From evacuation to expansion
Sharon is acting in his cynical, belligerent way to change the atmosphere in the Likud Central Committee by initiating military operations against the Palestinians and by investing additional mammoth budgets into West Bank settlements.
The killing of five Palestinians in Tul Karm last week shows how quickly the government and army are reverting to their routine of violent oppression, death and destruction. The suicide bombing in Be'er Sheva on Sunday, which injured 42 Israelis, shows there are people on the Palestinian side who are helping Prime Minister Ariel Sharon carry out his plan to escalate the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
At first, the military escalation appears to be in contradiction to the evacuation of the settlements in the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank. Quite a few people expected the evacuation to create a momentum to renew the political process, and at least to implement what is known as the road map. This expectation was reflected in the surveys held after the evacuation was completed.
But Sharon's efforts are directed at a totally different goal. He is resolved to implement his complete plan - moving from evacuating the settlements in the Gaza Strip, to expanding and building up the existing settlements, to constructing new ones.
Sharon has demanded in the past that planning procedures be sped up for the region dubbed "E1," stretching from East Jerusalem (Mount Scopus) and the settlement of Ma'aleh Adumim. The project was frozen at a certain stage, after President George Bush's administration openly declared its objection. But now, after the settlement evacuations, Sharon has resumed his initiative. This week, the planning council of the Israel Defense Forces' Civil Administration in the West Bank is about to approve the construction of the first public structure in this region - the Samaria and Judea (West Bank) District Police headquarters.
The purpose of building the police headquarters, as well as thousands of housing units, is clear - to cut off the territorial contiguity between the south and north of the West Bank, thus preventing the establishment of a viable Palestinian state. Another, no-less-important purpose is to prevent the possibility of East Jerusalem becoming the capital of the Palestinian state.
Another central component of Sharon's plan is the exclusion of the Palestinian Authority from any political or military control in the occupied territories. This is how the unilateral planning and implementation of evacuating the settlements from the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank came about and how the agreement with Egypt on the Egyptian military presence on the Philadelphi route - on the Palestinian side of the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt - was concocted.
The Israeli-Egyptian agreement, which is an appendix to the "disengagement plan," is laden with details about the number of Egyptian troops to be posted on the Philadelphi route and their equipment. But the major point is that Egypt agreed to sign with Israel an agreement pertaining directly to issues that fall within the Palestinian Authority's responsibility. However, the PA was not party to the debates or to the details of the agreement, and it did not sign it. Thus, while the evacuation of the Gaza settlements was coordinated with the Bush administration, circumventing the PA, the Philadelphi agreement will be signed with an Egyptian representative and without a Palestinian one.
The main goals of Sharon's policy - escalating the military conflict, expanding the settlements and excluding the PA from the political process - are supposed to serve another central purpose: his election to another term as prime minister. A survey conducted by Mina Tzemach found that Sharon is the preferred candidate for prime minister (24 percent), ahead of Shimon Peres and Benjamin Netanyahu, each of whom gained the support of 16 percent of the interviewees. But other surveys indicated that Sharon does not have majority support in the Likud Central Committee at present.
Therefore, Sharon is acting in his cynical, belligerent way to change the atmosphere in the Likud Central Committee by initiating military operations against the Palestinians, which lead to terrorist attacks in retaliation, and by investing additional mammoth budgets into West Bank settlements. Sharon may meet Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) again and lecture him, as he did at their previous meeting. But his message to the central committee members will be that Netanyahu shook Arafat's hand and even praised him, while he, Sharon, had eliminated the Palestinian leadership's status as a factor in the negotiations.
The most crushing argument of all may also turn into Sharon's election slogan: "Only Sharon can prevent the establishment of an independent Palestinian state and the evacuation of all the occupied territories and all the settlements." In other words: Only Sharon can prevent peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
The writer is a former Knesset member and an executive member of the Communist Party and Hadash.