A Poor Man's History

According to the newspaper headlines, which are heralding a "historic day," it appears that in Israel, history, too, is no longer what it used to be.

According to the newspaper headlines, which are heralding a "historic day," it appears that in Israel, history, too, is no longer what it used to be. The headlines also seem to be amusing the goddess of history, who was longing for a good laugh, and scheduled the "historic" cabinet session on the matter of the disengagement from Gaza precisely 37 years following its occupation.

As if the aforesaid was not enough of a coincidence, news of the compromise reached with regard to delaying the evacuation of settlements broke almost exactly at the same time as the news of the death of former president Ronald Reagan. On September 1, 1982, Reagan published his Middle East peace plan, which proposed autonomy for the Palestinians in the West Bank, as part of a federation with Jordan.

Ariel Sharon was defense minister in Menachem Begin's government, which ripped the Reagan plan to shreds because, among other reasons, of its demand to freeze settlements. Rejection of the plan led, five years later, to a parting gift from the Reagan administration - the first official dialogue between the United States and the Palestine Liberation Organization. From there, it was a short road to the Madrid Conference and the Oslo Accord, the Wye agreement and the road map.

Each of these plans and agreements had a common denominator: All led to implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 242, which calls for an Israeli withdrawal from territories occupied in the Six-Day War to secure and recognized borders.

One of the Likud ministers who has consistently opposed the disengagement plan told Haaretz that Sharon had admitted to him that his decision to sacrifice the settlements in the Gaza Strip was designed to erase all mention of 242. In response to a request from the said minister to hear where Sharon was headed after the evacuation of the settlements, the prime minister responded that following the withdrawal from the Strip and a handful of settlements in northern Samaria, it would be possible to rest easy for another 50 years.

Sharon is therefore taking a gamble on his political future so as to put the brakes on the wheels of history, rather than to propel them forward. He is putting unity of ranks in the government and in his party at risk in order to perpetuate the overall situation and not to change it.

Sharon has chosen to evacuate a few thousand settlers from Gaza out of fear that the alternative will be far more costly. Who can assure him that Bush won't go down the same path taken by his hero, America's 40th president, who passed away? Who can guarantee him that the day after the U.S. elections, his good friend in the White House won't also find a way to show the world that he isn't Sharon's poodle?

Indeed, it is difficult to find a resemblance between the disengagement plan and Bush's vision of the establishment of a Palestinian state, but there is no doubting the fact that Sharon has displayed "maximum effort" to guide his plan through numerous obstacles, including some (the Likud referendum) that he set up himself.

Thus, with half a promise of a withdrawal that is designed to block initiatives that are the likes of the Geneva understandings, and with the help of the cries of the settlers and their patrons among the extreme right and the rejectionists from home in the Likud, Sharon has turned into the darling of the peace camp.

And in the final analysis - whether he disengages from Gaza or he doesn't - there is, nevertheless, a certain blessing in the actions of the prime minister. He has caused a split between the rational Israeli right and the fundamentalist Israeli right. He has driven a wedge between a camp that has remained stuck on the Land of Israel for security reasons, and even national yearnings, and a camp that is motivated by divine decree and a sense of messianic mission.

Sharon has released the government of Israel from the yoke of former minister Avigdor Lieberman, who dared to threaten more than one million Israeli citizens with deportation. And one hopes that the prime minister's plan will lead to the resignation of Minister Effi Eitam, who is quoted thus in the May 31 edition of The New Yorker: "It is not by chance that the State of Israel got the mission to pave the way for the rest of the world, to militarily get rid of these dark forces."

According to The New Yorker's Jeffrey Goldberg, Eitam told him that there are "innocent men among the Palestinians, but they are collectively guilty," and "we will have to kill them all."

To avoid mistakes, the leader of the National Religious Party added: "I know it's not very diplomatic. I don't mean all the Palestinians, but the ones with evil in their heads - not only blood on their hands, but evil in their heads. They are contaminating the hearts and minds of the next generation of Palestinians."