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After Gaza: Sharon's victory?
by Jude Wanniski
Sunday 28 August 2005 12:23 PM GMT
Perhaps the most pleasant surprise of the year so far has been Israel’s fulfillment of its promise to clear the Gaza Strip of the 8,000 Jewish settlers. Those of us who doubted Prime Minister Ariel Sharon would carry out his plan to completion are now saying this may be his "finest hour."
Still, it is difficult to forget that Sharon was the man most responsible for locating the settlements on land Israel seized in its pre-emptive 1967 war with Egypt and Jordan.
Because the pullout from Gaza was unilateral on Sharon’s part, not having been negotiated with the Palestinian Authority, the world is now waiting to see how he will deal with the West Bank settlements, where some 400,000 Jews have built their homes and businesses since 1967.
At 76 years of age and soon to face new elections, is Sharon even prepared to negotiate with Mahmoud Abbas, over Palestinian claims over the rest of the land Israel seized in 1967?
If there is nothing more up his sleeve, it is to be expected that Palestinian leaders associated with Hamas will threaten a return to violence.
Their logic will be that Sharon would not have given an inch of Gaza if it were not for the most recent, most violent intifada. It alone enabled Sharon to persuade enough of his Likud Party that it had to make concessions as long as he did not have to make them to Yasir Arafat, whose death last year opened the door for serious movement in this direction.
The Bush Administration is of course hoping some time will be allowed for consolidation before Palestinians demand more steps toward a Palestinian state that includes most of the West Bank. Abbas reportedly called Sharon recently, telling him he hoped the Gaza experience would open a new page in relations and the two agreed to meet soon.
That sounds promising, but at the same time Sharon has made it clear there will be no further unilateral withdrawals from the West Bank beyond the four small sites being cleared after Gaza. And he has stated that he would continue to build within the existing settlement blocs in the West Bank and try to link one of them, Maale Adumim, to Jerusalem.
Writing from Gaza, Steven Erlanger of the New York Times reminds us that it is widely expected that Sharon will now move back toward his right-wing Likud base as he readies for new elections, perhaps as early as the spring. All of this seems ominous to Pat Buchanan, an astute observer of the complexities of Middle East issues:
"What is going to happen now is wearily predictable. After Sharon has withdrawn the last settler, he will demand $2.2 billion for his heroic achievement. The request, already in, breaks down to $1 million for every family moved out of Gaza. Bush and Congress, who only in May raised the death benefit for families of GIs killed in Iraq from $12,000 to $100,000, will fall all over one another expediting the latest tranche of US tax dollars.
"Then the scenario will play out as Dov Weisglass, ex-chief of staff to Sharon, mockingly described. Under the deal Weisglass cut with pliant Bush aides in 2004, ratified in Bush's public letter to Sharon, Israeli disengagement from Gaza and a few outposts on the West Bank "supplies the amount of formaldehyde necessary so there will not be a political process with the Palestinians."
"What I effectively agreed to with the Americans was that part of the settlements would not be dealt with at all," Weisglass said, "and the rest will not be dealt with until the Palestinians turn into Finns." The "road map" – the peace plan agreed to by the United States, United Nations, European Union and Russia – Weisglass merrily told the paper Ha'aretz, is dead.
If Sharon now informs President Bush that Israel has made a sacrifice of Gaza, and no more progress toward a viable Palestinian state can be made until all violence ends and Hamas and Islamic Jihad are disarmed, what will Bush do?
Buchanan answers his own question: "Nothing," he says.
I am not sure about that and I believe Buchanan is basing his skepticism on an awareness that the American Jewish community is already saying nothing more can be done unless the Palestinian Authority forces the disarmament of Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
If Sharon himself gets behind that demand, we would of course know that he intends no further serious negotiations. But I suspect it is a ploy devised by the outright opponents of a Palestinian state in the Likud Party, now led by Binjamin Netanyahu who resigned in protest over the Gaza pullout.
Netanyahu can always count on his hawkish allies in Vice President Cheney’s office to press President Bush to support demands Mahmoud Abbas cannot possibly accept.
The Islamic Jihad is already rattling swords over the next stage in its aim to drive Israel out of the occupied lands and if Abbas lifts a finger to have Hamas turn over its weapons, it would instead drive him from office.
It all comes to down to Sharon having the broad outlines of a respectable settlement worked out in his own mind. He probably has no plan in mind for the demolition of the "settlements" on the West Bank, which are now closer to being thriving small cities and towns. A solution would have to involve a Palestinian democracy whereby the 400,000 Jews would be given the option of remaining where they are and accepting citizenship in the new Palestinian state.
What might make this work would be a Palestinian state’s commitment to turn what is now the public property of Israel over to the residents, who could sell the titles if they wish to leave for residence in Israel or wherever.
As George Melloan of the Wall Street Journal points out, most of the problems in the occupied territories flow from neither Arab nor Jew having title to the land the work and live upon. The privatisation of the land would be a boon to one and all.
Pat Buchanan ended his skeptical view of what comes next with: "When there is no vision, the people perish." In that sense, a vision of how the Middle East might look after all is said and done, "a land of milk and honey," that we can now be more optimistic about the future than we have been for several decades.
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Jude Wanniski is a former associate editor of The Wall Street Journal, expert on supply-side economics and founder of Polyconomics, which helps to interpret the impact of political events on financial markets.
The opinions expressed here are the author's and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position or have the endorsement of Aljazeera.
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