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Sharon's unilateralism: What it means


Israeli PM Ariel Sharon delivered his long awaited speech last week concerning his new "plan" for dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian impasse. The bottom line of the speech is that if there is no progress in implementing the quartet road map. Israel will "move" some settlements that are difficult to defend and withdraw to as yet undefined borders that are secured by the famous and infamous security fence-wall-barrier and other physical barriers.

When Ariel Sharon announces that a retreat, Palestinians and Sharon-watchers figure there has got to be a catch somewhere, but nobody is quite sure how to react to the unilateral initiative or what it means. Earlier today, a Ha'aretz story about the initiative carried a headline speculating that the plan will stop employment of Palestinians in Israel, an important source of income. The same story was expanded later in the day, and carried a headline announcing that the plan will mean evacuating tens of thousands of settlers. The story was essentially the same, but the same plan that was bad news for the Palestinians in the afternoon had become bad news for the settlers by evening. Maybe it is bad news for everyone, or good news for everyone. Who knows?

There was nothing new in Sharon's speech relative to previous hints by Sharon and announcements by Deputy PM Ehud Olmert, except that Sharon explained that Sharon explained:

- the policy could be implemented if there is no progress within a "number of months"

- the new redeployment will not form a political border,

- and road map negotiations could be resumed whenever Palestinians are ready.

- Israel remains committed to the road map.

- as agreed, Israel will remove any 'unauthorized' outposts.

Sharon expects Palestinians to comply with the roadmap by dismantling Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other terrorist groups. Palestinians show no signs of intending to do so, but instead are trying to put together an offer of a truce: the organizations would remain intact, but would call a halt to terror operations in return for Israeli concessions. Hamas is demanding that Israel stop assassinating and arresting their personnel. In fact, Israel announced that it was suspending the assassination policy, but arrests and pinpoint operations will continue. Today, the IDF arrested the Hamas spokesman in Nablus, a top Hamas official, Adnan Asfur. Hamas will also ask for other concessions, such as ending the European and American prohibition on contributions to its "charitable" organizations. Hamas is in principle opposed to any peace with Israel. Its spiritual leader, Sheikh Yassin, recently announced that Jews could have an independent state- in Europe. The Hamas Charter calls for an Islamic state in all of Palestine, and cites the forged Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

So far it has proven difficult for the Palestinians to even put together this truce offer, and it is unlikely that the Palestinian Authority or PLO will put itself into the business of trying to dismantle groups like Hamas, which have a substantial following and relatively great military capability. Suppression of these groups could evoke a Palestinian civil war. Thus, Sharon can claim that the road map is at an impasse.

There has been "quiet" between the Israelis and Palestinians since the beginning of October, when a suicide blast killed Jews and Arabs at the Cafe Maxim in Haifa. But the quiet is deceptive. Israeli security forces have intercepted over 20 suicide bombing attempts in that period, and on the other hand, Israeli incursions and "preventive security" have continued on an almost daily basis, and have exacted a toll of civilian dead and wounded as well as arresting or killing terrorists.

In reality, the impasse is created by mutual nonfeasance of Israelis and Palestinians. The Palestinians have not fulfilled their part of the roadmap, and the quartet have done little to encourage progress in ridding Palestinian political life of domination by terror groups and extremist ideologies. The Israelis have not really budged an inch since the beginning of the roadmap, and despite some symbolic concessions, Israeli troops remain where they were for the most part, the roadblocks remain in place, and the illegal outposts that Sharon promissed to dismantle are nearly all still in place.

Given the Israeli-Palestinian impasse, and spurred by pressure generated by the Geneva Accord as well as pressures from the US and from Israelis suffering from the economic as well as the military effects of the uprising, Sharon had to announce some policy. Opposition politicians pointed out that Israel had lost the initiative, and was reacting to Palestinian and American moves, without any announced policy of its own. The unilateral "plan" is that policy. In effect, the plan coopts an earlier proposal by defeated Labor party PM candidate Amram Mitzna, and reshaping it in the image of the Likud and Ariel Sharon.

