MideastWeb Middle East Web Log
Ariel Sharon has the perfect peace plan. It can satisfy everyone. For the doves, it is painful concessions, for the hawks, it is a strategic withdrawal. It is the talk of the town, and everyone sees it a different way. It doesn't exist, but in the context of the virtual peace process, that is a minor defect. It has as much reality as anything else about the road map.
The Israeli-Palestinian non-peace process thrives and has reached new non-heights. Make no mistake: on the ground, in reality, nothing happens, nothing at all. No Israeli outposts or settlements or trailers are evacuated. No Palestinian fanatics put down their weapons and give up their suicide belts. Everything is just as it was two years ago. In many people's minds in fact, nothing at all has changed since 1948.
It is just as well perhaps, because real change would be risky for the leaderships of both sides. But the public wants "peace" without any change, and the foreigners - the USA and the EU and the UN - want a peace process. It is not nice to say you don't want peace, and you don't support the peace process. So there is a peace process, and a road map, and a UN resolution about the roadmap, and talk of Palestinian reform and of Israeli withdrawals. However, it is a virtual peace process, and the withdrawals of the Israelis and the concessions of the Palestinians are virtual withdrawals and concessions. For Americans watching the news it might be substantially the same as the real thing. However, back here in the good old Middle East we are in the same place - we can see through the Matrix illusion.
In the world of speechifying and media moments, we have a fine peace process. The Palestinians announce that they are about to end chaos and rein-in the terror groups. This announcement is made at irregular intervals by whoever is in charge at the moment. The Israelis announce that they are ready for far-reaching concessions. News articles describe dismantling of outposts and checkpoints, and meetings of Palestinians to make a truce. In fact, however, nothing at all happens.
Ariel Sharon has apparently mastered the virtual peace process. Over the weekend, following a report on Israel's channel 2, everyone was talking about Israeli PM Ariel Sharon's peace plan, weighing the wisdom of his unilateral steps and eplaining the advantages and disadvantages. Sharon, under pressure by the USA and coalition partners to produce some movement in the peace process, benefited from all the advantages of having advanced a bold peace plan. If he came under fire from the extreme right, it only improved his "centrist" image.
The plan was explained by different commentators as a supplementary set of concessions to the Palestinians, in parallel to the roadmap, or a consolidation of the Israeli position if the road map fails. It made Sharon both more moderate and more activist and pro-active at the same time. Because it had no content, it could be everything to every observer, like the Emperor's new clothes. Only a little child would notice that the Emperor had no peace plan.
Few noticed that Sharon had made no peace plan at all. He just engineered a deniable leak to Israeli TV Channel 2. By Monday, Sharon had declared that there were not going to be any concessions for a while and that his plan was not fully formed yet. So all the speculation and noise was about a non-plan!
If the plan ever materializes, whether it is a peace plan or a retrenchment plan or a consolidation plan, we can discuss its merits and drawbacks. Meanwhile, it seems absurd to discuss a plan of unknown content that doesn't even exist in the mind of its putative creator.
Isn't the emperor's vest a fine shade of purple?
Comment by Yossi Alpher
Sharon's "signals" have been delivered over recent days in the form of statements by a "senior source" in the prime minister's office, most made apparently directly or indirectly by Sharon, unattributed briefings to senior Israeli journalists at the PM's office, high level briefings to senior left wing politicians from the opposition, and briefings to American Jewish leaders. On one occasion Sharon himself hinted in a speech that he was considering "unilateral measures". According to some reports, removed settlements would be replaced by an IDF presence; the settlers would allegedly be resettled in the Negev.
This is a deliberate and calculated media blitz. Nowhere in this new campaign has Sharon himself been heard to state that he will remove a single settlement. But the purpose of the media hype and spin has been to create that expectation.
The projection of a new and moderate image for Sharon apparently reflects the prime minister's reaction to accumulating pressures. Repeated polls taken over recent months indicate that his approval ratings are dropping below 50 percent, from a high of over 70 percent a year ago. The Geneva accord and the Ayalon-Nusseibeh principles, direct criticism by IDF Chief of Staff Yaalon of the prime minister's performance vis-à-vis the short-lived Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) government, the highly critical joint interview given by four retired heads of the Shabak (Internal Security Service) last week, American pressures, including public calls by President Bush to freeze settlements and dismantle outposts and public praise offered by Paul Wolfowitz and Colin Powell for the recent informal peace initiatives, the large turnout for the mass rally held in Tel Aviv on the anniversary of the Rabin assassination—have all been understood by Sharon as warning signals regarding his personal standing and his policy toward the Palestinians.
