Rabbi Yoel Bin Nun has for some time been arguing that the real dispute in Israeli politics is not between left and right or dove and hawk, but between those who believe in a final agreement that will end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and those who would make do with an interim agreement that would moderate the conflict.
Bin Nun says those who believe in the final agreement think Israel should hand over (nearly) all the territories in a final stage and not hand over (almost) anything until it is reached. Those seeking an interim agreement believe that with no final arrangement in sight, Israel should make significant concessions to reach a relative, temporary stabilization of relations between the two peoples.
According to Bin Nun's theory, Ehud Barak, Yossi Beilin, and Benjamin Netanayhu belonged to the school of political optimism in seeking an end to the conflict. Yitzhak Rabin, Ariel Sharon and perhaps even Shimon Peres belong to the school of practical pessimism that would be satisfied with stabilization and management of the conflict.
The father of the practical-pessimistic school in Israeli political thinking is actually an American named Henry Kissinger. Prof. Itamar Rabinowitz, who was close to Rabin, says behind Rabin's peace strategy lay Kissinger's deterministic worldview.
A generation ago, the former secretary of state argued that there is no meeting point between the minimal demands of the Arabs from Israel and Israel's maximum ability to respond to those demands. He hasn't changed his mind since.
He imbued his Israeli pupils - Rabin was his top student - with the understanding that any attempt to reach a grandiose end to the conflict in a moment of historic reconciliation like Camp David was doomed to failure. He taught them the only way to deal with such a profound conflict is to advance partial agreements that don't confront either side with the insoluble.
Kissinger encouraged Rabin and his colleagues to think that precisely because there is no way to kill the monster of the conflict, it must be fed its pound of flesh of limited agreements that will satisfy the monster's hunger for some time and minimize inherent risks.
However, Rabin was not Kissinger's only pupil. He had another Israeli pupil, studious and energetic, who is now Israel's prime minister. So, when trying to decipher Ariel Sharon's policy, it must be understood that he is doing what he is doing out of a Kissinger perception of reality. He is moving into the the current political process with the understanding that precisely because there is no way of reaching a final agreement with the Palestinians, it is necessary to reach an interim agreement with them.
Kissinger and Sharon keep their closeness under wraps - most of their meetings do not come to media attention. However, the connection between the Israeli-Jewish warrior and the American-Jewish statesman is very tight. Sharon has a profound respect for Kissinger, regarding him as someone who knows how to add historic and international dimensions to Sharon's own understandings of the events on the ground.
That's the reason why Sharon is now ready to stretch the internal Kissinger logic to its ultimate conclusion - he has decided to grant the Palestinians a state in the interim period and to evacuate 17 settlements even without a peace agreement. In these two respects, Sharon is more Rabin than Rabin. He has become the most outstanding proponent of the interim arrangement school and he is ready to go all the way with his pessimist-pragamtic approach.
So, what should bother those watching his performance nowadays is not his clumsy approach to the political process. Sharon always moves bear-like, two steps forward, one step backward. What should bother those following him is also not his bad habits that sometimes tempt him into using wrongful and unnecessary. Sharon has learned to repair the mistakes of misused force - he will also do so in the wake of the Rantisi fiasco.
What should really bother Israeli citizens is that their prime minister has not managed to translate the truth of his understanding into an organized system of concepts that can win international support. Sharon does not know how to turn his faith in the interim arrangement into a political doctrine that clearly defines which way to go and which way not to go.
Therefore, just like Rabin in the mid-1990s, Sharon at the start of the 21st century finds himself led toward a permanent agreement that he doesn't believe in, and will not be able to deliver. Just like Rabin of Oslo, Sharon of the road map is caught in an impossible contradiction between his sober Kissinger worldview and the utopian political framework in which he has been forced to operate.
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