The Zionist Conspiracy
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Wednesday, January 25, 2006
Jewish Press Column
Following is my column about Ariel Sharon, which appears in this week's Jewish Press. The column is a revised, expanded and improved version of a post last week about Sharon:
In a December 24, 2000 e-mail to me, a politically centrist friend who had moved to Israel the previous year expressed his despair about the situation there. That was a time when Yasir Arafat’s Palestinian terror war had been going on for three months with limited Israeli response (one approach was to bomb empty buildings on a few hours notice), yet despite — or perhaps as a result of — the terror, Prime Minister Ehud Barak was agreeing to increasingly radical territorial concessions. My friend’s e-mail concluded: "We have no good human leaders in Israel. God help us."
I responded, in part, by expressing optimism that if he were to win the February 2001 election, Ariel Sharon would improve Israel’s situation. Sharon, I wrote, would have three major tasks: To defeat terror, to achieve national unity, and to assure that the international community recognized that Barak’s concessions were aberrational. The third task, I wrote, would be Sharon’s most challenging.
A little more than five years later, Sharon’s tenure as leader of Israel came to a sudden and premature end. It is therefore worthwhile to consider whether Sharon succeeded in the three major tasks I outlined in December 2000.
With respect to defeating terror, Sharon succeeded at least partially. At first, he was hesitant about using significant military force, even when suicide bombings became routine. Ultimately, Sharon did allow the IDF to take control of Judea and Samaria, and authorized the bombing of terrorist targets in Gaza, causing significant damage to the infrastructure and operational capability of the terror groups. Sharon also was able to isolate Arafat and, after some early difficulty, obtain tacit U.S. support for Israel’s stance.
Sharon also largely succeeded in advancing a national consensus. Precisely because of his reticence to unleash the IDF until it became obvious even to most on the Left that military force was absolutely necessary, Sharon’s political opponents had a hard time calling him a warmonger, and efforts by some extreme leftists to achieve large-scale refusal of military service in Judea, Samaria and Gaza failed.
Ironically, the sector that Sharon most isolated was the nationalist Right, which he had long been identified with. But it is fair to say that, overall, national discord was significantly reduced.
As to his third major task, to get the world to accept that Barak’s concessions would not be the starting point of future negotiations, Sharon tried hard to achieve this but largely failed.
At first, he insisted that Israel would have no contact with the Palestinian Authority until there was no violence for seven days. Then he insisted that the PA would have to dismantle terror groups pursuant to the road map before Israel would negotiate. Later, Sharon tried to negotiate an interim agreement for a Palestinian state in Gaza and around half of Judea and Samaria.
Early in Sharon’s second term, leading figures on the extreme Left proposed the Geneva Accord, under which Israel would cede 98.5 percent of Judea and Samaria, along with most of the Old City of Jerusalem, concessions even more extensive than those offered by Barak. While most Israelis did not support the concessions proposed under Geneva, Sharon saw the proposals as presenting a challenge, and became convinced that Israel would have to take the initiative to ensure that it would not be forced into something along the lines of the Geneva proposals.
Sharon therefore presented his "disengagement plan." Initially, Sharon stated that Israel would withdraw from territory it would not retain permanently, while taking aggressive steps to strengthen areas it wanted to retain. Sharon’s aides insisted that "disengagement" would ensure international support for Israel, prevent pressure on Israel to made extensive concessions in Judea and Samaria, and secure Israeli control over the major settlement blocs. A vague letter from President Bush indicating that Israel would not be expected to withdraw completely to the 1967 borders was touted by Sharon to be a major achievement.
While Sharon ordered a unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, despite his promises he did little to strengthen Jerusalem or the large settlement blocs. The E-1 area between Jerusalem and Ma’aleh Adumim was not constructed, due to pressure from the Bush administration. In the major settlements, limited construction was authorized, but only in "built up" areas; no territorial expansion even in existing settlements was authorized.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer and others in the Bush administration rejected the notion that the Bush letter guaranteed Israeli retention of any particular portion of the disputed territories.
Similarly, Israel’s security fence, originally envisioned as comprising at least 16 percent of Judea and Samaria, is now planned to cover less than 7 percent. Parts of Gush Etzion are not within the current fence route; only a secondary fence will protect Ariel and the other western Samaria communities, and most established settlements are outside the fence altogether. In many settlements within the route, the fence will run literally right along the settlement line just yards from the outermost houses, eliminating the possibility of any future growth and exposing residents to potential terror from nearby Palestinian villages.
According to a long piece in last week’s New Yorker by Ari Shavit, Sharon’s operative plan was to achieve an interim agreement under which Israel would dismantle 20 isolated settlements, but otherwise retain, for the time being, much of Judea and Samaria. According to Shavit, Sharon allowed study of the possibility of ceding 88-92 percent of Judea and Samaria, but expressed opposition to concessions of that scope — and Sharon insisted on retaining the Jewish presence in Hebron and all of Jerusalem in any final status agreement.
It is reasonable to conclude that what Sharon had in mind was too far to the left of what Likud could tolerate, but still well to the right of what Ehud Barak and the proponents of the Geneva Accord proposed. (It is worth pointing out that even a withdrawal from 90 percent of Judea and Samaria would result in destruction of far fewer settlements than a withdrawal from 95 percent.) As a result, Sharon left Likud to form the Kadima party.
However, the three leading members of Kadima — acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Shimon Peres, and newly installed foreign minister Tzipi Livni — have all expressed political views more dovish than those held by Sharon. While Peres long ago moved to the left, Olmert has, since late 2003, been calling for a unilateral withdrawal from most of Judea and Samaria and from some Arab sections of Jerusalem.
Livni is ambiguous about whether she supports additional unilateral withdrawal, but she recently stated that Israel is not likely to permanently retain any settlements beyond the line of the security fence, meaning that it would cede at least 93 percent of Judea and Samaria.
Given the probability that Olmert will be elected prime minister, those who care about the status of the communities in Judea and Samaria should especially mourn Israel’s loss of Ariel Sharon.
During the evacuation of Gush Katif, Sharon expressed sadness, while Olmert expressed glee, even turning an airport ceremony for new North American immigrants into a personal political statement in favor of the withdrawal.
While Sharon’s political positions had clearly shifted significantly, he was certainly in no hurry to conduct final status negotiations. Olmert, in contrast, said last week that he hopes to hold such negotiations as soon as possible after Israel’s elections.
While Sharon repeatedly emphasized that Israel would have to continue to fight for its existence in a hostile region, Olmert recently told the left-wing Israel Policy Forum: "We are tired of fighting, we are tired of being courageous, we are tired of winning, we are tired of defeating our enemies."
Whatever his shortcomings, Ariel Sharon left Israel in a much better strategic position than the disastrous state it was in when he replaced Barak as prime minister. But in the end, as occurred with Yitzhak Rabin, those to Sharon’s left will likely distort his legacy to invoke support for political positions and concessions that Sharon would have considered anathema.
Indeed, it is likely that Sharon’s withdrawal from Gaza and his vague hints at additional concessions will lead to Israel taking radical steps — in his name — that he in fact tried to prevent.