There is even grumbling within Sharon's own party, the Likud, over losses in recent local elections and lack of direction and political initiative. Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert recently went on record favoring unilateral redeployment. And some of Sharon's right wing advisers now acknowledge that the demographic issue warrants considering withdrawal, unilateral or otherwise.
One of the murkier aspects of the new moderate line being leaked concerns the distinction between anticipated unilateral Israeli concessions on the one hand, and roadmap-based concessions being considered as part of a new Israeli-Palestinian political process to be discussed by Sharon and Abu Alaa, on the other. If Sharon is serious, does he plan to negotiate with the Palestinians the removal of settlements and outposts and the emergence of a small Palestinian state with temporary borders, in accordance with phase II of the roadmap? Or does he anticipate moving and removing settlements unilaterally and then declaring that such a state has emerged by default, whether the Palestinians acknowledge the idea or not?
Presumably the Israeli prime minister is aware that Palestinians are extremely suspicious of the phase II temporary state, viewing it as a ploy by Sharon to end the peace process and lock them into one or more "bantustans" surrounded on all sides by Israeli settlements. Indeed, Abu Alaa, who originated the concept of a temporary state in his negotiations with then Foreign Minister Shimon Peres in 2001-2, has indicated that he now rejects the idea. Instead, he wishes to hold new Palestinian elections, local as well as national, once a ceasefire is installed and Israel withdraws to its pre-September 28, 2000 positions. Summer 2004 elections would enable Abu Alaa to get through the anticipated political stalemate of the US election year having reinvigorated the Palestinian polity and reaffirmed Yasir Arafat's leadership at the polls—all in the hope that the next American administration will undertake to engage more energetically in a roadmap-based process.
In this regard, another intriguing aspect of the Sharon media blitz is the prime minister's determination, again leaked through a "senior source", that Abu Alaa is no mere echo of Arafat, that he is independent, his own man, etc. This, after Qurei in fact dropped all pretension of wresting security control from Arafat, and the latter emerged from the recent process of forming a new government once again completely in control. Thus Sharon appears to be seeking ways to justify making territorial and other concessions to Arafat (through the medium of Abu Alaa) that he refused to make to the far more independent-minded Abu Mazen. Alternatively, some speculate that one of the objectives of Sharon's new media spin is to intimidate Abu Alaa by threatening unilateral moves unless his positions meet Israeli expectations.
Yet another area of uncertainly regarding Sharon's new approach is his own and his advisers' real attitude toward the demographic threat. Publicly, Sharon cites mass aliyah as the solution, while further to the political right transfer (i.e., ethnic cleansing) is now regularly invoked. Those advisers who advocate unilateral withdrawal on a limited scale, including possible dismantling of a few settlements, then fencing in the entire Palestinian entity, delude themselves that this would actually constitute a "political solution", i.e., that the Palestinians and the rest of the world would acquiesce in a unilateral Israeli move to "create" a Palestinian "state" on some 50-60 percent of the West Bank, then proclaim that the Palestinian problem had been solved.
Nor is it clear to what extent Sharon feels it necessary to respond to American pressure regarding settlements. He reportedly met with the NSC's Elliot Abrams during last week's Rome visit—shortly before President Bush called in London once again for Israel to fulfill its roadmap obligations regarding settlements and outposts. Bush is considered not likely to seriously pressure Israel in an election year—but Sharon places great emphasis on maintaining a tranquil relationship with the administration.
Has Sharon turned over a new leaf? Is the architect of the Israeli settlement map in the West Bank and Gaza Strip now preparing the public for the beginning of a rollback of settlements? I doubt it. More likely he is cleverly shoring up his image in order to deflect domestic and external pressures in the short term, bearing in mind that he attaches great importance to broad public support, but still heads a remarkably stable government—one whose right wing he does not wish to alienate by actually removing settlements—and enjoys almost unprecedented American backing. Yes, he will dismantle roadblocks, pull back the IDF and remove a few outposts here and there in order to accommodate a genuine Palestinian ceasefire, if and when it emerges. But that's the best case scenario. He will not remove settlements; he will exploit every excuse, especially acts of terrorism, that the Palestinians provide in order to justify his refusal. And the terrorism will come, if only because Arafat remains in power and the Palestinian ceasefire will not be reciprocated with genuine Israeli political concessions as called for by the roadmap.