The truth is that nobody is quite sure what this speech means. Sharon described no borders at all except for references to the security fence, which is incomplete, and has not named any settlements that would be "moved." Will the plan remove at least all the illegal outposts? Even that is doubtful. It is hard to believe that Sharon will eliminate over 100 outposts in a brief time, when he has done virtually nothing toward "moving" them in all this time. Nonetheless, Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said today that the plan would involve moving tens of thousands of settlers, and that there was no doubt that this would be painful. Israeli police at Shefaram carried out an exercise involving evacuation of a settlement today, Israel army radio announced.

Shas party MK Eli Yishai remarked that it seemed to him that the difference between Labor and Likud was a matter of semantics. Labor's Ehud Barak was going to "uproot" settlements, while Ariel Sharon is only going to "move settlements, but the result will be the same. Settlers and hardliners were furious that Sharon had even mentioned giving up any settlements. They pointed out that the plan essentially rewards the Palestinians for intransigence, by announcing that Israel will retreat if the Palestinians make no move for peace, with no political consquences for the Palestinians.

Palestinians see Sharon's speech as a threat to implement a de-facto unilateral solution. They would be left with enclaves or "Bantustans" and cut off from the rest of the world. If the security barrier is completed along the rumored paths, it would completely encircle two areas in the West Bank, one in the north ("Samaria") centered around Nablus and Jenin, and a second in the south ("Judea") centered around Hebron and the Judean desert. According to some commentators, the unilateral separation from the Palestinians will include tapering off of Palestinian employment in Israel, while allowing greater commerce with Egypt and Jordan if possible. There are not many employment opportunities for Palestinians in the Egyptian and Jordanian economies. However, it is unlikely that the security fence/barrier will be complete in the next few months. It is possible that it may never be completed, because the UN has referred the matter of the barrier to the Hague court, which will begin hearing arguments next year.

The truth is that it is too early to tell what Sharon's plan means, because we don't know what settlements will be evacuated, what the border will be, what land will be left to the Palestinians and how open the Israeli government will be to negotiations. It is clear that Sharon and Ehud Olmert are no longer afraid to say what has been painfully obvious for quite a while: Israel cannot stay in all of the occupied territories. It is madness to defend outposts of 10 settlers with twice as many soldiers, or to keep tiny groups of settlers in settlements like Izhar in the West Bank or Netzarim in Gaza. These settlements serve no security purpose, and that land will never become part of Israel. It is certainly silly to invest money in developing such places because they are a dead end. In the best case, the Sharon plan will really reduce friction between Israelis and Palestinians and bring about a period of real quiet, in which it will be possible to gradually move toward real peace talks.

In the worse case, the Sharon plan will constitute a de facto annexation of large portions of the West Bank and possibly the northern part of Gaza. Palestinians would be enclosed in two enclaves totalling around 50% of the area of the West Bank plus the tiny Gaza strip, with no free access to neighboring Jordan and Egypt. They would be unable to earn a living. Israel would act to prevent formation of a Palestinian state in these areas. In Jerusalem, where Arab and Jewish neighborhoods are intermingled, separation would have to mean hardship for the Palestinians. Sharon has already announced that Israel would never give up the tiny Jewish enclave in Hebron. There are probably some other such indefensible areas that will be kept for reasons other than security, ensuring a continuing source of Israeli-Palestinian friction.

It may seem absurd for Palestinians to insist that Israel must continue the occupation whether Israelis want to be occupiers or not. However, an occupying power has an obligation to the population of the occupied territories under the Geneva Conventions. In the worst case scenario, the Sharon plan would simply herd the Palestinians into reservations where they would have no real organized government and little opportunity for employment. Terror groups will be quick to claim a "victory" after the unilateral Israeli withdrawal, and then they will be quick to exploit the misery that would probably be created by that withdrawal.

