Sharon's New Deal
The Likud Party, which dominated Israel for three decades, was sidelined by Sharon ’s defection. The first justification for such a move is that the prime minister, thus becoming the head of a new centrist party could better secure the first clear parliamentary majority for those willing to give up most of the West Bank, ending years of political deadlock with the hard-liners. But there is a lot of skepticism concerning Sharon’s true intentions. The Palestinians watch the Israeli upheaval with mixed feelings. They have never trusted Sharon’s willingness to help building confidence bridges between the two peoples. Yet, if they eagerly took control of more territory following Israel's unilateral pullout from Gaza in September, they still fear Israel imposing new borders unilaterally and annexing some of Jerusalem and West Bank areas with bigger Jewish settlements.
Two questions arise out of this ambiguous context:
1) What is the signification of Sharon's last move in Israel itself?
2) What kind of influence should the Arabs expect over the political process issue?
In order to connect the answers to the reality of the man who is here our first concern, we suggest first to remind the reader of some facts related to Sharon’s background. We do not mean here to answer the traditional question (who is Sharon?), but rather to focalise on what was actually his contribution to the internal israeli politics and to the regional and international issues as well, which would possibly justify or unjustify his pretention to lead a centrist party and enpower a political process that has lost much of its dynamism. In other terms, although Sharon’s leadership is quite negative in the Arab world, can he reverse completely or partially the trends by concrete steps in favour of a new peace deal with the Palestinians?
Sharon's political resume
For the majority of Arab people, Sharon's name is linked to images of violence and blood, reminding them of the massacre in Sabra and Shatila’s refugees’ camps and other tragedies.
Yet, while focusing on these negative features, Arab commentators often omit an objective fact: the man is considered in Israel and the USA as incountournable. We will not talk of his military career, but just recall some of his political achievements, notwithstanding what they mean for the Arabs.
Actually, even if the image of the "assassin" has sticked to his profile in the Arab mind, Sharon has been deeply involved in the mapping of the new regional system that emerged from the Camp David process. Since then, we will find his political influence increasing despite his negative impact on the Arabs.
Ariel Sharon was elected to the Knesset in December 1973, but resigned a year later, serving as Security Adviser to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin (1975). He was elected to the Knesset in 1977 on the Shlomzion ticket. Following the elections, he joined the Herut party and was appointed Minister of Agriculture in Menachem Begin's first government (1977-81). One of his priorities was to pursue agricultural cooperation with Egypt.This was one of his first dealing with Arab policy.
In 1981 Ariel Sharon was appointed Defense Minister, serving in this post during the invasion of Lebanon and the siege of Beirut, which brought about the destruction of the PLO infrastructure in Lebanon. With hindsight, we can say now that that was not just a "military fact", but also an important strategic and political achievement for the Israelis, as it caused the removal of the palestinian military threat thousands of miles away from Israel, and complicated a lot the PLO decision making in all what concerns the continuation of the armed struggle.
On the international level, Sharon was the man who acted for renewing diplomatic relations with the African nations that had broken off ties with Israel during the Yom Kippur War, which was not the least of his political accomplishments.
In November 1981, he brought about the first strategic cooperation agreement with the U.S. and widened defense ties between Israel and many nations. He also helped bring thousands of Jews from Ethiopia.
In 1983, Sharon resigned as Defense Minister after a government commission found him indirectly responsible for the September 1982 massacre of Palestinians at the Sabra and Shatila’s refugees’ camps by Lebanese Christians.
Sharon remained in the government as a minister without portfolio and then served as Minister of Industry and Trade from 1984-90. In this capacity, he concluded the Free Trade Agreement with the U.S. in 1985.
From 1990-1992, he served as Minister of Construction and Housing and Chairman of the Ministerial Committee on Immigration and Absorption. Following the fall of the Soviet Union and the waves of immigration from Russia, he initiated and carried out a program to absorb the immigrants throughout the country, including the construction of 144,000 apartments.
From 1992 to 1996, he served as a member of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.Whatever the crimes he was blamed for from the Palestinian point of view, he could not be avoided as a partner. The Palestinian and the Arab leaders had to accept to deal with the man they consider perhaps as one of their most irreducible foes.