Alternatively, Sharon could conceivably "declare" a Palestinian state next summer, arguing that he is unilaterally moving into phase II of the roadmap. To this end there is speculation that he might relocate a settlement or two, but in general he would exploit the deployment of the settlements, coupled with the new fences he projects, to define the boundaries of that state. He would then, in effect, announce that he had unilaterally ended the conflict and saved Israel from the Palestinian demographic threat.
The only problem is that aside from a portion of the Israeli right, no one in Israel, Palestine or the rest of the world will agree with him.
Israel will consider relocating some settlements and laying down borders for
Arutz 7 - Nov 24, 2003
Ministers Eitam, Lieberman, Landau and others were reported to be fuming at the plan. After today's Cabinet meeting, however, their political ally Tourism Minister Benny Elon said, "I'm relatively calmer now, because all Sharon said was that there would be 'painful concessions' that he would 'bring before the government first.' But he never said what they were, and certainly did not mention names of towns, etc."
The idea of uprooting settlements is "clearly a red line for me," Elon said, "but if we ever actually reach that situation, I don't know if it will be me who will quit or whether the Prime Minister himself will have to be replaced."
Likud MKs Gilad Erdan and Yechiel Chazan are demanding that the Likud Knesset faction convene to debate Sharon's latest policy shift. "The Prime Minister's reported position represents yet another change in the Likud's position, and it must be debated by the party institutions," Erdan told faction whip MK Gideon Saar. The requested session will apparently be held on Tuesday.
MK Yuri Stern (Likud), speaking with Arutz-7's Emanuel Shilo this morning, said that he has great difficulty believing that Arik Sharon intends to uproot Jewish communities, "nor do I see that such an idea would have a majority either in the coalition or even in the Likud itself. It is totally unacceptable to us, and we object even to statements of this nature, which cause damage and are even treacherous to the residents of Yesha themselves. Such an action would be the beginning of the end of the Sharon government."
Yesha Council chief Bentzy Lieberman also commented: "It's true that these [rumors of Sharon's plans] are just reports by a certain television correspondent, but we must still take these developments seriously. I have no doubt that behind the 'industrial quiet' that we see, plans are quietly being made, and they are definitely liable to lead to the intention to uproot settlements."
"There is no question," Lieberman warned, "that if it turns out that Prime Minister Sharon is in fact planning to uproot recognized towns or communities in Judea, Samaria and Gaza, we will have to begin immediate action to replace the government. We must not be hesitant in this matter."
"Regarding the outposts," said Lieberman, "we continue to say that a manned outpost is a red line for us. If the government manages, Heaven forbid, to succeed in moving an outpost for a few hours or days, as they did in Yitzhar, we will rebuild it in an even stronger way, as we have shown."
"There are those who say," Shilo asked, "that the Yesha Council must come out with its own plan - one that might even include the cession of a small amount of communities in order to save the rest. What is your opinion?"
Lieberman responded, "Look, there's no need to panic; we have withstood many even more difficult situations and threats in the history of our renewed resettlement of Judea, Samaria and Gaza, and with G-d's help and with the help of His emissaries, we have attained the point at which we are now - tremendous construction going on, and there are hardly any places left for us to house the people who want to move in. I do accept the idea that the Yesha Council must make a plan - and within a few weeks we will - but in absolutely no way do I accept that we must give something up. We must continue to adhere strongly to the concept of greater Land of Israel, and continue to build - and not to blink in this matter. Any statement to the contrary will only lead to a strengthening of one of two bad options: a Palestinian state, or the Geneva agreement. We must continue to show our many supporters that there is a real! istic diplomatic option for us to continue living throughout Yesha, as well as for the Arabs who are here to continue living beside us - without, of course, forgetting the last three years of the Oslo War..."
Palestinian - Israeli Deal Possible Within 6 Weeks, Says PM Qurei
Ahead of an expected meeting between the two premiers, Palestinian prime minister Ahmed Qurei said a
"I am ready to talk with Sharon to conclude an agreement if it is possible," Qurei said Thursday in
"If we want to, we are ready. We can do it in a very short time. We can do it once and forever. I
The Palestinian premier has vowed to make a truce his priority and is seeking guarantees from Israel
Palestinian factions announced a unilateral truce on June 29 but Israel killed it with its continued
Qurei launched fresh truce talks Wednesday with the Palestinian factions, including Hamas and
Thirteen Palestinian factions accepted an Egyptian invitation and agreed to attend truce talks in
A truce is key to reviving the US-backed "roadmap" peace plan, which was endorsed Wednesday by the
The Palestine National Authority (PNA) welcomed, but Israel said it is not bound by, Resolution
The resolution was co-sponsored by Britain, Bulgaria, Chile, China, France, Germany, Mexico and
"We welcome this resolution and hope there will be mechanisms to implement it through reactivating
Even Israel's staunchest ally, the United States, voted in favor of the UN resolution.
