There are a number of ways to look at Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's Herzliya speech of December 18, 2003. They appear to offer us a little good news, but a lot more of the bad news we have become used to in the past three years. The following "takes" are not mutually exclusive.
First, the good news. Sharon, along with many on the political right, appears finally to have understood the demographic problem and the dangers of direct ongoing occupation. He wants to disengage. The architect of the settlement movement in the West Bank and Gaza over the past 25 years is indicating that some settlements will have to be "redeployed". While he clearly still does not comprehend the minimal territorial needs of a viable Palestinian state, and he studiously avoids relying publicly on demographic arguments (instead emphasizing immigration), if and when he does carry through on his commitment to disengage and remove even a single settlement, this will be an extremely important and positive precedent.
Now for the other takes on Sharon's new policy.
The first, and most obvious, is that Sharon is simply keeping up with the times, but has no near term intention of acting on his words. Just as he disciplined himself in recent years and months to adopt the term "Palestinian state" and criticize the "occupation", so now he has embraced "disengagement". He places an extremely high premium on representing a broad consensus of Israeli opinion, and he knows this is what the public wants to hear. The advent of the Geneva accord and the frenzied response of the Israeli right--with every senior political figure espousing his or her new plan and most advocating disengagement--precipitated this development.
Because Sharon also recognizes the need for close American support, he threw into his speech, for about the tenth time, a promise to remove outposts and restrain settlement building. By the same token, the speech contains just enough verbal gestures to both the moderate right and the left, balanced by a calculated absence of commitment to act immediately on settlement removal, to shore up broad bipartisan support for Sharon not only among the public but, perhaps more important, across the political spectrum. This may be precisely what he needs in order to be deemed indispensable at a time when a criminal investigation against him and his sons is beginning to threaten his tenure as prime minister.
As in the past, Sharon may very well be counting on fate, or luck, or Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, to get him off the hook and release him from his new commitments. It takes just one murderous suicide bombing to make everyone--Israelis, Palestinians, the US administration and American presidential candidates--forget all about the Herzliya speech. When necessary, Sharon also knows how to steer provocations in the Palestinians' direction.
Another take on the Herzliya speech is that Sharon realizes that he is confronting the first and last chance that history is giving him to try to implement his vision of a solution for the Palestinian issue. His map of autonomous Palestinian enclaves may now be termed a "state", but it has not changed in 25 years: it embodies the 42 percent of the West Bank currently included in areas A and B, perhaps with a little extra territory and special roads and overpasses to give it "contiguity", but it is essentially fragmented, with Israel controlling key axes that link the coast with the Jordan Valley. Conceivably, a few settlements may indeed have to be moved to make it work. The Palestinian "state" can be fenced in on all sides and provided with "freer passage of people and goods through international border crossings" with Egypt and Jordan (with Israeli security controls), thereby ostensibly releasing Israel of responsibility for its economic well-being.
In parallel, "Israel will strengthen its control" over the rest: the Jordan Valley, western Samaria, and settlement blocs. This means de facto annexation. While Sharon offers assurances that none of these steps will "change the political reality" or "prevent the possibility of returning" to the roadmap process, he has in any case never had any intention of moving beyond phase II of the roadmap, which he believes approximates this vision. Moreover the projected timing of these unilateral moves--spring and summer of 2004--is not accidental: it coincides with the peak of the US presidential election process, when Sharon calculates that both US President George Bush and his democratic opponent will be too busy cultivating the pro-Israel vote to pressure him into carrying out the positive part of his initiative (redeployment, dismantling settlements) without the negative (an eastern fence, semi-annexation of the Jordan Valley).
Yet another way to interpret this policy speech is that Sharon is pressuring Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmad Qurei to deal more forthrightly with security issues as required by the roadmap and to enter into negotiations with him regarding phase II of the roadmap. Hence he brandishes both a stick and a carrot: "through the disengagement plan the Palestinians will receive much less than . . . through direct negotiations"; "I do not intend to wait for them indefinitely". Sharon has already tried and failed to compel the Palestine Liberation Organization militarily to cease the violence and accept his map; now he is brandishing the fence and the threat of semi-annexation.