In any case, it is hard to see however, what Ariel Sharon gains by announcing his plans in advance. He has, in effect, told the Palestinians that if they are uncooperative, he will reward them with an Israeli withdrawal. Thus, the Palestinians have no incentive to cooperate. But Sharon was facing pressure from the Geneva Accord and from the Shinui party within the coalition, that was going to propose a unilateral Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza strip. Sharon's unilateral initiative has blown both these plans out of the water. It has given the initiative back to the Israeli government.

Ami Isseroff

Prime Minister's Speech at the Herzliya Conference

December 18, 2003

Good Evening,

I congratulate the organizers of this conference for the important and
interesting gathering which you have held here. During the past three days,
you have been discussing Israel's situation. I, as Prime Minister, am
responsible for the planning and implementation of the measures which will
shape Israel's character during the next few years.

We are all entrusted with the duty of shaping the face of the Jewish and
democratic State of Israel - a state where there is an equal distribution of
the burden, as well as the acceptance of rights and shouldering of duties by
all sectors, through different forms of national service. A state where
there is a good and efficient education system which educates a young
generation imbued with values and national pride, which is capable of
confronting the challenges of the modern world. A country whose economy is
adapted to the advanced global market of the 21st century, where the product
per capita crosses the $20,000 line and is equal to that of most developed
European countries. An immigrant-absorbing state which constitutes a
national and spiritual center for all Jews of the world and is a source of
attraction for thousands of immigrants each year. Aliyah is the central
goal of the State of Israel.

This is the country we wish to shape. This is the country where our
children will want to live.

I know that there is sometimes a tendency to narrow all of Israel's problems
down to the political sphere, believing that once a solution is found to
Israel's problems with its neighbors, particularly the Palestinians, the
other issues on the agenda will miraculously resolve themselves. I do not
believe so. We are facing additional challenges which must be addressed -
the economy, educating the young generation, immigrant absorption,
enhancement of social cohesion and the improvement of relations between
Arabs and Jews in Israel.

Like all Israeli citizens, I yearn for peace. I attach supreme importance
to taking all steps which will enable progress toward resolution of the
conflict with the Palestinians. However, in light of the other challenges
we are faced with, if the Palestinians do not make a similar effort toward a
solution of the conflict - I do not intend to wait for them indefinitely.

Seven months ago, my Government approved the "Roadmap" to peace, based on
President George Bush's June 2002 speech. This is a balanced program for
phased progress toward peace, to which both Israel and the Palestinians
committed themselves. A full and genuine implementation of the program is
the best way to achieve true peace. The Roadmap is the only political plan
accepted by Israel, the Palestinians, the Americans and a majority of the
international community. We are willing to proceed toward its
implementation: two states - Israel and a Palestinian State - living side by
side in tranquility, security and peace.

The Roadmap is a clear and reasonable plan, and it is therefore possible and
imperative to implement it. The concept behind this plan is that only
security will lead to peace. And in that sequence. Without the achievement
of full security - within the framework of which terror organizations will
be dismantled - it will not be possible to achieve genuine peace, a peace
for generations. This is the essence of the Roadmap. The opposite
perception, according to which the very signing of a peace agreement will
produce security out of thin air, has already been tried in the past and
failed miserably. And such will be the fate of any other plan which
promotes this concept. These plans deceive the public and create false
hope. There will be no peace before the eradication of terror.

The government under my leadership will not compromise on the realization of
all phases of the Roadmap. It is incumbent upon the Palestinians to uproot
the terrorist groups and to create a law-abiding society which fights
against violence and incitement. Peace and terror cannot coexist. The
world is currently united in its unequivocal demand from the Palestinians to
act toward the cessation of terrorism and the implementation of reforms.
Only a transformation of the Palestinian Authority into a different
authority will enable progress in the political process. The Palestinians
must fulfill their obligations. A full and complete implementation will -
at the end of the process - lead to peace and tranquility.

We began the implementation of the Roadmap at Aqaba, but the terrorist
organizations joined with Yasser Arafat and sabotaged the process with a
series of the most brutal terror attacks we have ever known.

