun-toting police and soldiers, was the most beneficial, strategic move of Ariel Sharon's career. After the predictable start of the second intifada, it catapulted him into the leadership position he had coveted ever since the failed occupation of Lebanon.

He is now the Israeli leader most favored by a people that feels increasingly threatened by the hatred it generates and which trusts only in a recourse to arms to put an end to Islamic terrorism.
In the name of a peace and security that recede as the Israeli steamroller advances and the violence against the Palestinian people intensifies, the man responsible for the massacres in Sabra and Chatila has released the mechanisms of what can only be called state terrorism and reinforced the apartheid regime in territories occupied during the Six Day War.

The multiplication and extension of the settlements of fanatically religious supporters of a Greater Israel, the brutal revenge attacks, the selective murders of leaders and agents suspected of anti-Israeli attacks, the collective reprisals against entire townships, the eruption of assault troops and tanks in the ghettos of the Gaza Strip and main cities of the West Bank -- all these policies have created a spiral of violence inflamed by fresh Palestinian attacks and Israeli responses that are disproportionate given the abyss separating an ultra-modern army and undisciplined, Kalashnikov-bearing militias.

After Sept. 11 the political decision-making process of the Israeli state has been transformed into a mere transmission belt for the army. Israeli democracy, described from its inception as the only one existing in the Middle East, has seemingly dissolved into a lethal consensus for the military option.

Sharon and and his religious partisans dictate decisions to be taken, preach infinite vengeance and worship as a dogma of faith the survival of the fittest. When, pressured by circumstance -- the need to placate public opinion in Muslim countries because of the war in Afghanistan -- U.S. President George W. Bush speaks of the creation of a Palestinian state, an outraged Sharon compares the supposed abandonment of the Jewish state to the surrendering of Czechoslovakia to the Nazis without a fight. True to the barracks mentality dangerously infecting great swaths of Israeli society, Sharon makes no distinction between Yasser Arafat and Osama bin Laden.

Recent military operations against the Palestinians -- "temporary tenants," according to some extremist advocates of the Biblical Greater Israel -- can only deepen hatred in abandoned communities whose security nobody dares guarantee, communities deprived of the most basic rights by an occupier who inflicts all manner of humiliations on a daily basis and irrevocably confines them to barren "bantustans."

Though lesser in scale, the responsibility of the Palestinian National Authority in this interminable process of physical destruction and moral self-destruction is equally beyond question. The PLO lurched from its maximalist demands of past decades, which demanded the disappearance of the Jewish state, to peace agreements that fudged central issues and sowed the seeds of the impasse we experience today.

Arafat never followed the paths traced by Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela: His heated rhetoric was never transformed into concrete, reasonable proposals, and it finally turned against him. His mini-government in Gaza has been a sad model of corruption and arbitrary actions -- light years from the democratic promises formulated during his period as a leader of the Third World.

Disillusioned, oppressed and hopeless before the future, Palestinian youths packed into ghettos and refugee camps, under conditions harsher than those of South Africa before the end of segregation, cling more and more to the religious discourse of Hamas and the Islamic Jihad, a perfect mirror image of ultra-orthodox Zionist discourse. This is Sharon's victory: The worse it gets, the better it gets.

When reason is abdicated and replaced by the bellicose creeds of opposing religions, peace is impossible. The present head of the Israeli government and his followers have worked night and day to cast out reason and impose the logic of an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.

Whether Sharon likes it or not the only basis for peace is respect for international legality: the implementation of resolutions 242 and 338 of the United Nations requiring Israel to withdraw from the territories occupied in 1967 -- East Jerusalem, Jordan, Gaza and the Golan Heights -- and the signing of an agreement endorsed by the United States, the European Union and Arab countries guaranteeing the security of Israel and the existence of a viable Palestinian state.

To have peace, to live without hatred and desire for revenge, Israelis and Palestinians must separate. The present imbrication of occupiers and occupied only perpetuates mutual hatred and ferments a terrorism that the blind arrogance of Sharon can never eliminate.

(c) 2001, Los Angeles Times Syndicate International, a division of Tribune Media Services
For immediate release (Distributed 12/17/01)