Since the peace process began at the 1991 Madrid Conference, Gaza has not been a topic for negotiation. That's because everyone realized that in any peace agreement with the Palestinians there would cease to be an Israeli presence in the Strip.
This was implicit at the Camp David talks in July 2000, at Taba in January 2001, and in the Geneva Initiative that ended in 2003. The perpetual debate over whether at Camp David prime minister Ehud Barak offered the Palestinians 87 percent or 91 percent or some other percentage of territory, had to do with the West Bank; withdrawal from Gaza was a given.
Now the Gaza Strip has suddenly became the central item on the political agenda.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan is 20 years old or more. He believes the Palestinian problem can be solved by a Palestinian enclave in Gaza and three or four enclaves in the West Bank that will leave Israel in control of half of the West Bank.
He does not intend to address the question of Jerusalem or the refugees, and realizes that his approach will never find a Palestinian partner who can deliver the goods. Therefore, the only way to carry out his plan is unilaterally.
Supposedly, this "solves" the problem of Jews becoming a minority in their country. Actually, demography remains a ticking bomb because Sharon's "solution" is not viable. It does not address the real problems that will eventually blow up in Israel's face.
Sharon is unwilling to pay the price of a permanent settlement and does not understand that such an outcome is in Israel's real interest. It is the only way to safeguard Israel as a Jewish democratic state.
It was the prime minister's fear of the Geneva Initiative -- the "danger" that the world will try to impose it on Israel and the Palestinians -- that, by his own testimony, led to his plan for a unilateral withdrawal from Gaza. It was not an instantaneous invention; it's his contingency plan.
The Left, even though it understands that Sharon's approach is dangerous and contradicts our view, considers itself Sharon's big defender, even against his own party. The world cannot oppose any Israeli withdrawal, and the inflation of Gaza became a success story. Instead of informing the settlers that within three months they would have to leave their settlements and receive compensation, and that after a certain date their presence would be illegal and the state would cease to provide them with services, the target date was set for the end of 2005.
Everyone is saber-rattling. The defense establishment raises the need for administrative detentions of rightist activists; leftists want to prepare for a real battle; rabbis issue halachic rulings that allow or even mandate refusal to evacuate settlements; and everyone is gearing up for a historic and unnecessary showdown.
The obvious pullout from Gaza became so important, so central, so precedent-setting, that leftists are willing to forgive Sharon the Lebanon War and his ascent to the Temple Mount, the targeted assassinations, and his cruel economic policy, and are willing to give him a security net or even join his cabinet.
The Israeli peace camp must understand that Sharon is using the Left's goodwill in order to lead to a solution that is the opposite of what the Left believes in.
It would not be possible for us to vote against unilateral withdrawal if it is brought to the Knesset, but any support of Sharon beyond that is a shot by the peace camp in its own foot.
Sharon may prefer early elections and placing one single item on the national agenda: the Gaza pullout. He will argue that only he can evacuate settlements, and many will believe him. The Left might find itself in a trap. Many of its supporters will buy Sharon's propaganda and prefer to support him instead of supporting the party that supports him. If Sharon's plan is not exposed, if the whole peace camp does not provide a clear alternative in the form of a Geneva Initiative-style final settlement, Sharon disguised as Grandma might swallow Little Red Riding Hood, receive broad political support, and use it to carry out his dangerous vision.
(Description of Source: Jerusalem The Jerusalem Post (Internet Version-WWW) in English -- Right-of-center, English-language, independent daily; root URL on filing date: www.jpost.co.il)
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