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Sharon and the Future of Palestine

2.

The assaults on Sharon from the right have been misunderstood. Sharon and his right-wing critics differ over whether Palestinians should be allowed to call an apartheid-like arrangement of three disconnected and isolated West Bank cantons a state. Sharon insists they should be, for otherwise the arrangement would be rejected by the United States. Many in the Likud, including Benjamin Netanyahu, argue that if Israel concedes to the Palestinians the right even to nominal statehood, this would incite a dynamic movement toward sovereignty that Israel would be unable to control.

Despite the abusive and violent rhetoric they direct at Sharon, most leaders of the settlement movement understand that Sharon’s unilateral disengagement from Gaza is really intended to assure Israel’s permanent control of the West Bank. But they also fear what Israel’s left hopes for—that the precedent of removing any settlement will dispel a longstanding taboo and open the door to the removal of settlements even in the West Bank. Furthermore, they do not agree with Sharon that such a withdrawal is a price Israel must pay. They are convinced that US disapproval of Israel’s continuing annexation of Palestinian territories, even in the West Bank, would make little difference, for the “realities on the ground” would in the end prevail. After all, did not President Bush say in his letter to Sharon of April 14 that the US recognizes that “new realities” on the ground (created unilaterally by Israel) must be recognized by Palestinians in any future peace accord?

There is yet another reason for the murderous rage that has characterized the reaction of some extremist settlers and their rabbis (including those known in Israel as “the hilltop youth,” whom the then foreign minister Sharon encouraged after the signing in 1998 of the Wye River Memorandum between Israel and the Palestinians—which provided for gradual “redeployment” of Israeli forces in the West Bank—to “grab as many hilltops in the West Bank as possible”). As some Israeli observers have already noted,9 two states living side by side already exist between Jordan and the Mediterranean—the State of Israel and the Jewish settler state in the West Bank and Gaza. In that settler state, Israeli norms and laws do not apply, and Israeli police and the IDF largely defer to the settlers. Settlers who injure or murder Palestinian farmers and destroy their property and farm lands are rarely arrested and almost always go unpunished.10

This settler state has succeeded in recruiting a network of supporters in the State of Israel, including cabinet ministers who head various ministries that have been channeling to them—surreptitiously and criminally, without any public accountability—hundreds of millions of dollars for the expansion of settlements and infrastructure. These settlers simply do not recognize the right of the State of Israel and its elected officials to interfere with their messianically inspired rule in this settler state. Sharon’s decision to dismantle the settlements in Gaza is seen by them as a challenge to their “sovereignty.”

Still, whatever their differences over semantics and tactics, and over whether to let go of Gaza, Sharon and his Likud critics share an essentially identical understanding of Israel’s relations to the Palestinian people and to the territories. No one has described that understanding more revealingly than Uzi Arad, a foreign policy adviser when Netanyahu was prime minister. Arad is now with the Interdisciplinary Institute in Herzliya, at whose annual meetings Sharon and the heads of Israel’s security establishment make some of their most important pronouncements. It was at such a meeting last December that Sharon announced his intention to resort to unilateral measures that would serve Israel’s needs.

In an article in Haaretz,11 Arad scoffed at the argument that because Jews, as a result of the higher Palestinian birth rate, will become a minority in Palestine, they must either withdraw from the territories or impose an apartheid regime on the Palestinians if they are to preserve the Jewish identity of the state. He wrote that “for the last decade, all Israeli governments have been implementing political disengagement from the Palestinian population of the territories. The cities and towns of the West Bank have long since been evacuated. The number of Palestinians between the river and the sea is no longer relevant to Israel being a Jewish democratic state.”

In fact, the South African apartheid government also “disengaged” from the Bantustans that they had set up as homelands for the black majority. Arad and those who support Sharon’s policies seem not to understand, or not to care, that it is precisely South Africa’s “disengagement” that defined its racist regime, and that disengagement will produce a similar result for Israel if it persists in following the South African model by holding on to much of the West Bank and “cantonizing” the remainder.

It is one of the ironies of history that Jews—whether in the US, Europe, or Israel—who were disproportionately involved in struggles for universal human rights and civil liberties should now be supporting policies of a right-wing Israeli government that is threatening to turn Israel into a racist state. For if Sharon leverages his promised withdrawal from Gaza into an Israeli presence in the West Bank that is impossible to dislodge—a point that some observers insist has already been reached—a racist regime is surely what his policies will produce.