In 1996, Ariel Sharon was appointed Minister of National Infrastructure and was involved in fostering joint ventures with Jordan, Egypt and the Palestinians. In 1998, he was appointed Foreign Minister and headed the permanent status negotiations with the Palestinian Authority.
Following the election of Ehud Barak as Prime Minister in May 1999, Ariel Sharon was called upon to become interim Likud party leader following the resignation of Benjamin Netanyahu. In September 1999, he was elected Chairman of the Likud. He also served as a member of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee in the Knesset.
On Sept. 28, 2000 - Opposition leader Sharon crosses the court of the Holy Mosque in Jerusalem. Clashes erupt with the Palestinians. But Israel pretends that revolt was already planned.
In a special election held February 6, 2001, Ariel Sharon was elected Prime Minister.
On March 7, 2001 - Sharon takes office as Prime Minister. He presented his government to the Knesset.
After calling early elections to the 16th Knesset, which were held on January 28, 2003, Ariel Sharon was charged by the President with the task of forming a government, which he presented to the Knesset on February 27, 2003.
On Dec. 18, 2003 - Sharon announces a "Disengagement Plan" calling for settlements to be removed. He later says all settlements in Gaza Strip and four in the West Bank will go.
On Feb. 8, 2005 - Sharon and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas agree on a ceasefire.
On Sept. 12, 2005 - Israel completes withdrawal of troops and settlers from Gaza Strip despite attempts to stop the evacuation by ultranationalists including Likud "rebels".
On Nov 21, 2005 - Sharon quits Likud to form a new centrist party ahead of early elections (1).
Accomplishing Netanyahu’s wish
"If Amir Peretz’s victory over Israel’s elder statesman, Shimon Peres, for the leadership of the Labour Party (…) was an “earthquake”, as some described it, then how to describe the even bigger upheaval caused by Ariel Sharon, the Prime Minister?" wondered the Economist (2); and the British magazine was not alone to speculate over such an amazing issue. Far from it, even Israelis observers seemed to be caught by surprise and some of them did not hide concern.
On Sunday November 20th Sharon decided to quit Likud, the party he helped found 30 years ago. Then after requesting the dissolution of the Knesset, - an order to call the elections for 28 march was issued by the president Katsav - it was announced that Sharon will be running for Prime Minister at the head of his newly created kadima" - Forward- party.
Why that name? It has been noticed that the new party - depicted as centrist- adopted the same name as the Avanti faction of World War II Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. Kadima in Hebrew and Avanti in Italian, the name given to Mussolini’s political party, both mean Forward.
Nonetheless, The surprise was big, because even at the top of the internal controversy over the Gaza withdrawal’s issue, when Sharon's authority in the Likud sounded threatened by Netaniyahu’s leadership challenge, polls showed that Sharon was prevailing. Curiously enough, when Newsweek’s Lally Weymouth asked him, in an interview published last September, about Netanyahu’s challenge and whether he intended to stay in the party or to quit and create another, he never answered the question. Instead of that, he said “I think the former Minister of Finance wants very much to be Prime Minister, so he decided to make every effort to have early elections and early primaries. I don't think that's the right way. Netanyahu became the leader of the most extreme-right group here, and that of course will affect the possibility to continue negotiations”(3).
Now, on the one hand, if we compare what Sharon was then saying with what he actually did, it is clear that while quitting and asking for the dissolution of the Knesset, he was also carrying out what his rival wished.
But on the other hand, the row over Gaza showed that the party was deeply divided "between pragmatists like Mr Sharon, for whom settlements are chiefly a means to security (and so can be sacrificed to the same end) and Greater-Israel ideologues, for whom they had become central to the idea of the Jewish state" (4). We would better understand the very nature of the dispute if we start by answering the question: in what consists the likud party?
What’s the Likud?
- The simplest answer is: an Israeli party formed in 1973, representing conservative powers in Israeli politics. Likud is the Hebrew name for "unity".
