On April 11, Ariel Sharon will go to a victory party at U.S. President George W. Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas. There is nothing politicians enjoy more than to gloat, and Sharon has a lot of reasons for celebrating his victory over the "rebels" who tried to stop his disengagement plan and failed; his victory over the doubters who eulogized his reign over and over; his victory over the left, which once haunted him and now organizes demonstrations in his honor; his victory over Tommy Lapid, who tried to leverage his political power and crashed twice.
But more than anything in Texas, Sharon will celebrate the victory of the bulldozer. At the heart of his conversation with the president will be strengthening the understandings regarding Israel preserving for itself the settlement blocs in the West Bank. Bush already accepted the principle last year. Now Sharon wants to make sure the American promise for an annexation of the blocs in the future is turned into permission to build, in exchange for the evacuation of settlers from Gaza and northern Samaria.
Sharon is sacrificing Gush Katif and risking domestic strife to achieve two goals: strengthening his power at home with the promise to "quit" the hated Gaza, and setting Israel's eastern border on the ridge lines that will expand the "narrow waist" around the Dan region and Jerusalem.
Sharon grew up in the era of the British mandate, and was educated on the "dunam after dunam" principles of practical Zionism. Ideology and sublime ideas never interested him, and even now he finds them difficult to understand and has contempt for them. For him, only power matters. What good is all Lapid's anti-religious preaching, if he folds and supports the budget at the moment of truth? The same holds true in the territories. Those who control the hill will win and dictate the future border.
Two years ago, Sharon updated the goals of the war with the Palestinians. His demand that they surrender unconditionally was replaced with a policy of strengthening the "blocs" and preparing for their annexation to Israel: Ma'aleh Adumim, Ariel, Gush Etzion, Beit Arye. Ever since, Sharon has aimed unswervingly for that goal, with the planning of the fence, the construction permits and the land takeovers. He was correct in his assessment that if he promises to evacuate a few isolated settlements, the world will forgive his construction in the blocs. Sharon blames the latest dispute with Washington about the planned construction between Ma'aleh Adumim and Jerusalem on incautious chatter in Jerusalem.
Bush's letter from April 2004, which the administration reaffirmed over the weekend, shows that America is not interested in the abstract justice of the International Court in The Hague or the cries of the occupied Palestinians. Recognition of the "new realities on the ground" is the great victory of force, proof that Jewish settlement does set the border. It's all a matter of proportionality. If Gush Katif had 200,000 Jews, and not 7,000, nobody would be talking about evacuation. If they had built high rises there, like in Ma'aleh Adumim, and not greenhouses and villas, the map would be different.
Sharon's settlement bloc policies struck a profound chord in the center of the political map in Israel. Except for Peace Now and some shouters on the left, everyone is in love with Ma'aleh Adumim and Ariel. Ehud Barak, who wants to run against Sharon, is flanking him on the right and warning against losing the blocs because of too much of an appetite. Shimon Peres was furious about the "timing" of the announcement of new construction at Ma'aleh Adumim, but not about the principle. The coming elections, therefore, will be over who will better protect and preserve Ariel and Beit Arye.
Those who thought Sharon had turned into a leftist and began worrying about "the rights of the Palestinians" were very wrong. Sharon still believes the bulldozer and the housing units will set the border, with America's support and backing. The upcoming meeting in Crawford is meant to grant him further strength.
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