What Prime Minister Ariel Sharon played down in his Rosh Hashanah interviews was clearly exposed by his former bureau chief, Dov Weisglass, in an interview in Haaretz Magazine (October 8). The goal of the disengagement plan is to perpetuate Israeli control in most of the West Bank, and to repel any internal or external pressure for a different political solution.
Sharon is consistently trying to realize his vision: Israeli control over the eastern and western slopes of the West Bank, and maintaining traffic corridors along its length and breadth. The Palestinians will be left with seven enclaves connected by special highways for their use. The disengagement plan will facilitate the realization of this vision, at a bargain price from his point of view: He is giving up the Gaza Strip, where 37 percent of the Palestinians live, but whose area is only 1.25 percent of the Land of Israel.
Anyone touring the West Bank will have no doubts regarding the hidden agenda of the disengagement plan. Building in the settlements, including the illegal ones, is proceeding at full speed. About 4,000 housing units are now under construction. When they are populated, the number of settlers in the West Bank will grow by approximately 10 percent.
Most of the Israeli public supports the Sharon plan. It naively believes that its realization will bring about the end of the war and a significant economic improvement. The international community also supports the plan. It is tired of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and is no longer investing any real input in attempts to solve it.
Even after Weisglass' damning confession in Haaretz, the peace camp will continue to support the Sharon plan. More than anything, this uncritical support expresses weakness and lack of confidence. Many of this camp's leaders no longer believe in their ability to lead a daring political move, which includes a clash with the extreme right, and to convince most of the public that they are right.
Anyone who supports a unilateral step and prefers it to a serious attempt at rapprochement, is accepting Sharon's basic assumption that "there is no partner" - an assumption that he has made every effort to ensure: Anyone who was likely to be a partner received nothing from him, with the exception of harmful compliments. It's true that there is no Palestinian partner to the seven-enclave plan, nor will there be.
Many good people seriously hope that the exit from the Gaza Strip and the evacuation of the settlements will begin a dynamic that cannot be stopped. Such a dynamic would make the continuation of the process in the West Bank unavoidable. This possibility is what is influencing the extreme right to react with violent opposition, which has not yet reached its peak.
However, such a scenario will occur only if Gaza is handed over to a responsible Palestinian government, through close coordination with Israel, and with active and generous support from the international community and the wealthy Arab states. A Gaza that is not a source of terrorism or a place where terrorism reigns, which is rehabilitated economically, and which is run by a Palestinian government, is likely to be a positive model for the future.
I am not certain that this is the model Sharon has in mind. An opposite, negative development seems more likely at the moment: Gaza in chaos, supported by international welfare organizations, and controlled by armed gangs - that is the model that will prevent any Israeli from even considering a continuation of the process in the West Bank. Continuation of the war after the Israeli exit from Gaza will cause the Israeli public to lose any desire to reach an agreement. In such a public atmosphere, our death grip on 2.5 million Palestinians in seven enclaves in the West Bank will turn into a perpetual one.
If general elections are held before the disengagement plan is carried out, they will of necessity focus on support for or opposition to the Sharon plan. Without any other plan before it, the public will support Sharon and his plan, and thus will indirectly prepare the ground for the continuation of lawless settlement in the West Bank. When it turns out that the conflict has not been solved, that the war with the Palestinians is continuing, that the Israel Defense Forces are busy protecting the settlers and that the country's political isolation is increasing, Israelis will be left for four more years with a government that in effect doesn't want anything else.
Weisglass openly told Haaretz: "The disengagement supplies the amount of formaldehyde that is necessary so that there will not be a political process with the Palestinians." Formaldehyde, it should be remembered, is the liquid in which dead bodies are preserved.
The parties that want a political process - Labor, Shinui and Yahad - must present an alternative. The real choice is between an end to the war and a continuation of the settlements. There will be no agreement with the Palestinians when 250,000 Israelis live in 230 settlements and outposts in the West Bank. Unless about half of them return to the borders of the State of Israel and a new map is drawn separating Israel and the Palestinian state, there will be no end to war in the land.
On the new map, about 80 percent of Mandatory Eretz Israel will be within the borders of the state. Such a division, achieved through agreement, means a historic victory for Zionism. The choice between the settlements and the end of the war should be the focus of the next elections. The majority, which is tired of being dragged into an endless war by an extremist minority, will then have its say.
The writer is a Labor MK and the chair of the Knesset Subcommittee on Defense Planning and Policy.
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