Published in The Jerusalem Post on December 29, 2002
Ariel Sharon asks us to give him a vote of confidence next month, and return him to the Prime Minister’s Office. The problem is, that with all Sharon’s recent diplomatic shifting and political maneuvering, it is getting hard to figure out where he wants to take us. Indeed, I’m no longer sure who the real Ariel Sharon is.
Israel’s arch right-winger has spent most of the last half year slip-siding leftward. For a while, Sharon’s drift to the left could be understood both as crafty electioneering and as acceptable diplomatic posturing.
Sharon, I figured, is repositioning himself in the Israeli political center in order to outflank Labor leader Amram Mitzna and to attract middle-of-the-road voters. I can live with that.
With America heading into war in Iraq, Israel dependant on American protection, and our humongous aid and loan request still outstanding in Washington, it also makes sense for Sharon to cater to President Bush’s agenda. I can live with that too.
But Sharon’s sashay to the center has skidded into an acute swing to the left, and recently has slithered into a precipitous political lurch that leaves me reeling.
In his December 5 Herzliya speech, Sharon enthusiastically endorsed the American road map for peace talks, earnestly expressed support for the establishment of a Palestinian state, and unexpectedly declared that political concessions made in the past are “irreversible”. Last week, he angrily demanded that Likud ministers back up his new-found fondness for Palestinian statehood — or resign.
Then Sharon ordered the humiliating dawn raid on “Hero’s Way” in Hebron where 1,600 servicemen dragged 200 Israelis through the mud in order to take down the nascent Jewish neighborhood along the Kiryat Arba-Machpela Cave access route – a neighborhood that Sharon himself had called for after the Friday night slaughter that took 12 lives!
In the meantime, terrorists killed Rabbi Yitzhak Arama in Gush Katif – shooting from the same row of Arab building along the main road that the government has promised to raze several times – and Sharon did nothing. Well, almost nothing. The IDF set-up roadblocks cutting Gaza into three, then removed them two days later.
As a result, I’m confused. Does Sharon not understand that Palestinian statehood is threat to Israel? Is he committed to taking the fight against Arafat to new, more decisive levels? Is he on-board the global fight against terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism, which dictates at present that Israel (and the US) show no weakness nor confusion in battle priorities?
Or, are we being introduced to a new, “improved” Ariel Sharon – the “mature” Sharon – who like Shimon Peres and Ehud Barak before him thinks that he is going to bring about the grand Arab-Israeli solution?
Those who give Sharon the benefit of the doubt assure me that Sharon hasn’t abandoned the traditional Likud path. The wily old man, they say, knows that the Palestinians will never accept his conditions and terms for a Palestinian state. So there’s nothing to worry about.
Other analysts tell me that Sharon – in coordination with Bush, I’m supposed to believe – has a plan to allow the emergence of a small, weak Palestinian mini-state on barely 50 percent of the West Bank that will be under our thumb and thus under control. It will be a state that cannot threaten us, and its establishment will alleviate world pressure on Israel. This path is much preferable, continue the Sharon analysts, to an approach which tries to hold out against the tide. We’ll fail, and suffer the triumphant burgeoning of a revanchist, successful and expansionist Palestinian state.
Nice analysis, but I haven’t heard that from Ariel Sharon. Moreover, the prime minister hasn’t told us where his red lines lie. At 20 percent of Judea and Samaria or 90 percent? What about the Temple Mount, Jerusalem, settlements and the Jordan Valley? What about the misnamed “security” fence which is recreating the Green Line with funds from Sharon’s government? What about the outrageous, incomprehensible decision to begin pumping Arafat’s government monthly with NIS 130 million? On all these critical benchmarks Sharon has been silent.
What Sharon does say is that his first and absolute preference after January 28 is a unity government with Mitzna. Mitzna wants to evacuate Gaza and Hebron post-haste, pick up on negotiations with Arafat from the point where Barak left off, and hand-over half of Jerusalem.
All of which leaves me guessing: Is Sharon the hard-line ex-general or an old style Mapai-nik? Is he out to crush the Palestinian terrorist movement and maintain our historical national gains, or is he aiming to go down in history as the grand Mideast “peacemaker” by making fulsome concessions?
And thus before we go to vote, I ask: Will the real Sharon please stand up?