That likelihood is a nightmare hardly limited to Sharon’s critics on the left. Even the right-wing Ehud Olmert, Israel’s deputy prime minister, has warned that an apartheid state is the direction in which the Jewish state is heading.12 Nahum Barnea, Israel’s most respected political commentator, recently wrote that

thirty-seven years after the occupation, in the eyes of a large part of the world Israel has become a pariah country. It’s not yet the South Africa of apartheid, but definitely from the same family.13

There is no question that the terrorism resorted to by elements within the Palestinian national movement, particularly terrorism aimed at civilian targets, has been a major security threat to Israel’s population. But this threat cannot be invoked as a pretext for policies that will bring apartheid rule to the West Bank and Gaza. For it is not true that terrorism threatens the existence of the State of Israel. And if it were true, it is a threat that can be countered by Israel more effectively from within its pre-1967 borders, if only because with a state of their own, Palestinians would have much to lose from continued terrorism and would seek to prevent it. The fact is that Israel has been far more successful in countering cross-border terrorism from neighboring states than the terrorism of a resentful population under its occupation.

The notion that terror can best be fought by continuing the occupation is not the only widely held Israeli belief about the country’s security that is contradicted by logic and experience. For some twenty years, a large majority of Israelis believed that their most vital security interests required them to remain in southern Lebanon. They believe the same thing about their presence on the Golan Heights. But since Israel withdrew from southern Lebanon, security along Israel’s northern border has improved, not worsened, despite the fact that Hezbollah was able to boast that they had chased out the mighty IDF. And recently Moshe Ya’alon, the IDF’s chief of staff, has said that he—like his three predecessor chiefs of staff—believes that Israel’s security would not be diminished if the Golan were returned to Syria.14

Israelis are also convinced that the deep incursion of Israel’s separation fence into Palestinian territory is essential to their security, and that the recent opinion of the International Court that it is illegal and must be removed can only be explained by the Court’s alleged anti-Semitism. But in his recent article in Yedioth Ahronot, Nahum Barnea stated the contrary view taken by many of Israel’s best experts on security. The separation fence’s route, he wrote,

should have been on the Green Line, without deviations or trickery. That way it could have been built quickly, without legal delays and political damage, as a security fence, not a political border…. But the route planners, from the prime minister down, preferred to try to pull the wool over the world’s eyes. Instead of focusing on security they preferred to play politics.

Shlomo Gazit, the retired general formerly in charge of IDF military intelligence, wrote in Maariv:

Let’s face the facts. We turned the fence, which is so necessary, from a security fence to a political fence, and that’s why we were so roundly defeated. The argument in The Hague was not about the security needs of Israel, but about Israel’s right to establish political Jewish settlements deep inside Judea and Samaria.15

3.

Clearly, nothing has played more directly into Sharon’s determination to avoid a political process than Palestinian terrorism directed at Israeli civilians. Terrorism and Arafat’s disastrous failures at Palestinian institution-building have been exploited by Sharon to discredit the entire Palestinian national enterprise and to undermine those in Israel and in the international community who have sought to help it succeed. But Palestinian failures do not begin to legitimize Sharon’s policies, or those of the Bush administration, for that matter. Palestinians have the right to a state in the West Bank and Gaza not because they meet certain standards set by Sharon, the man who aspires to acquiring much of their land, or because Bush has a “vision” of two states living side by side, but because of universally recognized principles of national self-determination.

The application of these principles to the Arabs of Palestine was formally recognized and endorsed by the international community when the UN adopted the resolution partitioning Palestine into Jewish and Arab states in 1947. The Palestinian claim to what the international community affirmed in that resolution as their rightful patrimony has not been annulled by Arafat’s bad behavior or by the failure of the Palestinian Authority’s institutions, which, one should note, have provided far greater freedom and more accountability than are to be found in many neighboring Arab countries.

Unfortunately, Weissglas’s revelations about Sharon’s motives for the Gaza withdrawal—revelations indicating that the Palestinians have no Israeli peace partner—will have little impact on Israel’s continuing claim that there is no Palestinian partner with whom it can negotiate. Weissglas’s statement will probably have no more effect than previous revelations by Israel’s most senior intelligence and security officials that the intifada of September 2000 was not planned by Arafat, but a spontaneous eruption of Palestinian anger which they had predicted well before it occurred.

Ami Ayalon, the head of Israel’s Shin Bet under Ehud Barak (and before that the chief of Israel’s navy), warned Prime Minister Barak that the unrestrained growth of settlements under his administration and his neglect of the Palestinian peace process in favor of efforts to reach a Syrian agreement (which, we now know from President Clinton’s and Dennis Ross’s memoirs, failed because Ehud Barak reneged on the deal), and, above all, the hardships and humiliations experienced by Palestinians in the territories, created an explosive situation that only needed a spark to set it off. That spark, according to Ayalon, was Sharon’s calculatedly provocative visit in September of 2000 to the Temple Mount.16 This, too, was the conclusion of the Mitchell Commission following its careful investigation of the causes of the intifada. Ayalon has stated repeatedly that the Shin Bet had no evidence that Arafat planned a second intifada. Had he been doing so, the Shin Bet would have known about it.