Likud has over decades been either the ruling party of Israel, or the leading opposition party. The uniting factor for Likud was the idea that the territories occupied by Israel in the Six-Day War of 1967; Sinai, Gaza Strip, West Bank, and Golan Heights should be included into the state of Israel. Let us recall here some key-events for the Likud:
- 1973, October: Four conservative parties, Gahal, Free Centre, State Party, and the Eretz Yisrael movement form Likud. Menachim Begin becomes its first leader.
- December: Likud gets 30, 2 % of the votes for Knesset, securing 39 seats.
- 1977, May: Likud gets 33, 4 % of the votes in the election for Knesset, and 43 seats, whereafter it forms a government together with religious parties. Menachim Begin becomes prime minister.
- 1981, July: Likud gets 41 seats in the Knesset.
- 1983, August: Begin resigns as leader of Likud and prime minister. Yitzhak Shamir takes his place.
- 1984: Likud gets 41 seats in Knesset in new elections. Together with the Labour Party, Likud forms a coalition government.
- 1988: Likud gets 39 seats in new election, and continues the coalition government with Labour.
- 1990, March: The arrangement with Labour brakes down, and Likud forms a new government with the help of religious parties.
- 1992, June: Worst result for Likud ever; the party presence is reduced to 32 seats in the Knesset. Benjamin Netanyahu becomes the new leader of the party.
- 1996, May 29: Benjamin Netanyahu wins the first direct Prime Minister elections of Israel, with 50,4% against Shimon Peres' 49,5%.
- 1999, May 17: Likud loses the Prime Minister elections, where Labour candidate Ehud Barak wins 56% of the votes against Netanyahu's 44%. But even more dramatic was the Knesset elections, where Likud was left with only 19 seats (down from 32).
- May 27: Netanyahu resigns as leader of the Likud party, and Sharon becomes its new leader.
- 2002 May 12: The Likud party votes against the acceptance of a Palestinian state no matter what conditions. This came from a proposition of Netanyahu, and against the clear advice of Sharon (5).
Fragmentation and new alliances
The question that has aroused out of Sharon’s decision to break up with the Likud was: Is it the "desintegration" of the Israeli old parties’ system? The new move operated by Sharon has had such an impact on Israel's political system that even Israeli commentators have talked about the loss of signification as to the "right " and "left « epithets (6). Ariel Sharon’s breakaway from Likud is thus viewed as "the latest symptom of the disintegration", which means that it was already underway. It started when was announced his break-up with the nationalist, pro-settlement platform he adopted for his elections in 2001 and 2003. He progressively bucked his hawkish party twice – first to advocate a Palestinian state, second to execute Israel’s pullout from the Gaza Strip.
However, Israeli politics have always been characterised by fragmentation, which reflects the many different currents of Zionism (to which all parties apart from the Communist Party and the Arab parties claim allegiance) and is compounded by the proportional voting system. Since 1996 Israeli voters have been able to choose sides by voting separately for the Prime Minister of their choice while remaining within their own political blocs when electing members of the Knesset. So while Ehud Barak was elected Prime Minister with 55.7% of the poll, his “One Israel” coalition won only 20% (7).
If the future of the Likud seems now the object of varied speculations, the new centrist party has already attracted people. Since the first days, we can observe that thirteen Likud ministers and MKs have joined Sharon's walkout, and "they are certain to try to bring Likud mayors and heads of local Likud chapters along with them" (8). Apparently, some of the people Kadima has attracted could hardly be seen joining the Likud. For example, former Labor MK Haim Ramon abandoned his party to join Sharon. There was also a rumour about tractations with Shimon Peres to convince him of joining Sharon (9); and on November 30, what was a rumour became an event, as Peres announced that he was quitting the Labour and joining Kadima.
Without trying to anticipate on the future of such a political movement, we may wonder about the plausibility of the hypothesis that Sharon who started as a tough hardliner has finally decided to crown his career as a "centrist"...or a moderate? Curiously enough, what may be seen as a critical feature jeopardising the Israeli political system, may also be seen as a positive move. For some commentators, Sharon is one of those leaders who gain more power on the back of their party and their electorate basis. Sharon has been accused of abandoning “the policies of his own rightist Likud political base in favor of those of the radical Left” (10). However, for those who criticize his move, “ the direct and perverse result of Sharon's egocentric maneuverings is that while his position and popularity - internationally and in Israel - has never been stronger, the State of Israel has never been weaker or more derided in the international community and in the Middle East” (11). Thus, “ he has entrenched his own power by lulling Israelis into a sense of powerlessness and indifference”. This, he did, by practising “egomania” and demonizing his own party.