Still another take on the speech is that Sharon is deliberately inviting his own right wing to constrain him, particularly by marking the heavily populated outpost of Migron for immediate removal. In other words, Sharon wants to "prove" to Bush and the Israeli left that the settlements are here to stay.
One characteristic of Sharon's approach has not changed at all: he did not present a realistic strategy for peace. First he "hijacked" the fence and distorted it from a legitimate means of self-defense into a political tactic for creating a Palestinian bantustan. Now he has hijacked the idea of disengagement and dismantling of settlements--which was originally intended by the left to rescue Israel demographically but without in any way prejudicing future negotiations concerning East Jerusalem and the Jordan Valley--and seeks to reconstitute it as a rationale for fencing in the Palestinians and grabbing the rest of the West Bank. Like previous grand designs of Sharon, this one too will backfire.
Yossi Alpher is coeditor of bitterlemons.org and bitterlemons-international.org. He is a former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University, and a former senior adviser to PM Ehud Barak.
Speaking broadly, Palestinians saw the speech of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon given at the Herzliya conference as one of the most dangerous Israeli plans to imperil the peace process and the Israeli and Palestinian peoples. This plan proposes to use the wall that Israel has built along the outlines of a 35-year-old settlement expansion project in order to determine by force the final arrangements for the Palestinian territories. In his speech, Sharon talked explicitly about consolidating illegal settlements, rather than removing them, with no regard for Israel's obligation to stop building settlements according to the roadmap. While Sharon gave a verbal nod to the roadmap, he also reaffirmed his speech in Aqaba earlier this year, which includes the multiple Israeli reservations to the roadmap. In other words, Sharon is trying again to escape the roadmap plan backed by the United States and the international community.
One of the most ironic aspects of Sharon's speech, and one that can only be explained as an attempt to boost public relations, is his justification of these threats of unilateral action by an alleged lack of roadmap implementation on the part of the Palestinian Authority. Quite the opposite, it was the Palestinian Authority that accepted the roadmap with no reservations, while Israel burdened its acceptance with 14 qualifications that turned the roadmap on its head. It was the Palestinian Authority that instituted a ceasefire and thus adhered to the clause that calls on Palestinians to stop all kinds of violence against Israelis wherever they may be, while Israel did nothing to fulfill its own obligation to stop violence against Palestinians everywhere, nor to fulfill even those obligations that have no security implications, such as halting settlement expansion in the occupied territories. The main Palestinian Authority obligation to the roadmap that remains unfulfilled is its adoption of a security role. This will only be possible once Israel ends its military reoccupation and allows the Palestinian side to rebuild its security forces crippled by the Israeli crackdown on the Palestinian security apparatuses.
As such, from a Palestinian perspective, it is simply chutzpah that allows Ariel Sharon to call this a "disengagement" plan, when in fact it will consolidate Israel's occupation of Palestinians and disengage inside the occupied territories, not from the occupied territories as a whole. This is not about "disengagement", but rearranging things in a manner that suits the occupier and is definitely at the political and economic expense of the occupied.
Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of bitterlemons.org and bitterlemons-international.org. He is minister of labor in the Palestinian government and for many years prior was featured in the press as a political analyst.
Zeev Hever has served in recent years as head of the "Amana" movement, the settlement arm of the Yesha Council (Council of the Communities in Judea, Samaria and Gaza). Hever, nicknamed Zambish, is a close personal friend of the prime minister of Israel. What do these two have in common, with their quarter-century age differential? Simply this: Ariel Sharon, despite his frequent involvement in financial improprieties, in his heart of hearts likes and respects idealists who keep their distance from financial issues and devote themselves entirely to the Jewish people and to Zionist ideals. In his eyes Zambish symbolizes these ideals.