Concurrent with the demand from the Palestinians to eliminate the terror
organizations, Israel is taking - and will continue to take - steps to
significantly improve the living conditions of the Palestinian population:
Israel will remove closures and curfews and reduce the number of roadblocks;
we will improve freedom of movement for the Palestinian population,
including the passage of people and goods; we will increase the hours of
operation at international border crossings; we will enable a large number
of Palestinian merchants to conduct regular and normal economic and trade
relations with their Israeli counterparts, etc. All these measures are
aimed at enabling better and freer movement for the Palestinian population
not involved in terror.

In addition, subject to security coordination, we will transfer Palestinian
towns to Palestinian security responsibility.

Israel will make every effort to assist the Palestinians and to advance the

Israel will fulfil the commitments taken upon itself. I have committed to
the President of the United States that Israel will dismantle unauthorized
outposts. It is my intention to implement this commitment. The State of
Israel is governed by law, and the issue of the outposts is no exception. I
understand the sensitivity; we will try to do this in the least painful way
possible, but the unauthorized outposts will be dismantled. Period.

Israel will meet all its obligations with regard to construction in the
settlements. There will be no construction beyond the existing construction
line, no expropriation of land for construction, no special economic
incentives and no construction of new settlements.

I take this opportunity to appeal to the Palestinians and repeat, as I said
at Aqaba: it is not in our interest to govern you. We would like you to
govern yourselves in your own country. A democratic Palestinian state with
territorial contiguity in Judea and Samaria and economic viability, which
would conduct normal relations of tranquility, security and peace with
Israel. Abandon the path of terror and let us together stop the bloodshed.
Let us move forward together towards peace.

We wish to speedily advance implementation of the Roadmap towards quiet and
a genuine peace. We hope that the Palestinian Authority will carry out its
part. However, if in a few months the Palestinians still continue to
disregard their part in implementing the Roadmap - then Israel will initiate
the unilateral security step of disengagement from the Palestinians.

The purpose of the "Disengagement Plan" is to reduce terror as much as
possible, and grant Israeli citizens the maximum level of security. The
process of disengagement will lead to an improvement in the quality of life,
and will help strengthen the Israeli economy. The unilateral steps which
Israel will take in the framework of the "Disengagement Plan" will be fully
coordinated with the United States. We must not harm our strategic
coordination with the United States. These steps will increase security for
the residents of Israel and relieve the pressure on the IDF and security
forces in fulfilling the difficult tasks they are faced with. The
"Disengagement Plan" is meant to grant maximum security and minimize
friction between Israelis and Palestinians.

We are interested in conducting direct negotiations, but do not intend to
hold Israeli society hostage in the hands of the Palestinians. I have
already said - we will not wait for them indefinitely.

The "Disengagement Plan" will include the redeployment of IDF forces along
new security lines and a change in the deployment of settlements, which will
reduce as much as possible the number of Israelis located in the heart of
the Palestinian population. We will draw provisional security lines and the
IDF will be deployed along them. Security will be provided by IDF
deployment, the security fence and other physical obstacles. The
"Disengagement Plan" will reduce friction between us and the Palestinians.

This reduction of friction will require the extremely difficult step of
changing the deployment of some of the settlements. I would like to repeat
what I have said in the past: In the framework of a future agreement, Israel
will not remain in all the places where it is today. The relocation of
settlements will be made, first and foremost, in order to draw the most
efficient security line possible, thereby creating this disengagement
between Israel and the Palestinians. This security line will not constitute
the permanent border of the State of Israel, however, as long as
implementation of the Roadmap is not resumed, the IDF will be deployed along
that line. Settlements which will be relocated are those which will not be
included in the territory of the State of Israel in the framework of any
possible future permanent agreement. At the same time, in the framework of
the "Disengagement Plan", Israel will strengthen its control over those same
areas in the Land of Israel which will constitute an inseparable part of the
State of Israel in any future agreement. I know you would like to hear
names, but we should leave something for later.

