Time for Sharon’s “Painful Concessions”
Gerald Steinberg, The Jerusalem
Post, 5 September 2003
The writer is Director, Program on Conflict
Management and Negotiation in Political Studies at Bar Ilan University.
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More than three months have passed since Prime Minister
Ariel Sharon used the “o” word for the first time, declaring: “To hold 3.5
million Palestinians under occupation is a terrible thing for Israel, the
Palestinians, and the economy.”
His blunt words unleashed a huge protest, and the
spin-doctors worked overtime emphasizing that the reference was strictly to
the human dimension and not the territory. Sharon had not lost his mind,
joined Peace Now or betrayed Menachem Begin’s principle that Judea and
Samaria are part of the legacy of the Jewish people.
But precisely in terms of the human and political dimensions,
Sharon was absolutely right. Unless Israel acts we will be ensnared by a
growing Palestinian population that will soon become the majority between
the Mediterranean and Jordan River, ending the concept of a Jewish state.
Even if the terrorist attacks can be stopped by purely military means, the
status quo, without borders and with small settlements scattered all over
the map, is a dangerous political trap.
The catastrophic failures of the Oslo peace process followed
by the hopeless road map show that the exit from this trap will not come via
negotiations and agreements for many years, maybe decades. To escape this
trap Israel must act unilaterally to dismantle some settlements, incorporate
others, and create realistic borders.
In this way, on the other side of the border, Palestinians
will be forced to take responsibility for their own lives and welfare; and
on our side Israelis will be able to live within defensible and rational
borders. In order to move in this direction Sharon must take the bold action
to which he has referred since he was first elected in February 2001.
In the first two years he could legitimately claim to be busy
coping with and then defeating the Palestinian terror campaign and he lacked
the political mandate to do much more. He asked us to wait for this second
administration, when he would be freer to take bold moves, including
“painful concessions” affecting settlements.
Indeed, after receiving his second and more powerful mandate
two years later, Sharon appeared to be ready to redeem these pledges by
making the truly difficult decisions that had been avoided for decades.
BUT THEN any bold moves that might have been taken were
stopped for the latest road map “to peace,” inspired by Europe and adopted
too quickly by the Bush administration in response to Tony Blair's plea for
“balance” during the Iraq war.
The skeptics and Sharon's critics may be right perhaps Sharon
never intended to go beyond the rhetoric of painful concessions. Or perhaps
the political realities of the road map forced him to delay decisions on
dismantling settlements to avoid any appearance of weakness.
Now any hope that might have existed for the stillborn road
map has disappeared, while Yasser Arafat plays Palestinian musical chairs
(the details of who sits where being irrelevant outside of Ramallah).
Thus the time has come for Sharon to turn his warnings on the
dangers of the status quo and demographic threat into action.
To avoid the one-state trap of the dominant Palestinian
strategy to defeat and destroy the Jewish state, rational boundaries must be
drawn, and some settlements must be dismantled. The removal of illegal
outposts that are quickly restored and then removed again is far too limited
to make a difference in this central dimension. In contrast, the framework
for this process is largely in place in the form of the separation fence or
wall-barrier being built to prevent terrorists from reaching Israeli cities
But construction of the next and critical central phase has
been halted by debate over the route. The maximalist approach of 600
kilometers will include most of the settlements, meandering through Judea
and Samaria, instead of following a more or less straight line. In contrast,
the pragmatic route is about 300 kilometers. It includes the “consensus
settlements,” the area around Jerusalem, Gush Etzion (south of Jerusalem),
and Ariel in one form or another.
The second option, which makes sense militarily and
politically, means that a number of settlements will be on “the other side
of the fence,” and marked for removal. And it is here, at this crucial
point, which Sharon appears to have frozen.
As part of the separation policy a decision to take down
isolated settlements such as Netzarim in Gaza, or Ganim and Kadim near
Jenin, with little security justification, will be difficult, particularly
for Sharon. There will be some violent resistance from the more extreme
members of the settlement community who do not distinguish between the
removal of one outpost and the return to the 1949-1967 armistice lines.
Ideologically, Sharon will be attacked for giving up parts of
the Jewish homeland the sacred Land of Israel while others will warn that
Arafat will declare any Israeli withdrawal a victory for terrorism, like the
Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon.
But the alternative of staying put in the demographic and
political trap of a single state with a soon-to-be Arab majority is far more
Thirty-six years after the 1967 war, which ended not with
Israel's destruction but with the eviction of Jordan from the West Bank and
Jerusalem's Old City, there is no political settlement on the horizon. And
holding bargaining chips for virtual negotiations turns them into
From the Common Ground News Service