Anyway, these are black days for the likud party, which might end up sinking deeply in the ocean of the next elections ; and there are reasons for Likud members to worry about:
The polls, commissioned by the Yedioth Ahronoth and Maariv dailies, gave Sharon's Kadima party 33-34 seats in the March 28 election. The polls predicted that Labor would win 26-28 seats and the Likud would win only 13, compared to the 40 seats it currently has. The Maariv poll, conducted by Teleseker, indicates that Kadima and Labor alone could form a coalition of 62 MKs.
But the reaction of some faithful likud members emphasizes that this party " never was and never will be a one-man party". Until a new leader is elected, the Likud is being run de facto by a troika comprised of Netanyahu, Mofaz and Shalom (12). Yet, all of them are rivals and busy preparing their own plans for the next elections.
An international agreement background
As we come to treating the second question, we need to recall some facts related to the international conjuncture, since the peace process was initially understood as "an international agreement" or at least as such it appeared to the Palestinians.
At the end of the Camp David summit meeting between US President Bill Clinton, Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Barak, and the President of the Palestinian Authority, Yasser Arafat, held from 11 to 24 July 2000, the two sides agreed to try to reach an agreement on all final status issues as soon as possible. The outstanding issues (borders, Jerusalem and the status of the holy places, settlements, the right of return of 3.6 million Palestinian refugees, and water rights) are the most difficult, and the two sides are far apart on most of them. It is almost inevitable to add that we will find the future of the Palestinians as the crux of all the conflicts in the region.
Seven years of autonomy had brought the Palestinians very little. Contrary to Israel’s undertakings, the Palestinian Authority had achieved sovereignty over less than 20% of the territories occupied in 1967 - and partial sovereignty over 42%. In addition, the autonomous areas were separated from each other by roads reserved for access to Jewish settlements ; and settlements in the West Bank had almost doubled since 1993. Further, the Palestinian economy was unable to ensure a reasonable standard of living for its 3m people.
This was the background to the explosion provoked by Sharon’s visit to the Aqsa compound on 28 September 2000. The demonstrations that erupted were met by Israeli violence (on the following day seven demonstrators were killed by live bullets). The people of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem had reached the limits of their endurance. They needed a firm settlement to emerge from the peace negotiations, creating the conditions for a viable independent Palestinian state.
The government that took over on 7 March 2001 was the largest in Israel’s history, with 26 ministers and 12 vice ministers. This was the price the new Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, had to pay to get the bulk of the political parties to join him: only the Arab parties, the leftwing Zionist Meretz party, the National Religious party and the Sephardic Gesher did not join. There was another first: the Labour party had never before agreed to share power with the extreme right.
The coalition’s programme was even more worrying than its structure. Likud and Labour together cancelled agreements reached in prior negotiations with the Palestinians and dismissed the idea of a definitive settlement. They rejected any concessions on redeployment, Jerusalem and refugees, heeding only the call for security that had brought Sharon to power. That meant “restoring order” to the territories, whatever the cost.
Thus, on the one hand, Ariel Sharon’s national unity government, plus the use of tanks and helicopters against towns in the West Bank and Gaza and the blockade (and intermittent reoccupation) of the Palestinian autonomous territories, spelled the end of the peace process that began with the Oslo declaration of 13 September 1993. On the other hand, the new intifada signified the Palestinians’ resolution to win acceptance of their right to self-determination and establish an independent state in the pre-1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital. It also signified their rejection of interim arrangements that keep them in a situation of dependence.
A chapter in Middle East history closed: that of the peace process started with the Madrid conference in 1991 and the Israeli-Palestinian Declaration of Principles of 13 September 1993.
The international war against terrorism after September 11, 2001, prompted renewed
U.S. focus on a peace process. On June 24, 2002, President Bush declared, “peace requires
new and different Palestinian leadership so that a Palestinian state can be born.”
