People and Politics
Baked Zinni, and half-baked theories
By Akiva Eldar
According to the Israeli media, U.S. peace envoy Anthony Zinni reached the conclusion that only one person was
responsible for the failure of his mission, meaning, who else but Arafat? But diplomats who earned Zinni's
confidence heard something different. They say that Zinni told them that he's going home under the impression
that Ariel Sharon made a strategic decision to isolate Arafat and never to speak to him, for better or for worse.
Furthermore, as opposed to the rumors being spread around Shimon Peres, that it's fear of Benjamin Netanyahu
that guides American policy (meaning that if Bush is afraid of Netanyahu, the Labor Party must back Sharon),
veterans in the State Department say behind closed doors that they miss Netanyahu. After all, he signed the
Hebron and Wye agreements while the only thing Sharon has signed are orders for closures and assassinations.
Zinni wasn't the one who decided he should go home, nor will he be the one to decide when he comes back. The
White House made the decision last Friday after consultations with Secretary of State Powell. If it were up to
Powell, Zinni would probably still be here. But the victory over the Taliban in Afghanistan was a defeat for
Powell and the State Department. Their influence over the president declined in opposite proportion to the rise
of Donald Rumsfeld and his colleagues at the Pentagon. They're the ones who said that all that was needed was
Pakistan's support to guarantee the Northern alliance would do the job, and there was no need to go chasing after
the Arabs or flattering Arafat. Now they're sorry in the White House that the president approved Powell's speech
and Zinni's trip.
That's the atmosphere that European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana will find in Washington this
week when he arrives to plead with the Americans not to leave the Israelis and Palestinians alone with each
other. The Europeans and Canadians want to persuade the Bush administration to pressure Sharon to lift his
opposition to "an observer force" in the territories that would monitor arrests and weapons collections. Israel's
opposition derives from its worry that when the day comes to start freezing settlements, those same observers
will discover the Jews also are violating the agreement.
The green lights the international community gave Sharon lit some red lights on both sides of the Green Line.
"Green Line" is the name of a new student movement that has declared a campaign against the policies of
occupation and settlements. In a letter they sent to the prime minister they write: "We're tired of paying with
our lives for the intellectual fixations that led the governments of Israel for the last 34 years."
Meanwhile, Palestinian ministers Nabil Sha'ath and Yasser Abed Rabbo signed a joint letter, with Meretz
leader Yossi Sarid and former justice minister Yossi Beilin, that they sent to the European Union summit at
Laeken, Belgium: "If one listens hard enough, then even from Laeken a Middle East voice of peace and sanity can
be heard and acted on,"said the letter.
In a long article published last week, Arafat adviser Bassam Abu Sharif calls for Israelis and Palestinians
to jointly present to their respective constituencies his "Vision for Israeli-Palestinian peace."
"Israeli and Palestinian public figures would appear together in public and in the media, explaining this
vision to the Israeli and Palestinian publics," says the document, emphasizing the two-state solution on either
side of the Green Line.
"The right of return will be resolved through an agreement that will preserve the demographic integrity of
both states," he proposes.
And this coming Friday, Prof. Sari Nusseibeh will meet with Beilin and the members of his circle. A few days
before Uzi Landau closed the gates of the Imperial Hotel in Jerusalem to Nusseibeh, the PLO representative in
Jerusalem and Peace Now activist Janet Aviad reached an agreement that the hotel would become the permanent
meeting place for the Israeli and Palestinian "Peace Coalition." The first meeting is slated for next Friday.
Sarid challenges Beilin
Last Monday, after a meeting in Qalandiyah with Abed Rabbo and his colleagues from the Palestinian peace
camp, the Israeli side of the "peace coalition" met at the Yitzhak Rabin Hostel, not far from the Israel Museum.
Someone complained about Shimon Peres and the other Labor ministers who back Sharon's policies, proving to the
Palestinians that there's no partner in the Israeli establishment.
Yossi Sarid asked for the floor. "We complain to Peres that by staying in the government he legitimizes
Sharon," he said, then looked at Beilin, continuing, "According to the principle of revolving legitimacy or the
domino theory, just as Peres, by staying in the government, legitimizes Sharon, Labor's doves legitimize Peres
and the ministers by remaining in the party. They may not accept the party's presence in the government, but they
remain in the party that is in the government. Apparently it's not so bad."
Yesterday, at a meeting of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Sarid called Peres an
"opportunist." According to the principle of revolving legitimacy or domino, what does that say about Beilin?
Sarid reminds people that he left the Labor Party over an ideological issue - when the party joined Yitzhak
Shamir's national unity government in 1984 - and he has tossed Beilin a surprising challenge. The Meretz chairman
says that if Beilin and a serious group of Labor leaders follow him out of the party, Sarid is ready to break up
Meretz for the sake of a new party on the left. Sarid says every member would be able to run for the leadership.
