The Zionist Conspiracy
Wednesday, May 05, 2004
Jewish Press Column
Here's my column in this week's Jewish Press. There may be a few minor edits in the published version.
The Sharon Plan’s Defeat
By Joseph Schick
When he introduced his “disengagement plan” in December, Prime Minister Sharon listed its key components as:
1. "The relocation of settlements... [that] will not be included in the territory of the State of Israel in the framework of any possible future permanent agreement."
2. "Israel will strengthen its control over those same areas in the Land of Israel which will constitute an inseparable part of the State of Israel in any future agreement."
3. "Israel will greatly accelerate the construction of the security fence."
Sharon called his plan a package deal. He asked the United States for agreement to Israeli annexation of Ma'ale Adumim, Givat Ze'ev and other Jerusalem suburbs, as well as Gush Etzion and western Samaria. That request was rejected. So was the request to allow Israeli expansion of those areas.
Eventually, Sharon proclaimed President Bush's statement that Israel need not withdraw exactly to the 1967 borders to be a historic achievement. But even the Geneva Accord, under which Israel would retain 1.5 percent of Judea and Samaria (in exchange for an equivalent amount of territory in the Negev), would satisfy these criteria. Furthermore, Presidents Johnson, Reagan and Clinton have all already explicitly proclaimed that a withdrawal to the 1967 borders is not warranted.
Bush did not name even one post-1967 community that Israel would keep, and Sharon promised not to expand any of the settlements, including those in the large blocs. It is difficult to understand how a virtual ban on building within settlements “strengthens” them.
As for construction of the security fence, as a result of international pressure it has slowed, not accelerated. The fence is now slated to run close to the 1967 border. While Sharon promised Benjamin Netanyahu that the main settlement blocs would be included within the fence, he has also agreed to consult with the Bush Administration before extending parts of the fence to include Judea or Samaria communities.
When early polls indicated strong support for him, Sharon announced that a Likud referendum would be held, saying: “All Likud representatives, me included, will be bound by the results of the survey among all Likud members... The Prime Minister holds the ultimate responsibility, but critical decisions of this nature should be brought to a democratic vote.”
Once it became apparent that Likud members would likely defeat the Sharon plan, Sharon retracted his agreement to be bound by the results. Initial reports are that he may try to circumvent the Likud vote, possibly by holding a national referendum.
Political machinations of that sort would be reminiscent of the 1972 Olympic gold medal basketball game between the USA and the USSR. The Soviets trailed by one point with three seconds left, and failed to score. The referees decided that the clock should be reset. The Soviets missed again. However, the clock was reset yet again, and on their third try, the USSR scored to win the game.
Of course, Sharon has to make fateful decisions and Israel’s problems are not akin to a basketball game. But while issuing an alternative, scaled back plan would be acceptable, an effort by Sharon to ignore his promise to respect the referendum results and to push the same plan again should not be countenanced.
In any event, media reports suggesting that a large majority of Israelis support the Sharon plan, and that he would easily win a national referendum, should be viewed with great skepticism. Polls do show that by a margin of about 20 percent, a majority of Israelis support unilateral withdrawal from Gaza. But Sharon lost the Likud referendum by a twenty-point margin despite initial polls indicating an overwhelming victory for him. A coalition of Russians opposed to acting weak in the face of terror, Likud members and supporters, and right-wingers would make a national vote a close one.
Many critics of the Sharon plan – including this writer - are not opposed to withdrawal from Gaza and parts of Judea and Samaria under all circumstances. But Sharon never explained to Israelis generally, or to the Gaza residents particularly, why he, who was responsible for the building of many of the communities, now insists that they must all be unilaterally dismantled even as terror against all Israelis continues.
That Sharon first revealed that his plan entailed a full withdrawal from Gaza and from four Samaria communities in an interview with Haaretz's Yoel Marcus, rather than in a national television address to his citizens, was very disturbing.
In “Warrior,” his autobiography, Sharon wrote: “Gaza at this point is our southern security belt. What will we do once we withdraw from Gaza and find, as we inevitably will, that Arafat or his successors have stepped in and that squads of terrorists are again operating from there into Israel, murdering and destroying? What will we do when Katyusha fire starts hitting Sderot, four miles from the Gaza district, and Ashkelon, nine miles from Gaza?”
Do Israel’s demographic problems now override those concerns? Does defense of the Gaza settlements require more IDF manpower than Israel can afford? Perhaps, but Sharon didn’t say. Nor did Sharon explain why he previously rejected similar plans for unilateral withdrawal. Sharon's aides issued leaks that Likud ministers who opposed the plan (such as Natan Sharansky, Yisrael Katz and Uzi Landau) would be fired, and labeled Likud members who disagreed with Sharon as fanatics, senselessly and unfairly marginalizing members of their own party. Sharon desperately warned that rejection of his plan would cause both a crisis in Israel’s relations with America and severe economic damage.
All of these tactics backfired. In the end, Likud’s rejection of the Sharon plan was not a statement of political intransigence but an objection to Sharon’s attempt to force a radical ideological shift on the party and its members without offering an adequate basis for the change.