On April 30, 2003, the United States, the U.N., European Union, and Russia (the Quartet)
presented a “Roadmap” to Palestinian statehood within three years. It has not been implemented.
In December 2003, Sharon proposed to unilaterally disengage from the Palestinian territories in Gaza and four small settlements in the West Bank. Implementation was scheduled to begin in August 2005. Palestinian Authority (PA) Chairman/President Yasir Arafat died on November 11, 2004, and, on January 9, 2005, Mahmud Abbas was elected to succeed him.
On February 8, Abbas and Sharon declared an end to violence. On August 23, Israel completed its disengagement from the Gaza Strip and four small West Bank settlements (13).
Gaza and the aftermath
Sharon’s initiative about Gaza emerged out of a blurred situation inside Israel and a jammed political process with the Palestinians, thus causing a deep malaise in the Likud party, and some hope in the Palestinian side. As we saw, although the Israeli cabinet voted the proposition of withdrawal in February 2005, it was underway since two years. The delay was in itself an indicator of the difficulties Sharon had to go through in order to make it possible.
"In early December 2003, Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced that Israel
would give up its Gaza settlements. On December 18, 2003, Sharon stated if the Palestinians were not meeting their commitments as outlined in the “Road Map” peace proposal, Israel would disengage unilaterally “within a few months.” Sharon said Israel would reduce the number of settlements in predominantly Palestinian areas and would relax some of the restrictions on Palestinian movement in the occupied territories. In mid-January 2004, Sharon said he would present his disengagement plan to the Israeli parliament (Knesset) for a vote, and in early February he said the plan would call for withdrawing from 17 of the 21 settlements in Gaza and from four small settlements in the northern West Bank" (14). The proposal has not remained static. Sharon apparently decided against retaining the three or four northern Gaza settlements, and added them to the 17 settlements to be abandoned.
On 20 February 2005, the Israeli cabinet voted overwhelmingly to approve the unilateral evacuation of settlements in Gaza and parts of the northern West Bank. Yet, that was quite a risky vote for Sharon’s political future inside the Likud. Why? Because some days after his April 14 meeting with President Bush, who endorsed the withdrawal plan, "the Likud Party decided, over Sharon’s objections, to hold a vote of its 193,000 members. On May 2, 2004, about one half of the members voted, rejecting the proposal by a margin of 60% to 40 %” (15).
Commentators said then that the government might not survive the budget vote; that violence in the occupied territories may scuttle the disengagement plan; that Likud rebels may engineer delaying tactics and impose a referendum; that Prime Minister Sharon could be the victim of an assassination attempt.
All of this did not happen according to these precise expectations; yet it happened somehow with less dramatic consequences as the situation was not so far from this picture.
Prior to the cabinet vote, Sharon fired two ministers who were going to vote against him and replaced them with two ministers who favored the plan. Two more ministers quitted after the vote, and two political parties, representing 13 seats in the Likud-led coalition, pulled out, leaving Sharon with 55 seats in the 120 seat Knesset.
On August 18, the Likud Party convention voted to support the withdrawal from Gaza.
On October 25, the Knesset voted 67 in favor, 45 opposed, with seven abstentions and one absent, to authorize the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. Shortly after the vote, Finance Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and three other Ministers said they would resign from the Government unless there were a national referendum on the question of withdrawing fromGaza. Sharon refused to hold a national referendum. On November 3, the Knesset voted 64 to 44, with nine abstentions in favor of a first reading of a bill to finance the Gaza withdrawal (16).
Paradoxes, ambiguities and inconsistencies
Sharon's own ambiguity concerning his future plans, increased skepticism about his intentions.
As a report of Crisis Group put it, "Speculation as to Sharon's intentions" was rampant. Some saw "a shrewd and so far successful attempt to unburden Israel of the Gaza Strip in order to consolidate its hold over East Jerusalem and much of the West Bank with Washington's blessing". Others perceived "a fundamental strategic transformation on the Prime Minister's part that ultimately may lead to a viable two-state solution". Most interpretations fell somewhere in between, and "a not insignificant number are convinced that Sharon has launched a process whose endpoint even he does not know and, no less importantly, may not be able to control. In the words of an Israeli observer, "Those who know Sharon too well are guilty today of not knowing him at all. This is a case in which familiarity breeds ignorance" (17).
