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Land for Peace


From the interview with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon recently published in Ha'aretz:

Interviewer (Ari Shavit): You established the settlements and you believed in the settlements and nurtured them. Are you now prepared to consider the evacuation of isolated settlements?

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: "Definitely not. It comes from the depth of my soul. Look, we are talking about the cradle of the Jewish people. Our whole history is bound up with these places. Bethlehem, Shiloh, Beit El. And I know that we will have to part with some of these places. There will be a parting from places that are connected to the whole course of our history. As a Jew, this agonizes me. But I have decided to make every effort to reach a settlement. I feel that the rational necessity to reach a settlement is overcoming my feelings."

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?

Sharon: "Let me tell you something. I am determined to make a real effort to reach a real agreement. I think that anyone who saw the tremendous thing called the State of Israel in the making possibly understands things better and knows better how to reach a solution. That is why I think that this task rests with my generation, which was privileged to live through one of the most dramatic periods in the history of the Jewish people.

"I am 75 years old. I have no political ambitions beyond the position I now hold. I feel that my goal and my purpose is to bring this nation to peace and security. That is why I am making tremendous efforts. I think that this is something that I have to leave behind me - to try to reach an agreement."

Shavit: Have you really accepted the idea of to states for two peoples? Do you really plan to divide western [Eretz] Israel [i.e., the land between the River Jordan and the Sea]?

Sharon: "I believe that this is what will happen. One has to view things realistically. Eventually there will be a Palestinian state. I view things first and foremost from our perspective. I do not think that we have to rule over another people and run their lives. I do not think that we have the strength for that. It is a very heavy burden on the public and it raises ethical problems and heavy economic problems."


Shavit: In the past you talked about a long-term interim agreement. Did you not believe in a permanent solution and an end to the conflict?

Sharon: "I think opportunities have currently been created that did not exist before. The Arab world in general and the Palestinians in particular have been shaken. There is therefore a chance to reach an agreement faster than people think."

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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 mew-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by email with this notice and link to and cite this article. Other uses by permission.

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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.
So, Mr. Sharon...

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.
Hopefully, to be blunt, the Palestinian Leadership will be able to accept a compromise (a word which, again from my readings, does not exist in Arabic) - unlike in the summer of 2000, when they rejected Barak's proposal (it seems so good now!) - but it is hard to see how this could happen with Arafat in power (i.e., in this case, retaining his position as 'cheif negotiator', as he seems to want to do, from my readings), a man who is not apt to realistic and concrete political discussion and agreement. I have never heard Arafat talking about the future geographical form of the Palestinian state - only about things like the right of return, accepting nothing less than all of the West Bank and all of Jerusalemm, and how 'a Palestinian Flag will fly over Jerusalem one day'. These are obviously demands Israel will not accept. As much as people might say that these conditions are right and the Palestinians deserve these things, etc., such a strong position will never result in peace. So what do the Palestinians really want: peace or the hope of unattainable ideals?

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.
The gravity of the situation and accelerating implications in the form of terrorism throughout the world make it imperative upon conscious citizens of the world to no longer sit back and think it’s a regional conflict or one that doesn’t affect the world. Failures of past solutions lead to newer “think outside of the box” thinking until a global solution can be found for all races, religions and nations involved in the conflict. In order to find a plausible and widely acceptable solution to some of the complicated and competing interest problem, this missive attempts to offer a perspective for consideration as perhaps a partial and alternative solution for the people directly affected and those indirectly yet emotionally related citizens of the world with respective religious affinity to the same area:
1. Muslims, Jews and Christians, have an undeniable historical religious claim over Jerusalem. Total population of the followers of those three religions constitutes approximated 50% of the global population. Hence the assumption that one group will yield to the demand or possession of the other without any struggle would be very naive. Particularly in the Israeli Palestinian conflict Jerusalem is one of the more complex issues, which extends beyond the citizens of the two groups and has interest of many citizens of other nations, who are predominantly members of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic religions. Therefore sacrosanct areas of Jerusalem and sufficient contiguous lands extending partially into the historical lands known as Samaria and Judea ought to be declared an international territory under the jurisdiction of the United Nations accessible to visit by all qualified citizens of the member Nations, without control of any one religious group.
2. The UN, W.H.O., and International Court of Justice as well as other similar sovereign international bodies’ home offices ought to be shifted to Jerusalem permanently. In establishing international territory of Jerusalem architects may take some lessons from the examples set by Vatican City or Washington DC to design the new international territory. The UNO should be responsible for the economic, financial, security and other relevant affairs of the international territory of Jerusalem.
3. A UN committee composed of a triumvirate of renowned religiously sensitive and qualified administrators and governors of all the three above mentioned religions could be appointed by a committee of the United Nations to manage and administer the international territory of Jerusalem.
4. Distinct and obtrusive boarders between Israel, Jerusalem and Palestine ought to be constructed to control unauthorized boarder access and safety of the citizens of the respective territories from rogue or military intrusions.
5. Possible land exchange between Palestinians and Israelis to redraw new boundaries to create two separate Palestinian states for the Muslim and Christian Palestinians, allowing each Nation the benefit of independent land, air and sea access without dependency on the other sovereign Nation. (For example one state may be in Gaza and another in the Northern Israel bordering Lebanon Syria and the Mediterranean Sea, in exchange for some lands surrounding Jerusalem in Samaria and Judea) granting equal rights to the law abiding citizens of the state practicing other faiths but choosing to remain in those lands, including those citizens living in Israel.

6. Allow return of refugees to their homelands in the newly formed Palestine

Posted by Faruk Zia @ 05/27/2003 01:05 AM CST

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