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Tuesday, December 21, 2004

safer with sharon?

right-wingers keep saying that israelis elected sharon to provide security, and that he's doing a good job of it. these people miss two points.

1. sharon was elected because the left became disgusted with barak's terrorism. with no reasonable candidate, many leftists stayed home, while others went as far as organizing a boycott of the election. this provided sharon's margin of victory.

2. a comparison of israeli civilian casualties under barak vs. under sharon gives us some idea of sharon's success in providing security for israelis. during barak's nearly two years as prime minister (may 1999 - march 2001), the number of israeli civilians killed (i.e. people killed while not on military duty, in israel proper) in palestinian terror attacks was approximately 5 or 6. sharon has been prime minister for about twice as long. on his watch, the number of israeli civilians killed in palestinian terror attacks has been approximately 424, about a 40-fold increase if you adjust for length for prime ministership. the year-by-year and month-by-month casualty tables that i used for calculating these figures are available from btselem.

of course, part of the difference is that the palestinians largely restrained themselves as barak pretended to negotiate, first with the syrians and then with them. palestinian violence against the occupation forces really started at the end of september, after barak made it clear that there's no chance the occupation will end through negotiations, after sharon defiled a holy site with his presence, accompanied by his legions of storm troopers, and after the occupation forces shot people dead in the al-aqsa mosque after prayers. israel responded to the legitimate resistance with large-scale terror, and the palestinians' retaliatory terror built slowly: two bombings in november, killing two people each. then a break until february, followed by a slow build-up culminating in the first large attack, the dolphinarium bombing, in june 2001, after sharon had taken over. so in part, barak was the beneficiary of the palestinians taking a while to retaliate.

but this is missing part of the point: barak was able to bring security to israelis by pretending to negotiate, during which palestinians held their fire. sharon has done nothing but provoke and aggravate in ways that seem calculated to increase the severity of the response: for example, assassinating leaders of resistance groups and absolutely refusing to negotiate. if israelis were sensible people making an electoral choice based on the security criterion, they would have handily rejected sharon, knowing very well what he stands for.

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