On Yom Kippur 5765 (2004), the opponents of the plan for disengagement from the Gaza Strip would do well to beg a special pardon from the prime minister. In interviews that he gave to the media before Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, Ariel Sharon revealed that the plan has saved the Jews from a great disaster: "American pressure to renew the peace negotiations with Syria." He said that the danger cropped up in a meeting that he held last October in Rome with senior representatives of the U.S. administration. Sharon said that he had presented the disengagement plan to them for the first time during those discussions, and convinced them that "it's impossible to add another problem to the Jewish nation now."
In other words, according to Sharon, he wants to evacuate the territories without any compensation from the Arab side, in order to sabotage the chance of reaching a peace agreement with two Arab countries (it's almost certain that Lebanon will follow Syria). He sacrificed the Gaza Strip settlement of Netzarim, if you will, so as to preserve the Golan Heights community of Katzrin. Sharon says that he conditioned negotiations with Syria on a complete cessation of its involvement in terror. And how is it that he prefers a unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, which is expected to intensify the terror activities of Hezbollah, over an agreement with Syria, which is likely to distance the Islamic fanatics from the border of Israel and from the heart of the country?
Sharon insisted in his recent holiday interviews that President Bashar Assad's peace threats are only "an attempt to get rid of the American pressure" at a time when Syria is continuing to provide a refuge for terror. Did the prime minister suspect that U.S. President George W. Bush, Mr. "War-on-Terror," would host Assad in the White House before receiving a specific commitment from him to stop hosting the leaders of Hamas and Islamic Jihad? The leader of a peace-loving country wouldn't have waited at all for external pressure to test the intentions of an enemy who has proclaimed his desire to begin peace negotiations with him - and in the case of Assad, Israel's chief of staff and head of Military Intelligence believe that the enemy is showing a real interest in an agreement. Already in April 2002, a year before the war in Iraq, Assad joined a far-reaching Arab move and signed the Arab peace initiative. It's worth mentioning that this Arab League initiative, which is still valid, includes a declaration of an end of the conflict, the establishment of normal relations with Israel and the granting of a veto to Israel over any solution to the refugee problem.
Sharon - as though incidentally, in order to explain the evacuation of the Gaza Strip - boasts of missing out on an American initiative to renew the peace process with Syria. The fact of the matter is that this initiative doesn't have a leg to stand on, and there is no sign of American pressure. The peace noises surrounding Syria began to be heard only in December - shortly after Sharon's visit to Rome, when Assad called for a renewal of talks with Israel in The New York Times. The meeting with senior members of the U.S. administration during which pressure was ostensibly applied to Sharon to talk to Assad, was in fact preceded by Bush's speech, in which he compared Assad's regime to that of Saddam Hussein.
The meeting in Rome dealt mainly with the violation of Israel's commitment, in the context of the U.S. road map plan, to dismantle the dozens of outposts built since March 2001. That same week, Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom heard from U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell that the data that Israel had given the administration regarding the outposts did not accord with the information coming from the spy satellites. There is no better proof that Sharon is not particularly upset by "American pressure."
In an interview he gave to William Safire of The New York Times on April 16, Sharon said: "Back in November, so many plans were around, from the Saudis, from Geneva, from the Arab League, and I saw we could not resist these pressures without a plan of our own." Not a word about Syria.
On the eve of the holidays, he declared that the disengagement plan has removed Bush's road map from the agenda, and indicated that "it's very possible that there will be nothing more for a very long time."
The disengagement from Netzarim, without any compensation from the Palestinians, was not meant to distance the danger of withdrawal from Katzrin in exchange for an agreement with the Syrians. Nor did it come to save the Israeli public from the burden of negotiations in two channels. The plan was designed to perpetuate the occupation in the West Bank settlement of Ofra, and to hell with peace.
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