Such an ambiguity is more striking when we compare Sharon’s positions and behaviour with their consequences on the Palestinian side. Some observers emphasize that Sharon took a courageous initiative when he decided to withdraw from Gaza even against his party's will; they omit however that he was also the man who raised the fence and that he would not abandon it even with the Hague resolution outlawing the wall. So, when Sharon declared that "to ensure a Jewish and democratic Israel", he would unilaterally disengage from Gaza strip, he intensified in the same time the construction of the security fence in the West Bank; and that was not understood by the Palestinians as a step toward apeasement. Worst, as a Newsweek story recently put it: “"They believe he wants to turn the barrier Israel is now building in the West Bank into the country's long-term border—without reaching a deal with the Palestinians" (18).
The way in which the events connected to each other seems to be an amazing accumulation of paradoxes:
- On June 6, Israel’s cabinet approved a compromise disengagement plan whereby Israel
would evacuate all 21 settlements in the Gaza Strip and 4 settlements in the northern West Bank. On June 30, the Israeli High Court of Justice upheld the government’s right to build the security fence, but struck down some land confiscation orders for violating Palestinian rights and ordered the route to be changed. The Israeli government said that it would abide by the ruling. On July 9, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) issued a non-binding advisory opinion that the wall violates international law and “cannot be justified by the requirements of national security.”
- There is even more inconsistent behaviour for whoever tries to follow these facts: Was it not Sharon’s aide Weisglass who claimed, on Octobber 6, that disengagement was aimed at
freezing negotiations in order to “prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state and a debate regarding refugees, borders, and Jerusalem”? (19).Thereupon, Washington reacted. The U.S. Embassy complained that this view did not coincide with Washington’s, prompting Sharon’s office to restate his commitment to the Roadmap. Yet, on October 26, Sharon declared that “disengagement will strengthen Israel’s hold over territory which is essential to our existence.”(20).
Now, when we look closely at these declarations, there is only one rational explanation for the imbroglio they created: it is that Sharon, while encountering more and more opposition in the Likud bloc, was trying to send out a last message, which sounded much like a "message in the bottle". Today, with hindsight, we may see that it dit not work. Not that the Likudists did not get the message; some of them actually did, but they were not the majority.That is why, disappointed and bittered by accusations of treason, Sharon walked away closing the door behind him.
On the Palestinian side, the deal (the unilateral withdrawal) was accepted, no matter the message Sharon was sending with it. How could the Palestinians reject the proposition, which has become a fact? However, they integrated it into their national liberation doctrine as a victorious step over the Israelis . The same event , seen from this side or that was quite different and carried an antithetical signification. It is noticeable also that Sharon's political steps towards the withdrawal presented as a concession to the peace process and a promise of the reopening of negotiations over the road plan, were accompanied by important military and security measures that caused a new upsurge of violence.
Ambiguities and inconsistent behaviour went on along with "appeasing" declarations. On February 13, 2004, the White House said that an Israeli pullback “could reduce friction,”but that a final settlement “must be achieved through negotiations.” U.S. officials wanted disengagement to be consistent with the Roadmap. After an upsurge in violence, on March 22, Israeli missiles killed Hamas old leader Shaykh Ahmed Yassin and others.
And the ambiguities went on, facilitated by Washington's complaisance.
- On April 14, President Bush and Sharon met. The US President welcomed the disengagement plan and restated the U.S. commitment to the Roadmap. He noted the need to take into account changed “realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli population centers,” (i.e., settlements), asserting “it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949.”(21) He said that a solution to the refugee issue will be found by settling Palestinian refugees in a Palestinian state, “rather than in Israel,” thereby rejecting a “right of return.” He called for a Palestinian state that is “viable, contiguous, sovereign, and independent.”(22).
Sharon presented principles of his disengagement plan as independent of but “not inconsistent with the Roadmap.” He said that the “temporary” security fence would not prejudice final status issues including borders. A day before, he had identified five large West Bank settlements and an area in Hebron that Israel will retain and strengthen.