The central thesis of Sharon and many other Israeli leaders that Arafat’s objective was not a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza but in all of Palestine has been dismissed as unfounded by the reserve general Amos Malka, who served as the IDF’s chief of intelligence under Barak. He and other key Israeli intelligence officials have accused Amos Gilad, who was in charge of the IDF’s intelligence research branch, of lying when he implied that his view that Arafat’s goal was the dismantling of Israel was based on intelligence information. Instead, according to Malka,

All military intelligence assessments spoke of Arafat wanting to go through with the political process to reach a two-state permanent settlement…. If his demands were met, he would have signed. If not, by the end of 2000 he would have headed toward a crisis to create domestic and international pressure on Israel to be more flexible in its positions, just as he had done in the past.

Malka dismissed as “total nonsense” the charge that Arafat conspired to eradicate Israel.17

Yet these revelations have made no dent in the widespread Israeli conviction that Arafat was the author of the intifada, that he orchestrated it even before he entered peace talks with Barak at Camp David, and that he rejected Barak’s peace proposals because his real goal has been, and continues to be, the destruction of the State of Israel. Israelis cannot conceive of any other explanation for Arafat’s rejections of Barak’s “generous” proposals at Camp David. Israel’s four-decades-long occupation of Palestinian lands has apparently so dulled the moral imagination of its citizens that it does not occur to them that Barak’s demand that Israel’s territory, which already comprises 78 percent of Palestine, be enlarged with additional Palestinian territory taken from the 22 percent—less than half of what the UN allotted to a Palestinian state in 1947—that is left them could hardly have been considered generous by any Palestinian.

4.

With Arafat apparently near death as this article goes to press on November 4, Sharon will have the opportunity to disprove his critics’ accusation that he has shamelessly used Arafat and the “no partner” argument as a pretext to continue Israel’s annexation of the West Bank. He can do so by ending unilateral measures and resuming negotiations with a new Palestinian leadership based on an unconditional acceptance of the road map, i.e., without the fourteen crippling reservations adopted by his cabinet on May 27, 2003, which emptied Israel’s acceptance of the road map of all meaning.

The road map requires the Palestinian Authority to make good-faith efforts to halt the violence by consolidating its security forces and demobilizing the militias and terrorist groups. This will not happen overnight, and to succeed, Israel will have to support a new leadership by ending settlement activity, removing checkpoints, and gradually withdrawing the IDF to pre-intifada positions. If Sharon again insists that none of this will happen until all violence has ceased and Jeffersonian democracy has been brought to Gaza and the West Bank, then we will know he is up to his old tricks and has no intention of ever engaging Palestinians in political negotiations.

If Sharon rises to the occasion, he will prove that he has indeed transformed himself into a statesman, and not only Israelis and Palestinians but the world will be in his debt. If he stalls, and subverts the new Palestinian leaders the way he subverted Mahmoud Abbas when he assumed the Palestinian premiership over a year ago, Sharon’s toxic role in the peace process should finally become clear to all.

The end of Arafat’s presidency similarly challenges the incoming US administration. Will it repeat President Bush’s betrayal of his promise last year to “ride herd” on both parties to assure compliance with the road map, or will it assume the role of an honest broker prepared to do what only a great power can do to end the conflict?

If Israel and/or the Palestinians fail to respond to this unexpected opening for a return to the road map, and the US fails to intervene aggressively to prevent such failure, the international community must finally abandon the “facilitation” model that has been the basis of all previous US and other Middle East peace initiatives. Facilitation assumes that, for all their differences, the adversaries prefer a resolution of their conflict to its continuation, a situation that existed during the Oslo period, between 1993 and 2000 (with the exception of the period of Benjamin Netanyahu’s premiership). Facilitation limits the role of third parties to helping both sides overcome obstacles that stand in the way of achieving a goal they both desire. But when Sharon came to power, both parties came to believe they had more to gain from a continuation of the conflict than from its resolution, and the facilitation model became irrelevant.

Facilitation, it should be clear, no longer holds any hope of ending the conflict. Only interventionism can. Because the conflict is exacting an unacceptable human cost and endangering critical strategic interests of many other countries, including the war to defeat global terrorism, the international community should no longer permit it to continue. The UN, the EU, Russia, and—it is to be hoped—the US should therefore convene an international conference that is not dependent on the approval, or even the participation, of Israelis and Palestinians, who have proven beyond any doubt that if left to their own devices, they will allow the conflict to become worse before it becomes even worse. The goal of this international conference would be the adoption of internationally endorsed principles for the resolution of the major permanent status issues in the Israeli–Palestinian conflict.

