Withdrawal From Peace

By Leonard Fein

Published October 15, 2004, issue of October 15, 2004.
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Think the contemplated Israeli withdrawal from Gaza is the first step in a revived peace process, a step that will be followed by Israel’s withdrawal from the bulk of the West Bank? Then read what Prime Minister Sharon himself has to say on the subject: “It is very possible that after the evacuation [disengagement], there will be a long period when nothing else happens.” And when he was asked about a proposal by the opposition Labor Party that evacuation of the Jewish settlements in Gaza should take place in tandem with a resuscitated commitment to the Road Map, Sharon said he viewed the Road Map as dead.

“This would have brought Israel to a most difficult situation. I didn’t agree to this,” he said. “Today, we are also not following the Road Map.” (Neither, and not at all incidentally, are the Palestinians.) Without a significant shift in the Palestinian leadership and policy, “Israel will continue its war on terrorism and will stay in the [West Bank] territories that will remain after the implementation of disengagement.”

Those who seek to make excuses for Sharon — some members of his party and his governing coalition in Israel and Who-Are-We-To-Second-Guess-Israel Jews in the United States — may search for the wiggle room in Sharon’s formulation.

Suppose, for example, a significant shift does come about in the Palestinian leadership and policy? Perhaps Sharon is merely laying down a marker intended to hasten internal Palestinians reforms, that once such reforms are accomplished he plans to become an enthusiast for peace.

No such luck. Now we have an authoritative interpretation of the earlier Sharon comments. It comes to us from Dov Weisglass, a senior advisor to Sharon and his principal go-between with the American government. In an interview for the October 8 weekend magazine of Israel’s Ha’aretz newspaper, Weisglass explains that “the significance [of the disengagement plan] is the freezing of the peace process. And when you freeze that process, you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state, and you prevent a discussion on the refugees, the borders and Jerusalem. Effectively, this whole package called the Palestinian state, with all that it entails, has been removed indefinitely from our agenda.

“And all this with authority and permission, all with a presidential blessing and the ratification of both houses of Congress.” And, lest there be any ambiguity, he adds that “the disengagement is actually formaldehyde. It supplies the amount of formaldehyde that is necessary so there will not be a political process with the Palestinians.”

So: The Road Map is dead. The peace process is dead. Until a new Israeli government does return to the idea of a two-state solution — if it is not too late by then — a two-state solution is dead. The unilateral disengagement from Gaza, as its critics have suggested all along, is not meant to enliven the process but to inter it. Formaldehyde.

The American administration raised its eyebrow when it read Weisglass’s epitaph for peace, and Sharon hastened to attach a flimsy fig leaf to pacify the Americans. Yes, there’s a freeze, but it’s the Palestinians that are to blame — implying that once the Palestinians get their act together, things will be unfrozen.

Cheers: The Road Map is alive, after all. It’s only frozen until Palestinian terrorism ends. Even Weisglass, unflustered by his boss’s evident disclaimer, offered that all he really meant was exactly what Sharon said: No negotiation, meaning no Road Map, until terrorism stops.

It is true that Weisglass had said pretty much the same thing in his October 8 interview in Ha’aretz. But he said some other things at the time, as well. He said that the future of the isolated settlements of the West Bank will not be determined “for many years,” and that as to the large settlement blocs, America has agreed that they will be part of Israel. “What I effectively agreed to with the Americans was that part of the settlements would not be dealt with at all, and the rest will not be dealt with until the Palestinians turn into Finns.” (By the far-off time the Palestinians turn into Finns, there surely will be very few Israelis disposed to turn into Swedes.)

This may be a reasonable position for Christian Evangelicals, who just the other day in Jerusalem cheered rapturously as Pat Robertson said that if America ever presses Israel to withdraw from the West Bank, he will form a third party.

But it is not a tenable position for people devoted to Israel as a Jewish state. For what it does, almost inevitably, is to replace the concept of a two-state solution, long regarded as an axiomatic building block of a lasting solution, with growing pressure for a one-state solution, a single state reaching from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River in which Palestinians would be the majority.

And political realities in America will continue to render it impossible for either Congress or the administration to prevent this calamity. Nor will America’s Jews, long fearful of expressing in public views that they increasingly acknowledge in private, intervene to change things. Eyes have we, and we see; ears have we, and we hear; mouths have we, and we are mute. That, as the devil laughs, is what being “pro-Israel” has come to mean.

Leonard Fein is the author of “Against the Dying of the Light: A Parent’s Story of Love, Loss, and Hope” (Jewish Lights).

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