The Palestinians denounced the U.S. President’s “legitimization” of settlements and prejudgement of final status. On April 19, Sharon’s chief of staff Dov Weisglass gave then National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice a written commitment to dismantle illegal outposts. On April 17, Israeli missiles killed Hamas leader Abdel Aziz Rantisi and two others. On May 6, President Bush stated, “all final status issues must still emerge from negotiations....”
Thus, between big and bright declarations of intentions meant to cause an opening in the psychological wall that aroused from the stalemate, and the ongoing construction of another wall on the ground, violence expressed itself as usual, in "targeted killings" and suicide operations.
If we put Sharon's move toward creating a new centrist party into this framework, it would have a different signification than if we consider it under the light of internal struggle with hardliners. It sounds hardly thinkable that a man who worked all his life for a hardline securitary conception of the Israeli state would suddenly relinquish his grip on this policy, and forget what he has struggled for. This has been confirmed recently by one of Sharon’s political advisers, Kalman Gayer, who declared to Newsweek “in theory Sharon would accept a Palestinian state in Gaza and 90 percent of the West Bank, and a compromise on Jerusalem, in exchange for peace. But the Israeli leader does not believe Palestinians will be able to deliver peace or make other compromises—like forgoing the right of refugees to return to their old homes in Israel—in his lifetime (Sharon is 78)”(23). In the meantime, Sharon wants to “lay the contours of an agreement with the Palestinians”, says Gayer according to the American weekly , “by creating a Palestinian state in half the West Bank and implementing confidence-building measures. (Palestinians point out that this is a variation on policies that failed throughout the 1990s)”(24).
Sharon is not a dove and he is perhaps not a politically blind either. He can see that clinging to the old crumbling ultra-rightist coalition makes no sense today ; and if he wishes to appear holding new credible political values, he would not behave otherwise. Since it is clear that the old Mammuts of the Likud bloc cannot get along with a New US Policy based on flexibility and compromise, for all that concerns the Middle East problem, they are not needed anymore. Thereupon, a shift of alliances is necessary. That is exactly what Sharon is trying to do.
With a new centrist party, he hopes not only to givehimself another chance of winning the popular trust in Israel, but also to be helpful to the Bush administration, at least with some kind of an agreement on a new negotiation deal with the Palestinians.
* The Arabic version of this article was published by al Arab Weekly. London.
Notes and references
1 Jewish Virtual Library. Entries: Sharon, Likud party. See also: Ariel Sharon’s official biography from the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs with annotations from Electronic Intifada: http://electronicintifada.net/forreference/keyfigures/sharon.html
2 The « bulldozer » sends tremors through Israeli politics. The Economist, November 23, 2005.
3 A Very Fateful Step, Lally Weymouth, Newsweek, September 19, 2005.
4 The Economist ; op.Cit.
5 Encyclopedia of the Orient : http://i-cias.com/e.o/likud.htm
6 Sharon’s Resignation from Likud Signals Breakup of Israel’s Traditional Parties, Debka File, November 21, 2005.
7 Fragmentation of Political Allegiance, Le Monde Diplomatique : http://mondediplo.com/focus/mideast/israel-5-1-2-en
8 Haaretz, Friday, November 25, 2005.
9 Haaretz ; op.Cit.
10 Column One : The Post-Sharon Likud, Caroline Glick, Jerusalem Post, November 24, 2005.
11 Column One , op.Cit.
12 Haaretz. Op.Cit.
13 The Middle East Peace Talks, Carol Migdalovitz, CRS Issue Brief for Congress, October 26, 2005.
14 Israel’s Proposal to Withdraw from Gaza, Clyde R. Mark; CRS Report for Congress, February 2, 2005.
17 Disengagement and After : Where Next for Sharon and the Likud ? Middle East Report N°36, March 1, 2005.ICG.
18 Rebel With A Cause, Dan Ephron, Newsweek ; December 5, 2005 issue.
19 Carol Migdalovitz ; op. Cit.
23 Newsweek ; op.Cit.