A Government of 'Oops, Our Mistake'

The Sharon government, which arose to erase the results of Oslo, has set new records for amateurism in the separation fence affair, and it is galloping ahead in the same vein with its disengagement plan.

The expression that best describes the Sharon government is "Oops, we made a mistake." Improvisation has always been a primary element of the Israeli reality, in which "every plan is a basis for changes," and previous governments also improvised when it came to sensitive diplomatic. The Oslo Accords are a good example. But the Sharon government, which arose to erase the results of Oslo, has set new records for amateurism in the separation fence affair, and it is galloping ahead in the same vein with its disengagement plan.

The improvisations stem from the need to maneuver between the conflicting pressures emanating from Washington, the settlers, the army, the party and the Friday public opinion polls. The result is half-baked decisions that are adopted belatedly and leave cracks to be filled in at some future date. Then comes the "surprise at the results" and the attempts to repair the damage with clumsy zigzag steps.

The government's statement to the High Court of Justice this week regarding its intention to move the fence closer to the Green Line, and even dismantle and reassemble parts that have already been erected, is an outstanding expression of the defective decision making. Worse yet, it also conveys a partial admission of the claims lodged by opponents of the project, who consider it a means of annexing territories and abusing Palestinians.

"We didn't foresee the diplomatic problems and the harm done to residents," the security establishment says in an effort to justify itself. It is difficult to accept this. The humiliating trial in The Hague may go beyond the bounds of reasonable imagination, but Sharon was well aware that Washington was not thrilled with the route, and therefore delayed its approval. But instead of reaching an early understanding with Bush, Sharon waited for the opportune moment after the fall of Mahmoud Abbas. The Palestinians exploited the time to mobilize a wall-to-wall international front against the fence's penetration beyond the Green Line.

Why was it even built there? The state told the High Court of Justice about the need for a "buffer region" in which terrorists that crossed the fence could be captured, and about the need to protect the settlers "in places where this is possible," out of concern that if they are left outside the barrier, they will become a prime target for terror - "as happened, to a certain degree, to the Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip." In its response to The Hague, it did not even offer these justifications, making do with the "the judge is a bastard" argument.

Now the project is entering its zigzag stage. The construction of the double fences near Beit Aryeh and Route 443, which will imprison tens of thousands of Palestinians within them, has been deferred for the time being, as has the invasive section around Ariel. It is doubtful whether they will ever be built.

Even in Jerusalem, part of the route is to be reconsidered, and a huge break in the fence will remain in the area opposite Ma'aleh Adumim. The military order regulating entry into the area near the fence, with its seemingly racist wording, has been rewritten. And in the meantime, Israel has paid a price for learning the limitations of force, having sustained condemnation, wasted time and money, damaged the landscape and delayed completion of an essential barrier against suicide terrorist attacks.

But the confusion in the fence affair is nothing compared to the disengagement plan, which is "Oops, we made a mistake" from top to bottom - a retroactive breast-beating over the out-of-the-way settlements, over the wasted lives and the enormous wasted investments, over the exaggerated objectives of the war.

This time, Sharon has learned his lesson, and has promised to coordinate his moves with the White House. But he is having a hard time keeping his own house in order. Immediately following his pronouncement to Yoel Marcus on the evacuation of 17 settlements in Gaza and another few in the West Bank, his aides hastened to lower expectations, saying that "this is the maximum" and that there will apparently be fewer settlements on the final list. The Israel Defense Forces are opposed to the whole thing, while Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz wants to keep soldiers in Gush Katif and is generally in no rush to execute the plan.

And what will happen on the Palestinian side post-evacuation? "Everything will be fine," respond diplomatic sources. "We'll try to strengthen the Palestinian Authority in its match-up against Hamas." At this rate, the government is liable to dismantle Netzarim and then rebuild it. It can always explain that the intentions were good, but that something was off in the forecasts and the execution.