On December 16, two days before Sharon's Herzliya speech, Hever addressed the press for the first time in years. It happened at Migron, the outpost Sharon intends to dismantle. Hever, who is a kind of alter ego to Sharon when it comes to Zionist ideals, declared that dismantling settlements is a type of mental illness; a throwback to the Jews' spiritual ills from Diaspora days, when they were submissive and sought only to grovel to the lord of the land in 18th and 19th century Eastern Europe. There could be no greater insult to the likes of Ariel Sharon, a symbol--certainly in his own eyes--of the "new Jew", born on the land, free of the complexes of ghetto Jews, who knows how to say a sharp "no" to the rulers of the world, i.e., to American presidents.
If Hever hoped to influence the contents of the Herzliya speech, he failed. Sharon stated that he had made a commitment to President Bush to "dismantle unauthorized outposts. It is my intention to implement this commitment . . . Period." Nor did he hesitate to commit to "changing the deployment" of veteran settlements, not recently built outposts, as part of a "redeployment" and unilateral disengagement. Member of Knesset Uri Ariel, another old friend of Sharon, stated after the speech that the very soldiers once dispatched by Sharon to fight at the front for the Zionist ideal had now been shot by him in the back. And what is the Zionist ideal if not settlement? This is a heavily loaded statement in an Israel that has not yet recovered from the trauma of the Rabin assassination. Prior to his election to the Knesset, Ariel was the general secretary of the Yesha Council. The troika of Sharon-Ariel-Hever had worked closely together on planning and implementing Jewish settlement throughout Judea and Samaria.
Intelligence services near and far, and the political establishments in Israel, the Arab states and the West are all busily trying to answer the question: is this a new Sharon? Does he really mean to implement what he presented in Herzliya? And if so, what are his motives? What caused such an extreme metamorphosis in the earlier convictions of this much-admired man? Most of all, though, it is the settlers--the people for whom Sharon really was the man who enabled the fulfillment of their Zionist ideals--who are agonizing over these questions. Many of them desperately want to believe that this is but one more "ploy" of the sort Sharon executed over the course of long years when he held central positions in the life of the country, in the army and beyond.
My advice to my settler friends is to stop agonizing. If Zambish and Uri Ariel, perhaps the closest people to Sharon other than his family and immediate assistants, said what they said about Sharon, then something has gone seriously wrong. Between loyalty to his ideals and to them on the one hand, and keeping his promise to President Bush on the other, Sharon chose Bush. Anyone who believes that unilateral redeployment will increase terrorism--since the Palestinians will now believe that they have broken the will even of Ariel Sharon--rather than reduce it; anyone who believes that a State of Israel reduced to a crowded ghetto within an area of 20,000 square kilometers is living on borrowed time; anyone who thinks that the destruction of settlements is a mortal blow--from a moral, ideological and human standpoint--to the very soul of Zionism, must take his/her place at the forefront of the non-violent struggle to thwart Ariel Sharon's plans.
This week, for eight days, the Jewish people celebrate Hanukkah, commemorating the Jewish victory over the Greeks. More than 2,100 years ago the Jews revolted against the Greeks who had conquered their land. A considerable portion of the Jews opposed the revolt, preferring to collaborate with the Greeks--people of culture, rulers of the world in their day. They were called "Hellenizers". In the end the victors were those known as "zealots"--today known as "settlers". What is certain is that the Hellenizers, who had tired of the struggle against the Greeks and were enchanted by Greek culture, slowly abandoned their people and their country, just like the old elites of today who seek to integrate with globalization, particularly of the American variety. In contrast, the sons and daughters of the zealots sustained the generational chain of Judaism, and it is thanks to them that there exists today a Jewish people who returned, after some 1,900 years of exile, to reestablish a state in their land.
Yisrael Harel was the chairman and general secretary of the Yesha Council between 1980 and 1995. It was during these years that, thanks to the energetic efforts of Ariel Sharon, most of the settlements were established in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza District. In 1995, Harel participated in secret meetings between settler leaders and senior officials and intellectuals in the Palestinian Authority.
bitterlemons.org: What was your impression of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's "disengagement plan"?
Jarbawi: Sharon was giving the Palestinians an ultimatum: "either you accept my roadmap with the 14 alterations injected by my government (and this is the maximum that you will get out of me) or we are going to unilaterally give you less than that. The choice is yours--if you opt for negotiations, I can give you more, but you should know (and this is a tacit understanding) that the most you will get even then is the most that is offered in 'my roadmap', which includes only the land inside the wall."
bitterlemons.org: Why this proposal now?