Israel will greatly accelerate the construction of the security fence.
Today we can already see it taking shape. The rapid completion of the
security fence will enable the IDF to remove roadblocks and ease the daily
lives of the Palestinian population not involved in terror.

In order to enable the Palestinians to develop their economic and trade
sectors, and to ensure that they will not be exclusively dependent on
Israel, we will consider, in the framework of the "Disengagement Plan",
enabling - in coordination with Jordan and Egypt - the freer passage of
people and goods through international border crossings, while taking the
necessary security precautions.

I would like to emphasize: the "Disengagement Plan" is a security measure
and not a political one. The steps which will be taken will not change the
political reality between Israel and the Palestinians, and will not prevent
the possibility of returning to the implementation of the Roadmap and
reaching an agreed settlement.

The "Disengagement Plan" does not prevent the implementation of the Roadmap.
Rather, it is a step Israel will take in the absence of any other option, in
order to improve its security. The "Disengagement Plan" will be realized
only in the event that the Palestinians continue to drag their feet and
postpone implementation of the Roadmap.

Obviously, through the "Disengagement Plan" the Palestinians will receive
much less than they would have received through direct negotiations as set
out in the Roadmap.

According to circumstances, it is possible that parts of the "Disengagement
Plan" that are supposed to provide maximum security to the citizens of
Israel will be undertaken while also attempting to implement the Roadmap.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

My life experience has taught me that for peace, as well as for war, we must
have broad consensus. We must preserve our unity, even in the midst of a
difficult, internal debate.

In the past three years, the Palestinian terrorist organizations have put us
to a difficult test. Their plan to break the spirit of Israeli society has
not succeeded. The citizens of Israel have managed to step into the breach,
support each other, lend a helping hand, volunteer and contribute.

I believe that this path of unity must be continued today. Whether we will
be able to advance the Roadmap, or will have to implement the "Disengagement
Plan", experience has taught us that, together, through broad national
consensus, we can do great things.

Let us not be led astray. Any path will be complicated, strewn with
obstacles, and obligate us to act with discretion and responsibility. I am
confident that, just as we have managed to overcome the challenges of the
past, we will stand together and succeed today.

We will always be guided by the words of Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion,
who said, on the day after the Declaration of Independence:

These days, our purpose is only to build the State of Israel with love and
faith, in Jewish brotherhood, and to defend it with all our spirit, and as
long as necessary. We are still in the midst of a difficult battle, one
that has two fronts: political and military. Let us not embellish our deeds
and, of course, our words, with grandiose names. We must remain humble. We
achieved what we have achieved by standing on the shoulders of previous
generations, and we accomplished what we have accomplished by preserving our
precious legacy, the legacy of a small nation which has endured suffering
and tribulations, but which is, nevertheless, great and eternal in spirit,
vision, faith and virtue.

I am also a great believer in the resilience of this small, brave nation
which has endured suffering and tribulations. I am confident that, united
in the power of our faith, we will be able to succeed in any path we choose.

Thank you very much, and happy Hannukah.

Olmert: Tens of thousands of settlers may be relocated

By Aluf Benn and Gideon Alon, Haaretz Correspondents, and Agencies


Tens of thousands of settlers might have to move if Israel implements plans to separate itself from the Palestinians, Vice Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Sunday.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon presented his plan for unilateral steps Thursday, during a speech at the Herzliya Conference.

The initiative - which would be implemented if the Palestinians fail to keep to the road map to Middle East peace - is based on moves by the government to reduce Palestinian economic dependence on Israel and to strengthen economic ties between the territories and the neighboring Arab states of Jordan and Egypt.

But Olmert warned Sunday that any relocation of settlements - home to some 220,000 Israelis - would lead to a serious confrontation with settlers and their supporters.

"I have no doubt there be a very painful, difficult heartbreaking process and a confrontation of unknown proportion in the life of this country."

"It's a serious crisis," he said. "There's no doubt about it. I expect it to be very emotional and very confrontational."

The proposal also includes a plan to relocate isolated settlements and dismantle uninhabited outposts, as well as to speed up construction of the West Bank security fence, making it part of a makeshift border with the Palestinians.

