While I generally detest Ariel Sharon, I must say he continues to compel our attention by his move to disengage from Gaza. And he continues to confound expectations. There are many (including myself) who question what his motives are and whether he has any plan beyond Gaza that would lead toward peace. We are right to be suspicious.
But we should not lose sight of the fact that as Uri Avnery says in his riveting pre-disengagement analysis, Miracles and Wonders (a reference to a Hanukah prayer): “This week, a great event will take place: for the first time, settlements in Palestine are being removed.” No prime minister, Labor or Likud has ever been willing to do anything but build settlements. For this shift in policy, Sharon deserves credit (so says Avnery).
In an interview last Friday with Nahum Barnea in Yediot Achronot, Sharon revealed that he’s willing to consider future West Bank settlement evacuations:
According to your agenda, we asked, all the [West Bank] settlements will remain?
The [major] settlement blocs will remain, said Sharon. “But I have never answered the question: ‘What are the boundaries of the settlement blocs?’ And not because I’m not familiar with the map.”
And what about Yitzhar, Bracha and Shavei Shomron [remote West Bank settlements]?
“Not everything will be there,” said Sharon. “The question will arise in the last stage of negotiations with the Palestinians.”
(I regret to say that the full interview, which is deeply informative about Sharon’s thinking in pursuing disengagement, is not available online at Ynet.co in either Hebrew or English. Many overseas publications have quoted or referred to the interview. I assume they have translation services which provided excerpts. Thanks to Dorothy Naor for providing a scan of the original article.)
Yes, I know what the doubters will say about this. The “last stage” could take place years or decades from now (especially if Sharon has anything to do with the timing). And he’s only talking about remote settlements. About the major settlement blocs he seems unwilling to budge. And they will be the thing that sticks in the Palestinian craw and which they will find the most difficult (if not impossible) to swallow. So you easily dismiss Sharon’s statements as relatively meaningless.
But I still believe that Sharon is on to something here. Again, as Avnery says–not even a Labor prime minister has ever dismantled a settlement in the West Bank. So if we would’ve credited such a politician for taking such action, why shouldn’t we credit Sharon?
Sharon, in this interview, alludes to the fact that the Likud may split into moderate and rejectionist factions over disengagement and future negotiations with the Palestinians. He doubts that this will happen and hopes it won’t. But he also concedes that the entire party leadership appears united against him and that it will be hard to win them back.
All this brought the thought to my mind (and my concept is not new with me): what of the possibility of Sharon breaking with Likud hardliners and bringing with him a number of Likud “moderate” MKs, who might then ally with other moderate parties (elements of Labor or Shinui) to create a centrist bloc that might enter into serious negotiations with the Palestinians toward a future peace settlement? This is how Robert Rosenberg of Ariga.com puts it:
Another poll, issued today [August 11th], showed that if the ‘big bang’ of Israeli politics were to take place and Sharon were to unite with Shimon Peres and Yosef Tommy Lapid of Shinui to form a new party, it would get 38 seats in the Knesset, Netanyahu at the head of the Likud would get 14, and Labor would get 7.
That’s certainly not a majority, but it would relegate the Likud hardliners to the sidelines where they belong if there’s ever to be a real peace. I’d assume that this new alignment could find another 22 votes to form a majority for peace.
I commend Avnery’s article to you. I’d always thought of Avnery as a rather doctrinnaire, if inconoclastic Israeli leftist. But this proves that the man is willing to think outside the box that Israeli progressives sometimes set up for themselves. While perhaps Avnery overpraises Sharon, his argument is a refreshing break from the chorus of doom that we sometimes hear from Israeli progressive journalists and others on the Israeli Left. In addition, Avnery gives a comprehensive overview of Sharon’s career both as general and politician in order to make his point that the man is doing something significant that should be appreciated by the Left–that he is breaking with his past and setting out on a different path.