Those principles are widely known and widely supported, and it should not be difficult to bring about an international consensus in support of them. In addition to the requirement that the pre-1967 border must be the starting point for the negotiations, a stipulation already contained in the road map, they would also include the following provisions: that territorial changes be based on equal exchanges on both sides of that border; that the right of return of Palestinian refugees be exercised in the new state of Palestine and not in Israel; and that Arab sections of East Jerusalem become part of the Palestinian state and serve as its capital. In addition, special arrangements will have to be made for the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif. Sovereignty of these holy places should be divided along lines of previous proposals, i.e., by assigning sovereignty over the Haram to Palestinians and over the Wailing Wall and related structures to Israel; or by a “horizontal” division assigning above-ground sovereignty of the Temple Mount/ Haram al-Sharif to the Palestinians, and below-ground sovereignty to Israel. Alternatively, the issue of Israeli or Palestinian sovereignty over the holy places could be bypassed by setting up administrative arrangements in which a third, international party would participate.

These basic provisions would not be subject to change by either party, except by agreement between the two. The party that unilaterally rejects them, or takes unilateral measures that violate them, would be subject to economic and diplomatic sanctions. At the very least, such a clear and decisive international intervention would deny the offending party any prospect of gaining international recognition of measures taken in violation of the internationally adopted principles for an Israeli–Palestinian peace agreement.

To be sure, it is highly unlikely that the newly elected Bush administration in Washington would agree to join in such a conference or support such an interventionist role. But Washington would be hard put to argue that the provisions likely to emerge from such an international conference are not implicit in the road map and in Bush’s much-repeated support of a two-state solution. Nor is it impossible that the new US administration will be more open to new ideas for ending the conflict than its spokesmen were willing to admit during the heated presidential campaign. What is certain, I believe, is that after having served—humiliatingly—as tails to the American kite in the Quartet’s futile efforts to implement the road map, neither Europe, the UN, nor Russia will agree to continue in that role. While the European Union and the UN did not get very far in ending the Israeli–Palestinian conflict before joining the Quartet, their position has since become even more marginalized. They have gained no new leverage with either Israel or the Palestinians, and the conflict has become uglier and more costly than ever.

Obviously, such an internationally endorsed framework of principles is not self-implementing, and will be rejected by Israel, the stronger of the two parties. Palestinians, too, may object to certain of the provisions, such as the requirement that Palestinian refugees be repatriated in the new Palestinian state and in countries willing to receive them. But the point of such an international effort would be to change the calculation of costs and benefits that both sides engage in. That calculation would be significantly affected by the prospect that the offending party’s diplomatic and economic relations with much of the international community would be damaged, and that it would have no prospect of receiving international recognition for unilateral measures it may take.

That is an outcome even a right-wing Israeli government cannot be indifferent to, as is evident from recent warnings from within Israel’s foreign ministry about the destructive consequences of Israeli policies that are seen by the European Union as transforming Israel into an apartheid state. Despite the derision expressed by Sharon and his government in response to the opinion of the International Court of Justice about the illegality of the route of Israel’s separation fence, that opinion has affected some decisions since made by Israel’s Supreme Court and the IDF regarding the route of the fence. Even Sharon’s right-wing government experienced a sobering shock when all European Union member states, including the ten new states that Sharon’s government believed to be more sympathetic to its policies, voted on July 20 in favor of a UN General Assembly resolution calling for the removal of the separation fence.

Much now depends on the possibility that this unexpected European unity on the Middle East peace process was an augury of things to come.

—November 4, 2004

  1. 9

    Yoel Marcus, Haaretz, October 9, 2004.

  2. 10

    On October 25, 2004, Haaretz reported that a settler charged with the murder of a Palestinian taxi driver “for no reason and without any authority,” was not jailed, as any Arab indicted murderer would have been, but placed under house arrest in his home in his settlement, Itamar.

  3. 11

    August 6, 2004.

  4. 12

    Yedioth Ahronot, December 5, 2003.

  5. 13

    Yedioth Ahronot, July 12, 2004.

  6. 14

    Yedioth Ahronot, August 13, 2004.

  7. 15

    July 12, 2004.

  8. 16

    From an interview with Ami Ayalon by Sylvain Cypel, “An Unconditional Withdrawal from the Territories Is Urgently Needed,” Le Monde, December 24, 2001, and transcript from a roundtable meeting at the Council on Foreign Relations, “The Middle East Roadmap and Its Aftermath,” September 15, 2003, at www.cfr.org.

  9. 17

    Yedioth Ahronot, June 30, 2004.

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