Adam Keller reports from Israel on why Sharon’s choice will be costly for all the peoples of the Middle East

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On one and the same evening, the state of Israel got two diametrically opposed offers. At the Beirut Summit, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia offered Israel a full peace with the entire Arab World in exchange for ending the occupation and withdrawing to the 1967 borders - "total peace for total withdrawal, and no further claims upon Israel."

One hour later, the suicide bomber who arrived in Netanyah made to Israel, on behalf of Hamas, a counter-offer - an offer of eternal war and indiscriminate mutual killing. By all indications it seems that the Sharon Government is about to reject the peace offer and accept the war offer.

Acceptance by Israel of the Saudi peace initiative - which, despite the squalid power struggles evident at the Beirut Summit, enjoys the support of the Arab world's important leaders - could open up new horizons, make it possible to achieve an immediate cease-fire and an end to suicide bombings, convince many desperate Palestinians that a diplomatic way out of the occupation does exist, and provide the Palestinian Authority with the strength and credibility to deal firmly with cease-fire violators.

Acceptance by Israel of the Hamas war initiative will lead the two peoples deeper into the abyss of bloodshed and destruction. The Israeli army will be sent again to invade the Palestinian territories, which will entail the killing of hundreds and perhaps thousands - but it will not put an end to suicide bombings, on the contrary. In the end, Israel will withdraw from the Occupied territories - after much more blood is shed unnecessarily.

There can be no question where Prime Minster Sharon stands. He has no intention of giving up the occupation and the settlements, and therefore he did all in his power to sabotage the Saudi peace initiative. Not only did he refuse to let Arafat go to Beirut, but he also was not willing to remove the ongoing encirclement and siege of  cities and villages in the Palestinian occupied territories.

As we had another terrible proof yesterday, that siege cannot stop a few determined and desperate people on their way to perpetrate a suicide bombing, but it does cause untold suffering and hardship to the entire Palestinian population, strangles and dislocates the Palestinian economy and thus creates the very breeding ground for new suicide bombers.

For the moment, Sharon got what he wanted. The carnage in Netanya totally overshadows the peace initiative. But Sharon has no solution to offer the people of Israel who elected him a year ago - neither peace, nor security, nor an end to suicide bombings. As we had another terrible proof yesterday: siege does not the desperately determined on their way to blow themselves up, an on the other hand it increases the suffering and hardship of an entire population, strangling its economy and thus creating the very breeding ground from which such acts of despair spring.

This article first appeared on the website of Israeli peace organisation Gush Shalom. Visit their website at http://www.gush-shalom.org for up-to-date reports on the occupation, resistance and the situation in the region in general. Or subscribe (free, but donations are badly needed and very welcome) by sending a mail with a simple message to that effect to  

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