Jarbawi: First, I don't think that Sharon is changing his ideology, but practically, there are many things that he wants to take into account. He wants to please the American administration, but he also wants to use this time during which the American administration is entering an election campaign to push for his own interests. He also wants to send a message to Israeli society because he was criticized internally for having no plan. Third, he wants to kill the Geneva accord.
I think that Sharon has reached the conclusion--and this might be the one item that he has changed his mind about--that after wanting all of "Eretz Israel" to become a Jewish state and advocating for a long time for the expulsion of Palestinians, their physical transfer is impossible. Now, instead of a practical transfer, he wants to implement the "legal transfer" of Palestinians. Legal transfer means that while we will live inside "Eretz Israel", we will not be part of the state of Israel, meaning we will not reach a situation of apartheid and Palestinians will no longer be able to opt for one state.
Basically, he has in mind that part of the West Bank will be incorporated into the state of Israel. The wall is the marker; it is not a security barrier, but the border. Put the Palestinians in cantons and let them call that a state, but that state will not be sovereign, will not be independent. If Palestinians accept this through negotiations, then Sharon is ready to give it to them. If they do not, then he is going to remove the Israeli military presence from small areas and sit tight until Palestinians agree to return to his plan, which he will disguise under the roadmap. The second stage of the roadmap calls for a temporary state; this is the temporary state made permanent.
bitterlemons.org: Why did the meeting between prime ministers Sharon and Ahmed Qurei' never happen?
Jarbawi: From a Palestinian perspective, why should it happen? I don't understand why the Palestinian prime minister would go and meet with Sharon, especially after his speech. The Palestinian reaction to the speech was that we reject unilateral actions. A meeting with Sharon now means that we accept negotiations instead. The question is, on what basis? On his roadmap and the 14 qualifications? The greatest thing that Sharon gained from this ultimatum is that his roadmap will become legitimate and will become the maximum Palestinians can achieve.
bitterlemons.org: In this situation, what can the Palestinian Authority do?
Jarbawi: I think that the best way to face Sharon's ultimatum is not to meet with him, but to offer him and Israel a Palestinian ultimatum in return. The Palestinian ultimatum would be:
"We know that you want to squeeze us into cantons and thereby cheat us and the world of the two-state solution. We agree to a two-state solution--we have indicated this for a long time--but that two-state solution must be based on the 1967 borders, give and take minor exchanges. As such, we are giving you a few months (maybe six months) and as a measure of trust, we will offer you a Palestinian truce [during that time]. If, however, the wall continues to be built and the settlement expansion policy continues in these six months, then we will understand that you are closing the gates to a two-state solution.
"If so, then we will accommodate you. In that case, we are going to close the two-state option forever, and from then on, we will pursue the establishment of just one state. Further, from then on, you will have to bear the consequences of your occupation. We will dissolve the Palestinian Authority and you won't have the Authority there to cripple with your actions, even as you blame it morning and night. Then you will have to deal with the Palestinian people, meeting us on equal terms 20 or 30 years from now when there is one vote for every person.
"The meaning of all of this is that if you are afraid of the political effects of demography, then we are going to use it against you. Beware."
bitterlemons.org: What are the dangers of this approach?
Jarbawi: Any plan should have its alternative built in, and this requires more discussion among Palestinians. We should tell Sharon that if he doesn't accept the two-state solution [in order] to separate from us, then we will give him more of us. To give Israel more of us means that we have to dissolve the Palestinian Authority.
In order for the Palestinians to get a fully sovereign, independent state on the 1967 borders, Palestinians should use the only thing that Israel and Israelis are afraid of, i.e. the political effects of the demographic factor. Thus, the one-state solution is the medium for gaining the two-state solution. Now the question is, will the Authority dissolve itself? That is the question that remains to be answered.
-Published 22/12/2003 ©bitterlemons.org
Ali Jarbawi is a professor of political science at Birzeit University.
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