However, Israel was not responsive.
"It is possible that we will hold talks with the new Palestinian government on the basis of the
Saeb Erekat said "the key here is reciprocity".
Erekat noted that the "roadmap" requires both sides to declare that they are halting violence. "If
The Palestinians want Israel to take "concrete steps" towards complying with international demands
"Sharon is once again poring over maps and planning. Where will the settlers go? To the Negev,"
Avrahamovitch did not specify how many settlements were slated for removal.
Palestinians have cast doubt on the sincerity of such Israeli promises -- and media reports -- in
The report came shortly after Israeli political sources said Sharon was planning a package of
Sharon hinted at his new plan Thursday when he told a business conference in Tel Aviv: "We do not
UN resolution 1515 aside, Israel also came under unusually sharp criticism this week from US
"Sharon is under pressure to show that a solution is on the horizon," Yossi Beilin, a former justice
Bullshit Artists, Inc.
By Yoel Marcus
Ariel Sharon reminds me these days of Chance the Gardener, the star of the movie "Being There," based on Jerzy Kosinski's book. Chance's world revolves around images from the world of gardening: "Seeds are sown in autumn;" "flowers blossom in spring;" "leaves turn yellow in the fall;" "when winter is over and summer comes, the trees will bear fruit."
The Washington political scene, including the president himself, is convinced that lurking behind Chance's simple words are incomparably profound political insights and multiple meanings that will solve the problems of the world. He utters a word and everyone thinks he might mean this or might mean that. Altogether, an out-and-out genius.
That's what popped into my head as I heard the news that the prime minister is planning to dismantle outposts, maybe even unilaterally, as soon as next summer. Why next summer? Heck, we just finished this one. At the moment, it's fall. Winter will be here soon, and then spring, and finally, summer. In the meantime, another year of doing nothing will go by.
Sharon's world is full of rhetoric that sounds promising. For example, his commitment to "painful concessions," which people can interpret however they want. It could mean giving up territories, but also the opposite: holding on to territories instead of peace. That's painful, too.
A couple of months ago, Sharon said it was impossible to lord over 3.5 million Palestinians. The pundits melted like butter: Sharon is finally about to do something big. But it was all talk. Since then, nothing has happened.
This week, with autumn still upon us, they said Sharon would begin unilateral action in the territories. It got a headline, but when the government convened, it turned out to be a typical Sharon bubble. All he said was that he didn't rule out unilateral action, but he hasn't decided what he plans to do, when he plans to do it, or whether he will do anything at all.
"It's all virtual," said Avigdor Lieberman. "It's all media spin," said Benny Elon. No one took Sharon's statements seriously, including Sharon himself: "I say half a sentence and everyone reads into it what they want."
Sharon has reached the point where his good friend Bush scolded him from London for not making the grade in terms of gestures that would propel the road map forward. In the atmosphere generated by the wave of terror that week, the president's words could have been interpreted as a warning: Israel was liable to be blamed for this wave of terror.
A chill wind is blowing from the White House. It is openly disappointed with Sharon for not taking steps that would pave the way for fruitful dialogue with the government of Ahmed Qureia. The United States supports a Russian proposal to put the UN Security Council in charge of implementing the road map.
Sharon is a one-man Bullshit Artists, Inc. He is bullshitting Bush the same way he is bullshitting the citizens of this country. The future of the settlements, the outposts, the fence project and where it is heading - none of these matters is being addressed in any tangible way.
To this day, no one knows for sure if Sharon really halted the construction of 43 outposts.
Unlike Elyakim Rubinstein, who doesn't understand that his problem is not his skullcap but his spinelessness, Sharon actually appreciates how important the media is. He has no peer when it comes to both exploiting the media and jumping down its throat. On the one hand, he and his office are involved in media spin 24 hours a day, selling us baloney and manufacturing cover-ups. On the other hand, there is nothing easier than blaming the media when things go wrong.
The Israeli public, and the political system as well, sense that their leader is not telling the truth. Comparing Sharon's promises and half-statements to his performance as prime minister, it is plain as day that behind his cryptic utterances there is not the tiniest intention to carry out painful concessions.
The truth is that he has squandered the unique opportunity that came his way when he was elected by a landslide and people believed that "only Sharon could." Now, bogged down by his family's legal problems, his strength as a leader has reached rock bottom.
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