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The Sharon government does not exactly excel at formulating its decisions, which sometimes are ridiculous. First Yasser Arafat's irrelevant and then he's the main obstacle. The government is committed to his removal in last week's cabinet decision, but it promises not to intervene in the selection of the Palestinian prime minister. Israel wants the political process to bring an end to the conflict (Comment 7 on the road map) but is quick to make clear there won't be any dealing with issues "concerning with the final agreement" (Comment 9).

But despite the internal contradictions, confusion and general impotence in the face of Palestinian terrorism, one must not think the Sharon government lacks strategy and direction. The arguments about Sharon not having a plan are nonsense. Sharon certainly does have a plan: to protect Eretz Yisrael, avoid returning any territories and make sure the settlements stay where they are. Everything else is tactics.

Sharon did not invent this policy. His predecessors did the same, under the cover of "surrendering to a handful of settlers." What surrender? It would be better to speak of devotion, or a loving embrace. Only the system has changed. Shamir simply said "no." Rabin made Arafat "make order in Gaza" but refused to evacuate settlements, building them bypass roads. Peres postponed until after the elections, Netanyahu squabbled with Washington. Barak dispersed virtual proposals meant to "expose the true face" of the Arabs and present them as rejectionists, while the construction was accelerated in the settlements. The trick worked on the Syrian front, and the Golan was dropped from the agenda, but Arafat rebelled and went to war against Israel.

Sharon was afraid that after Barak's proposals, Israel would find it difficult to hold onto the territories in negotiations, so he made every effort to avoid negotiations. Even when he promised "painful concessions in the birthplace of the Jewish people," he gradually toughened the opening conditions for those talks: a cessation of violence, multi-dimensional reforms, a different leadership, dismantling the terror infrastructure and now killing or exiling Arafat.

Together with his vague commitment to Bush's vision and the road map, Sharon formulated a moderate image without putting it to the test. There are still those who expect him to turn his back on his life's work, to turn into the Israeli "de Galle and Nixon" who will demolish the settlements "for his place in history." They are counting on his political opportunism and his readiness to kick out his ally of yesterday, the way he threw the ultra-Orthodox out of the coalition. But meanwhile, he will go down in history because of his titan's battle with Arafat.

The suspicious Sharon doesn't believe the Arabs, but his government and his aides are making the same mistake as his Labor predecessors, conducting a policy based on wishful thinking. Leaders from the left argued the Palestinians would make do with Abu Dis as their capital and that the solution to the refugee problem is merely a matter of creative legalistic formulations. The right was correct when it listened to the Palestinians, who spoke of dividing Jerusalem and the right of return. But since they came to power, the right is doing the same foolish things as its predecessors.

Mahmoud Abbas said in every conversation and meeting that he was the loyal servant of Arafat and asked to free his master from the Muqata siege. The Israelis insisted those were simply statements made for the protocols and sold the people an imaginary image that they invented of a moderate Palestinian leader ready to throw off Arafat and adopt Sharon's plans for cantons and enclaves. Abbas' resignation speech and his total denial of Israeli claims show that he did not change since he denied the "permanent agreement draft" he supposedly reached with Yossi Beilin. Already then it was obvious he was a political coward but Israel gambled on him again and was disappointed again.

Thus, a decade after the Oslo accords were signed, the right is trapped in the same internal contradictions of the leftist governments. But what does any of that matter when it is succeeding in its main mission, protecting Eretz Yisrael, and everything else is tactics?