MideastWeb Middle East Web Log
From the interview with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon recently published in Ha'aretz:
Ariel Sharon: "If we reach a situation of true peace, real peace, peace for generations, we will have to make painful concessions. Not in exchange for promises, but rather in exchange for peace."Let's ponder this for a moment.
Ariel Sharon, the self-described warrior, is not by native temperament a statesman, and has often been accused of using the impressive-sounding but vague words "painful concessions" to project reasonableness without conceding a thing. In Camp David's bloody wake, he has confined himself to discussion of temporary measures. But now, exactly when the rise of Mahmoud Abbas gives some hope that the greatest of all the obstacles to peace - one Yasir Arafat - might be pushed aside, Sharon is extending himself further. When he uses "painful concessions" directly in reply to a question about the settlements, his meaning is difficult to mistake.
Indeed, Sharon's discussions of territorial compromise do not sound remarkably different in tone from those of Ehud Barak.
Shavit: Isn't that phrase "painful concessions" a hollow expression?Sharon also views Abbas (aka Abu Mazin) as a fellow rational actor: "Abu Mazen understands that it is impossible to vanquish Israel by means of terrorism."
That Sharon does not spell out what, exactly, he is willing to concede is a signal that, at a bare minimum, he will be an exceedingly tough negotiatior. He knows that once a negotiator reveals his fallback position, he has effectively fallen back to it.
Sharon: "I don't want to get into a discussion of any specific place now. This is a delicate subject and there is no need to talk a lot about it. But if it turns out that we have someone to talk to, that they understand that peace is neither terrorism nor subversion against Israel, then I would definitely say that we will have to take steps that are painful for every Jew and painful for me personally."When Sharon was first called upon to offer a vision for a permanent peace settlement, as Foreign Minister in 1998 around the time of the Wye Plantation talks, he sketched out a compromise in which the Palestinians would receive "quality" - a contiguous territory in the West Bank - in lieu of any great "quantity." Camp David appears to have left such formulas behind, but Sharon's unwillingness to give anything away for free speaks for itself.
While I've been among Sharon's critics - and remain among them - reasonable people cannot deny that he has, on balance, acted with impressive restraint during his time as Prime Minister. To recognize this, one need only consider the positions of Bibi Netanyahu. Or consider the wrath of the Right against Sharon, first for staying his hand against Arafat in Ramallah and Hamas in Gaza, and now for talking about "painful concessions" in the context of the settlements. We should also recognize that Labor has yet to put forward an acceptable alternative.
Therefore, if Mahmoud Abbas succeeds in ousting Arafat for all intents and purposes - a big if! - the role of statesman will fall to him and to Ariel Sharon. Like Sharon, Abbas has been vilified, mainly for his flirtations with Holocaust denial back in the bad old days - something that Abbas, not quite satisfactorily, dismisses as something he would never consider now that peace is within reach. But when we consider the checkered histories of two previous leaders, Anwar Sadat of Egypt and Israel's Menachem Begin, Sharon and Abbas don't look half bad. In the 1930s, Sadat was a disciple of Hitler. Forty years later, he broke with the Arabs and went to Jerusalem to address the Knesset in the name of peace. In the 1940s, Begin led a militia that doubled as a terrorist gang (and whose role in the Deir Yassin massacre is all too well attested). Thirty years later, he established the legitimacy of land-for-peace for future generations of Israeli leaders. Today, the chief shortcoming of the peace they made together is that it is insufficiently warm.
What's done at the end cannot erase what came before, but it can revise its significance for the better. Even Yitzhak Rabin, whom all lovers of peace remember with such warmth, had his brutal moments, from the expulsions from Ramleh and Lydda in 1948 to the breaking of bones in the intifada of the late 1980s and early 1990s. To the baying dogs of the Right, Rabin and Peres were "traitors," and now Sharon is a "traitor," too. Sharon, who shambles about like a comic-book villain, can never grow as "cuddly" as Rabin became after delivering his poignant "enough of blood and tears" speech on the White House lawn on September 17, 1993. But Rabin is not available. Begin wasn't cuddly, either, but he was willing in the end.
It should be acknowledged how poor the chances for peace remain in the near term. Abbas' task will be nothing less than finessing the Right of Return, an issue that Arafat built up rather than playing down as the decisive moment drew near, consigning the Oslo process to failure and himself to contempt and isolation. All we can ask for or hope for now is for another Begin and, most crucially, another Sadat.
More from the interview:
Shavit: Do you want to be remembered as the one who spearheaded such a dramatic change?
Original text copyright by the author and MidEastWeb for Coexistence, RA. Posted at MidEastWeb Middle East Web Log at http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000055.htm where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Distributed by MEW Newslist. Subscribe by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please forward by email with this notice and link to and cite this article. Other uses by permission.
by Analyst @ 07:57 AM CST [Link]
Replies: 4 comments
Maybe Sharon will be like Nixon, as in Nixon goes to China. Nixon was the only one who could go without being seen as a 'commie' because he was known as an anti-Communist.
Posted by Chaya @ 04/16/2003 01:43 AM CST
The biggest issue here is how much Sharon is actually ready to give in regards to settlements (i.e., a legitimate agreeement would, in my opinion, take away all but 'necessary' military installations), and how able the Palestinian leadership will be to persuade their people against such things as the right of return and even the aquisition of all of the West Bank, two things Israel will definately not allow.
Posted by Kyle Menken @ 05/06/2003 06:40 PM CST
yes we can be 'realistic' as you are suggesting and this would play nicely into the hands of the Israeli government. However, why is it acceptable that Israel makes high demands and not the Palestinians? In this context we must address two issues. 1) Given that both parties are not open to large concessions we must resort to arbitration, perhaps the roadmap for peace, with inputs from the mostly pro-Israeli US government, the mostly balanced EU, the holder of the international moral high ground UN and Russia (don't know where they stand) should be used to establish, with external pressure and assistance, peace. 2) If we are to be realistic, then we must build a realistic peace, one that will last. Surely this is in Israel's interests as much as the Palestinians? Therefore a few difficult moments of soul searching is in order to ask what is required to create a viable and lasting Palestinian state. Trust me, the very least is a return to the Palestinians of all the illegally occupied terretories. If the Palestinians feel they have been wronged it is because they have, by Israeli aggression and expansion, by their own leadership's incompetencies, and by worldwide indifference. We can put this right, now, but only if we support every effort that is put on the table as a possible way forward out of this lethal quagmire.
Posted by Floris Vermeulen @ 05/20/2003 03:51 PM CST
For more than 50 years now, the Middle East Conflict has divided the world into adversarial groups, giving rise to hatred and extremism, leading to diminishing hope for world peace. The previous two to three generations of Israelis and Palestinians have been born into an environment where conflict is becoming a normal way of life and for some the only way of life with no hope for a better alternative or incentive in sight.
Posted by Faruk Zia @ 05/27/2003 01:05 AM CST
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