A desperate desire for any shred of hope has caused many good people to turn every verbal gesture by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon into a historic breakthrough. The cries of despair from the Cossacks of the Samarian hills drown out the voices of their victims - Palestinians whose lands are being stolen from them in broad daylight. Transportation Minister Avigdor Lieberman's threat that dismantling settlement outposts will cause a crisis in relations with the right is set against U.S. President George W. Bush's threat that refusing to dismantle them will cause a crisis in relations with the United States.
In order to assess Sharon's intentions, one must examine his actions. It is undoubtedly pleasant to hear the word "occupation" emerging from his lips, but at most, this is a different tone, not a different melody. Had MK Gila Gamliel bothered to inquire into the past a little, she would have discovered that the prime minister did not come up with any innovations: Sharon is not the first Likud leader to have recognized the occupation.
The Camp David Accords of September 1978, which bear Menachem Begin's signature, state that negotiations over the West Bank and Gaza "shall be based on all the provisions and principles of UN Security Council Resolution 242. The negotiations will resolve, among other matters, the location of the boundaries." (This document appears in the appendix to the book "Paths of Peace" by Elyakim Rubinstein, who took Sharon to task for his error in using the term "occupation.") But Resolution 242, adopted in November 1967, opens by "emphasizing the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war," and states that peace must be based on the "withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict." Israel, it is true, attaches importance to the use of "territories" rather than "the territories." But the word "occupied" has only one meaning: not administered territories, not disputed territories, but occupied territories.
Resolution 242 reappears in the invitation to the Madrid Conference, which Yitzhak Shamir accepted. It hovers over the Hebron Agreement, which Benjamin Netanyahu signed, and graces the first page of the current road map. That map, which was approved by the cabinet a day before the storm at the Likud faction meeting, states explicitly that the agreement to be negotiated by the parties will "end the occupation that began in 1967." Sharon's refusal to say that he recognizes a Palestinian state or to reiterate the word "occupation" supports the claim made by Likud ministers Limor Livnat and Uzi Landau that in practice, the cabinet did not approve the road map. And indeed, the official announcement published after the vote states only that the cabinet accepts "the steps set out in the road map."
The cabinet's adoption of the road map is the first test of Bush's willingness to enforce his peace plan. He will arrive at the Aqaba summit, in the best-case scenario, with a barely passing grade on this test. The American president will also have failed to fulfill his obligations if he leaves the region without an explicit commitment from Sharon to halt, for a predetermined and agreed-upon period, army operations in Area A (Palestinian Authority territory) and executions of wanted men.
The defense minister and the chief of staff oppose a cease-fire on the grounds that Hamas, Tanzim and other evil-doers will use the time to rehabilitate their forces. But why are they so sure that this stretch of time, particularly if the cease-fire is accompanied by economic rehabilitation of the territories, will not instead be used to strengthen Palestinian Prime Minister Abu Mazen's forces?
The third test awaiting Bush is the dismantling of the outposts. Here, too, as with "the occupation," he must be wary of fraud: The exam paper states that Israel must "immediately dismantle" all outposts established since March 2001 - and not merely a few fictitious uninhabited outposts.
Bush is still dipping his toes in the shallow waters of the conflict. But every lifeguard on the coast of Aqaba knows that whirlpools lie in wait in the deep water as well.
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