JERUSALEM — Buoyed by American support for his plan to evacuate Israeli settlements from the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank, Prime Minister Sharon reportedly is considering a second unilateral “disengagement” meant to determine Israel’s permanent borders.
Though Sharon denies such a plan, and President Bush continues to insist on a negotiated Israeli-Palestinian agreement based on the so-called road map to Middle East peace, the Israeli political establishment is in an uproar over the idea.
The furor erupted last week, when senior political correspondent Shimon Shiffer wrote in Yediot Aharonot that Sharon’s close circle was considering such a move if Abbas proves unable or unwilling to carry out his road-map commitments. Shiffer wrote that Sharon has little faith in Abbas’s ability to control terrorists and would move to preempt international pressure for an agreement by evacuating isolated West Bank settlements while annexing large settlement blocs. His goal would be to set Israel’s borders unilaterally.
A map published with Shiffer’s report in Yediot showed four main settlement blocs to be annexed, including the Ariel salient east of Tel Aviv, the Etzion bloc south of Jerusalem, the Ma’aleh Adumim corridor east of Jerusalem and the Modi’in bloc east of Ben-Gurion Airport. Also marked for annexation was a corridor along the Jordan River, north of Jericho.
At their mid-April summit in Crawford, Texas, Sharon and Bush agreed on the potentially historic importance of Sharon’s first disengagement, scheduled for this summer, and agreed that the next step should be Israeli-Palestinian peace talks based on the road map.
But Sharon fears the road map may prove unworkable. He publicly denies that he is now working on plans for a second disengagement. However, one of his closest aides, Dov Weisglass, acknowledged in a television interview that a second disengagement such as Shiffer described could be considered if the Palestinians are unable to deliver on their road map commitments — principally, dismantling terrorist groups and eradicating the terrorist infrastructure in Palestinian society.
Such a plan is likely to meet opposition from the international community, the Palestinians and Israeli politicians on both the left and right.
The international community, the Palestinians and the Israeli left almost certainly would prefer bilateral negotiations toward a final peace deal. On the right, settler leaders are already accusing Sharon of planning another step in “the sell-out of the Land of Israel.”
Leading members of Sharon’s own Likud Party, including Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom and Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, say they’re determined to block any attempt to push through a second disengagement plan.