Ariel Sharon has a good chance of going down in history as the first leader who owes his election to voters who do not believe him. At the press conference at which he announced his departure from the Likud, Sharon promised "continued implementation of the road map." For the benefit of Kadima supporters who do not remember what this battered American map, which has become the new party's platform, actually says, following are some quotes from the document: "Parties reach final and comprehensive settlement status agreement that ends the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in 2005, through a settlement negotiated between the parties."
It also talks about "a negotiated resolution on the status of Jerusalem that takes into account the political and religious concerns of both sides," about the refugees, about a sovereign and viable Palestinian state, and about peace talks with Syria and Lebanon - all on the basis of UN Resolutions 242 and 338, the Saudi initiative and the Arab League's decision.
How many people who plan to vote for Kadima will do so because they believe that Sharon plans to talk with Mahmoud Abbas about the division of Jerusalem, and to invite Bashar Assad to negotiate over the Golan Heights? Does anybody seriously believe the claim that all this failed to happen during the three years that have elapsed since the road map was drafted solely because the Palestinian Authority did not "destroy the terrorist infrastructure?"
Who buys the story that the unilateral disengagement from the Gaza Strip and the northern West Bank was essentially a way station en route to the road map? Has it already been forgotten that the disengagement was intended solely to put the road map into formaldehyde until the Palestinians are kind enough to turn into Finns?
Sharon's winning card does not even resemble the road map. His fans do not believe for a second that he has any interest in a Palestinian partner for negotiations. They flock to him because they do not believe his repeated pledges that the withdrawal from Gaza was the last unilateral withdrawal. The secret of his success lies in a post-modern approach to conflict resolution, which has gained currency here under slogans such as dividing the land in accordance with your desires, or unilateral consolidation into settlement blocs. Behind this approach lies the assumption that what was good for Gaza cannot be bad for the West Bank.
The longing for Sharon to consolidate most of the settlers into settlement blocks throughout the West Bank while throwing the Palestinians behind a fence blurs the enormous differences between the two territories. In Gaza, Israel withdrew to an agreed border (more or less, with the exception of a few hundred meters north of the Strip), and not a single settlement remains there. Gaza's area is seven times smaller than that of the West Bank, and its population density is record-breaking. Gaza is not the Palestinian capital and has no holy sites dear to the hearts of both warring peoples. Gaza has no vital water sources and it does not border on a weak Arab state surrounded by enemies.
It has been a little over five years since Ehud Barak's abortive attempt to dictate the future borders of their state and a deal over Jerusalem's holy sites to the Palestinians. The gap between Barak's dictates and Yasser Arafat's territorial and other expectations was too large. Sharon has reason to believe that the map that would placed on any negotiating table would be similar, if not identical, to that proposed by Bill Clinton: The Palestinians would receive 94 to 96 percent of the West Bank plus compensation for the rest in a ratio of almost 1:1. In negotiations, he would have to forget the E-1 plan, whose goal is to complete the strangulation of East Jerusalem, and erase Ariel and the Jordan Valley from the list of settlement blocs.
Sharon does not intend to repeat Barak's drill. He will not be caught leaning over maps at Camp David between George Bush and Mahmoud Abbas. He is dictating his Bantustan plan on the ground through fences and walls, through evacuating two outposts and expanding a dozen settlements. The last dictate ended with 1,000 Israelis and more than 3,000 Palestinians dead.
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