Sharon's second `big plan'
The sudden departure of a worshiped leader is always an opportunity to express his political will as one wishes to express it, not necessarily on the basis of the departed leader's real goals.
The intense emotions of shock, orphanhood and fear elicited by Ariel Sharon's exit from the political arena evoked expressions bordering on kitsch, even from observers otherwise known for their sober approach.
"Parting from him is like parting from a father: expected, but always frightening and sad," Yaron London wrote, while Amnon Dankner described Sharon as "the portrait of a generation: "a figure embodying the split heart of everyone of us... from yearning to live peacefully to the necessity to resort to arms."
The similarity between Sharon and Yitzhak Rabin - and between those two and Moses on Mount Nevo - was inevitable: "From Moses to Sharon they all saw the land from afar, but none succeeded in bringing the train to a safe haven," one journalist concluded.
In other words, had his sickness not defeated him, Sharon would have brought us to the promised land - "peace with the Arabs and clear and recognized borders." The thwarted hope, or illusion, intensified the sense of loss. Again, cruel fate has robbed us of the chance for peace. Not our own acts and foibles, but "the angel of death, sharpening his scythe." But we will not stop pursuing peace and we will increase our support for Sharon's heirs, who are bound to continue his "heritage."
The sudden departure of a worshiped leader is always an opportunity to express his political will as one wishes to express it, not necessarily on the basis of the departed leader's real goals. The image of the "cruel general who became a peace hero" - although somewhat tarnished due to overexposure in describing Rabin - blinded the eyes of many. They failed to notice that Sharon was very close to the goal he had been aiming to achieve ever since he became an adult: a goal that has nothing to do with peace - to remove the Arab demographic threat unilaterally.
He was a junior partner to the removal of the demographic threat in 1948, by expelling hundreds of thousands of Palestinians. And later, when he climbed the rungs of power, his wish to initiate major historic moves grew.
His "big plan," which led to the war in Lebanon, attempted to solve the demographic problem by turning Jordan into Palestine, deporting the refugees from Lebanon, transferring them from the West Bank, and destroying the Hashemite kingdom. After this plan failed disastrously, Sharon drafted his canton plan, and strove to implement it in every post he filled. For many years he had to resort to underhanded, even illegal means, but he did not tire, and filled the territories with settlements and outposts.
Becoming prime minister enabled him to pursue his plan to "remove the demographic threat" - thus pulling out of Gaza seemed to subtract a million Palestinians from the demographic balance sheet. The "separation fence" next created isolated cantons, paving the way to fictitiously "losing" hundreds of thousands more. Setting up a separate transportation system, "border passes," and "closures" shattered the Palestinian community into four or five sub-communities, subjected to different conditions and gradually losing touch with each other.
On the eve of his hospitalization, Sharon could have surveyed his achievements with satisfaction. The moves to deal with the "demographic threat" gained unprecedented popularity that led him to believe he would be able to set up a Peronist-presidential regime in Israel. This regime would silence any criticism over his solving the "problem," by establishing an apartheid regime. The United States, entangled in Iraq, has signaled that the canton plan may be seen as the implementation of the Palestinian state, and the Israeli peace camp, crowning Sharon as its leader, also agreed enthusiastically.
The donor states agreed to funnel financial aid unequaled since World War II, thus financing Sharon's canton plan.
Indeed, cruel fate has robbed Sharon of attaining his deepest aspiration, to eliminate, after 60 years of struggle, the Palestinian demographic threat. However, there are signs that his illness has spared him the disappointment he would have suffered had he remained in power. For the present "big plan" - as it was in the war in Lebanon - is based on hasty, erroneous assumptions.
The Palestinian Authority's crumbling is only a matter of time, and donor states' patience is running out, which will lead to the drying up of the PA's financial sources, and therefore, a catastrophic economic crisis. The anarchy in the territories will spin out of control, and the violence directed internally and at Israelis will raise pressure to "react appropriately."
Extremist groups in Israel will undermine the "treacherous government," a new attempt will be made to revive the "Jordan is Palestine" idea and export the problem to Jordan, since it has no solution in the territories, or whatever remains of them once the "settlement blocs" have been stolen from them. The U.S. will be called upon to restore order, maybe in the style of Bosnia or Kosovo.
Like in the "big plan" of 1981, the biggest mistake at present is the attempt to solve the problem unilaterally with dictates and excessive power. Ariel Sharon is no longer capable of changing his approach, and perhaps he never was. But those who claim to be continuing Sharon's heritage should never forget that "heritage" also means learning from his mistakes and avoiding them.