The Zionist Conspiracy
Thursday, January 19, 2006
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon
This post relates to Ariel Sharon's five year tenure as Israel's prime minister. There is more to say about Sharon; the focus here on the most recent portion of Sharon's life is not intended to diminish or ignore his overall role. It's likely that at some point I'll post additional thoughts about Sharon..
Before there were blogs, I would use e-mail as my outlet to express my angst about world affairs, particularly events in Israel. During the period between late September 2000 - when Yasser Arafat launched the Palestinian terror war shortly after Camp David - and early February 2001 - when Ariel Sharon was elected prime minister - I had lots of angst about Israel, particularly concerning the terrorism, the collapse of the Oslo process, and the egregious concessions offered by Ehud Barak despite (or perhaps as a result of) the Palestinian terror. Due to all this angst, I sent lots of e-mails to friends during that time.
Responding to an e-mail from me, on December 24, 2000, a friend of mine who had moved to Israel a year earlier expressed his despair about the situation in Israel. He concluded: "We have no good human leaders in Israel. God help us."
I responded, in part, by assuring him that if he is elected, Ariel Sharon will 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 by a desperate man who had already been deposed as prime minister. 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 that I outlined in December 2000.
With respect to defeating terror, Sharon at least partially succeeded. At first, he was hesitant in using significant military force, even when suicide bombings became routine occurrences. As a result, Israel suffered a massive number of civilian fatalities. Ultimately, Sharon did allow the IDF to take control of Judea and Samaria, and let the IAF bomb terrorist targets in Gaza, causing significant damage to the terror groups. Sharon also was able to isolate Yasser 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 the left-wing that military force was absolutely necessary, his political opponents had a hard time calling him a warmonger, and efforts on the extreme left to achieve refusal of military service in Judea, Samaria and Gaza failed. Ironically, the sector that Sharon most isolated was the far-right, which he had long been identified with. But it is fair to say that in sharp contrast to Israel's governments since Oslo of Rabin, Peres, Netanyahu and Barak, national discord was, overall, significantly reduced.
As to his third major task, to get the world to forget about Barak's concessions, Sharon tried hard to achieve this, but he failed. First, Sharon insisted that Israel would not have any relations with the PA 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. Finally, Sharon tried to negotiate over an interim agreement for a Palestinian state in Gaza and half of Judea and Samaria.
In his 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 concluded that Israel would have to take the initiative to ensure that Israel was not forced into something along the lines of Geneva.
Sharon therefore presented his "disengement plan." Initially, Sharon stated that Israel would cede territory it would not retain permanently, while taking aggressive steps to strengthen areas that it would retain. Sharon's aides insisted that "disengagement" would ensure international support and prevent pressure on Israel to made radical concessions like those Barak had proposed and those under Geneva.
Alas, while Sharon ordered a unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, despite his promises he did little to strengthen Jerusalem or even the large settlement blocs. The E-1 area between Jerusalem and Ma'aleh Adumim was not built 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.
Similarly, Israel's security fence, originally envisioned as comprising approximately 16 percent of Judea and Samaria, is now expected to cover less than 7 percent. Parts of Gush Etzion will not be within the fence, and Ariel will be protected only by a secondary fence. In many settlements, the fence will run literally right along the settlement line, just yards from the outermost houses in those settlements, preventing any future growth and exposing residents to potential terror from adjacent Palestinian villages.
According to a long piece in this week's New Yorker by Ari Shavit, Sharon's aim was an interim agreement under which Israel would dismantle 20 isolated settlements, but retain, for the time being, much of Judea and Samaria. Shavit writes that Sharon allowed study of the possibility of ceding 88-92 percent of Judea and Samaria, but expressed opposition to concessions of that scope.
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 had in mind. (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.
Unfortunately, Kadima's top three, acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Shimon Peres and newly installed Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, have all expressed political views far more dovish than Sharon's. 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 Palestinian villages within Jerusalem's lines. Livni is more vague on whether she supports additional unilateral withdrawal, but she recently stated that Israel ultimately is not likely to retain any settlements beyond the line of the security fence, meaning that it will give up 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. While the destruction of Gush Katif was taking place, Sharon expressed sadness, while Olmert expressed glee. While Sharon's political positions had clearly shifted significantly, he was certainly in no hurry to conduct final status negotiations; Olmert, in contrast, said this week that he hopes to hold such negotiations as soon as possible.
In the end, like 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. President Bush has already expressed the hope that he can fulfill Sharon's (purported) wishes by achieving a peace agreement between Israel and the PA. With Sharon lying comatose and helpless in a Jerusalem hospital, it is likely that his withdrawal from Gaza and his vague hints at additional concessions will lead to Israel taking radical steps, in the name of Ariel Sharon, that Sharon himself would have never considered.