Those principles were recently presented to Labor Party doves by matchmaker Haim Oron. Meretz is now hoping
that a Benjamin "Fuad" Ben-Eliezer victory over Avrum Burg in the rerun of the leadership vote next Wednesday
would drive the doves out of the Labor Party. But they'll be disappointed. Beilin says if Burg loses he won't
quit Labor, since it's only the chairman of the party that's being elected, not the candidate for prime minister.
But he also says he won't stay in a party that runs Fuad as its candidate for prime minister.
Old spies don't fade away
A week has gone by since Shabtai Shavit, the former head of the Mossad, promised to apologize publicly if it
turns out he misled the public with the "news" he provided in an interview with Yedioth Ahronoth on December 7,
when he said that Abu Mazen doesn't have a chance to inherit Arafat's seat because Abu Mazen "is an ethnic
Bahai." As a matter of fact, Bahaism is a religion, not an ethnic group.
Shavit's "fact" is meant to buttress his thesis that if Israel removes Arafat, nobody will fill his shoes and
the Palestinian issue will disappear from the international agenda. Shavit explained that the likelihood of a
Bahai becoming leader of the Palestinians is about the same as a Samaritan becoming president of Israel.
Last Wednesday, Shavit said that while his source for the "fact" is reliable, he would make sure it wasn't
really Hamas disinformation meant to harm one of the Oslo architects. To make things easier for the former head
of the Mossad and his secret sources to get to the truth, I called Shmuel Elgrabli, the Israeli adviser to the
Bahai Center in Israel. Elgrabli, who also learned about Abu Mazen's purported Bahai connection from the Shavit
interview, had an answer ready, on behalf of the Bahai Center. "Mr. Abu Mazen is not known to the center and does
not appear on its rolls."
So, maybe Shavit's reliable source knows something about Abu Mazen's Bahai beliefs that isn't known to the
To save Shavit and his sources the time and effort, I called Prof. Moshe Sharon, who holds the Bahai Studies
chair at the Hebrew University. He also read the interview with Shavit, and he also raised an eyebrow. If the
former head of the Mossad had called an expert, maybe he wouldn't have been embarrassed by disseminating baseless
Sharon: "It's impossible for Abu Mazen to be Bahai. First of all, if the Bahai say someone isn't Bahai, then
there's no chance they are. They know all their members and they have complete rosters of their members.
Secondly, according to the Bahai religion, it is absolutely forbidden for a believer to live permanently in the
Land of Israel, between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean. If you decide to be a Bahai, you have to
immediately leave the country (all the Bahai in Israel are temporary emissaries). Third, according to the faith's
founder, Baha-Allah (1817-1892), Bahai are prohibited from any nationalistic political activity (as opposed to
international frameworks). A Bahai cannot be Arafat's deputy."
But to remove any doubt, Sharon emphasizes that one of the tenets of faith for the religion says that a
person is not born Bahai, and every believer must "seek the truth" personally. Therefore, Abu Mazen can not be
"the son of a Bahai family that converted to Islam." And Bahaism, after all, is banned in all Arab countries.
So, how did Abu Mazen end up being called a Bahai? The answer may be buried in the Palestinian leader's name
- Mahmoud Abbas. The original name of Abdul-Baha ("the servant of glory"), the great proselytizer of the Bahai
faith worldwide, was Abbas Effendi. So, maybe Abu Mazen is a descendant of that same Abbas Effendi, for whom a
street is named in Haifa? Nope. Sharon says that the Bahai leader only had daughters, so there's no significance
to the family name. Shugi Effendi, the last Bahai leader, was the grandson of Abbas Effendi, through his eldest
daughter. Besides, Abbas is a common name among Persians.
Presumably, a slip by a retired defense establishment official, no matter how senior, shouldn't be cause for
concern. But Shavit is one of two people (the other is former central bank governor Jacob Frenkel) with whom
Prime Minister Sharon often consults. He's the man who convinced Sharon on September 11 that he should quickly
dress up Arafat as bin Laden. Perhaps he "revealed" to the prime minister that there's no danger Abu Mazen, "of
Bahai background" will fill Arafat's shoes in the international arena?
The story also says something about Mossad chiefs, whose mistakes can be very costly to the state - for
example, the botched attempt by Danny Yatom to assassinate Khaled Meshal, which rewarded the Hamas with the
return of its idolized leader, Sheikh Yassin, back to Gaza.
The episode also shows that it is permissible to be skeptical of the diagnoses of Mossad chiefs, like the one
made by the current chief, Ephraim Halevy, at the Herzliya conference this week on national strength and
security. Halevy declared that Arafat lacks any will and may be too self-inhibited to make the strategic decision
to cease the terrorism.
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