It's fortunate that John Kerry arrived in Israel on the plane of the observers of the Palestinian elections in the territories, rather than on Air Force 1. Had the "square" senator met with the prime minister as president of the United States, he would have spoiled the disengagement plan. Instead of praising Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for adhering to the disengagement from the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank, the former presidential candidate irritated his host with a story about a miserable outpost, not far from Ramallah. Kerry complained that during his previous visit to the territories, he counted two trailers in that same outpost, and to his surprise, he now found no fewer than 15 residential units on the site. The Democratic senator doesn't understand that if we disengage in Gaza, we don't evacuate in Ramallah. Sharon should have explained to him that "the disengagement plan creates a public atmosphere that makes it difficult to evacuate the outposts."
Even the Yahad faction has internalized the attitude that this is not the time to attack Sharon over the outposts. The left was more critical of MK Yossi Sarid, who refused to vote in favor of the government, than of the policy of targeted assassinations. Peace Now is maintaining a low profile regarding the preparation of land for the construction of thousands of apartments in northwestern West Bank and promotion of the plan to gain control over tens of thousands of dunams in East Jerusalem. It is practically superfluous to mention the Labor Party, which joined the Sharon government without demanding that it commit itself to keeping its promise to President George W. Bush to freeze the expansion of the settlements.
Everyone understands that Sharon has his hands full with the right-wing "rebels" (Likud ministers and MKs who oppose the disengagement), and that this is not the time to challenge him from the left. When even the least of the MKs have the power to bring down the government, the dismantling of the outposts has to wait. This is also not the right time to remove the internal checkposts, to stop demolishing homes, to change the invasive route of the separation fence and to deal with the hilltop hooligans. Every child knows that the Israel Defense Forces is busy with preparations for the disengagement and with the battle against refuseniks and extremists. Every television viewer has heard that the Shin Bet security services have more than they can handle with keeping track of armed Kahanists on the hills of the northern West Bank.
Sharon revealed to Kerry that no fewer than 1,300 soldiers were required to evacuate the outpost near the settlement of Yitzhar, and added: "I am committed to the evacuation of the outposts, but it becomes more difficult as terrorism increases. The fact that terror is being used against us all the time creates opposition."
In fact, you cannot expect the IDF to storm the residents of the Migron outpost at a time when the residents of Sderot are being killed. Palestinian violence, on the one hand, and political constraints, on the other, dictate the agenda of the Israeli government. Any hasty step is liable to undermine the stability of the weak coalition and to put an end to the disengagement plan. There is no choice: We have to grit our teeth - all the way from Netzarim in the Gaza Strip to Kadim in the northern West Bank.
Now let's take the words that Sharon said to Kerry and place them, with the necessary adaptations, into the mouth of Palestinian Prime Minister Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas): "I am committed to stopping the terror attacks, but it becomes more difficult as the outposts expand. The fact that hardly a week passes without a dead child and a demolished home creates opposition."
Sharon, a politician who was elected by a huge majority, is having difficulty enlisting a stable coalition for evacuating several hundred families from dangerous areas. How can we expect a newly elected Palestinian leader to declare an all-out war "immediately" - in the words of Labor Minister Haim Ramon - against his extremists? It's true that terror and occupation are not the same thing, but neither can we compare the tremendous power that Sharon has at his disposal in the struggle against Jewish extremists with the meager power - both political and military - of Abu Mazen.
Abu Mazen was elected on a platform of ending the violence and developing a political solution to the conflict. However, the desire of a leader, no matter how charismatic and popular, is not enough to restrain a violent struggle against a foreign occupation that continues to steal more and more land.
Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is the one who formulated the rule "If they give - they'll receive, if they don't give - they won't receive." This rule apparently works in the opposite direction as well: If the Sharon-Peres government gives the Palestinians an indication that the disengagement from Gaza is the beginning of the road to an end of the occupation in the West Bank, rather than its perpetuation - perhaps that will be a signal for ending the violence instead of escalating it.
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