"It is certainly a lot more than in the thousands. It's probably in the tens of thousands," Olmert, who also hold the communications and industry and trade portfolios, told a news conference in Jerusalem.

The minister was speaking after the weekly cabinet meeting, in which Sharon rebuffed calls from ministers to discuss the "disengagement plan," on the grounds that the issue had not been included on the meeting's agenda.

Agriculture Minister Yisrael Katz said Sunday, however, that he would demand a debate on Sharon's proposals at a Likud meeting early next month.

Under Sharon's initiative, in the event of a failure to move forward with the U.S.-backed road map, and the implementation of the "disengagement plan," Palestinians from the territories will be prevented in the future from entering Israel to work.

Sharon's plan is designed to reduce friction between Israelis and Palestinians; to allow the Palestinians to develop their economy, Israel will work toward keeping open the border crossings between the West Bank and Jordan, and the Gaza Strip and Egypt.

In his address, Sharon said, "We will consider allowing, in coordination with Jordan and Egypt, the freer passage of people and goods through the international crossings, while implementing the required security measures."

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher will arrive in Israel on Monday, when he and his hosts will discuss ways to shore up the Palestinian economy.

Sharon has already announced a series of immediate steps aimed at boosting freedom of movement for the Palestinians within the territories, expanding activities at the Allenby Bridge and Rafah crossings, and allowing Palestinian merchants to enter Israel to conduct business. In contrast to the past, the list of steps to ease conditions for the Palestinians does not include permitting workers from the West Bank and Gaza into Israel.

In recent years, each time a senior Israeli representative headed for the United States, the government would hastily announce the granting of thousands of work permits to territory residents. The permits were restricted to older individuals and individuals with families, and were usually revoked a few days later for security reasons - after the meeting with the U.S. administration had ended.

At the Donors' Conference for Palestinians on December 10 in Rome, Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom presented a plan to boost economic conditions and employment in the territories that centered on the construction of industrial parks along the seam line.

For his part, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, during his visit to Washington last month, presented a plan to create jobs for Palestinians that was formulated by the coordinator of government activities in the territories, Major General Yosef Mishlav.

Mofaz's plan focuses on the employment of Palestinians at settlements and industrial parks along the seam line, as well as freer entrance into Israel for Palestinian merchants. The defense minister's plan does not allow for the entrance of Palestinian laborers into Israel.

Israel came under harsh criticism at the Donors' Conference, primarily because of the restrictions it has imposed on the movement of the Palestinians and the internal closures in the territories. U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Satterfield said Israel had done too little, too late to alleviate the distress in the territories, casting doubt on the security necessity of the roadblocks.

According to Israel's summary of the meeting, the Palestinians came away disappointed by the fact that they were unable to enlist financing to cover the Palestinian Authority's expected budget deficit.

U.S. warns against unilateral steps
The U.S. administration has made it clear to Israel that it opposes any unilateral steps of political significance that could be interpreted as forcing a solution on the Palestinians.

Washington has also told Jerusalem that it rejects the idea of strengthening and expanding settlements as "compensation" for the evacuation of isolated Jewish communities in the territories.

The United States is also strongly opposed to "the eastern fence" plan raised by Sharon, fearing it would sabotage the chances of establishing a Palestinian state in the future and would "imprison the Palestinians in a big cage."

U.S. spokesmen have, however, stressed Sharon's commitment to the road map, as well as his public undertaking to ease economic conditions for the Palestinians, to dismantle unauthorized outposts, and to restrict construction activities in the settlements.

In another development, efforts to arrange a meeting between Sharon and Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia will be renewed this week.

Sharon's bureau chief, Dov Weisglass, will meet Wednesday with his Palestinian counterpart, Hassan Abu Libda, for a second discussion on the matter.

Sources in Jerusalem expect the Weisglass-Abu Libda meeting to lead to a meeting between the premiers - on hold for the past few weeks due to Palestinian opposition.

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