April 13, 2003

SAVING ISRAEL FROM ITSELF:

Sharon: Israel Would Yield Settlements for Peace (Gwen Ackerman, Apr 13, 2003, Reuters)
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said in an interview published on Sunday that Israel would have to remove some settlements to get peace with Palestinians, and called the fall of Saddam Hussein a chance to end the conflict.

Expanding for the first time on previous references to "painful concessions" Israel would make for peace, Sharon also voiced objections to parts of a U.S.-backed "road map" that sets out steps on the way to creating a Palestinian state by 2005.

As an Israeli team headed for Washington with 15 reservations about the peace plan, moves by Palestinian prime minister-designate Mahmoud Abbas to meet the U.S. condition for releasing the blueprint to end 30 months of violence hit a snag.

Abbas, a leading moderate also known as Abu Mazen, presented a list of cabinet members, including reformist legislators, to President Yasser Arafat, Palestinian sources said.

But sources close to Arafat said he rejected the roster in which Abbas had taken for himself the powerful interior ministry portfolio that oversees Palestinian security forces.

The United States has said release of the "road map" must await installation of an Abbas-led cabinet that Washington hopes will pursue financial transparency in the Palestinian Authority and crack down on militants behind attacks on Israel.

Sharon, long a right-wing champion of Jewish settlement on land occupied by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war, told the liberal Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz he was ready to take steps "that are painful for every Jew and for me personally."

"Our whole history is bound up with these places: Bethlehem, Shiloh, Beit El. I know that we will have to part with some of these places," the former general said in an interview. "There will be a parting from places that are connected to the whole course of our history ... As a Jew, this agonizes me. But I have decided to make every effort to reach a (peace) settlement."


There's been a great deal written recently about the coming clash between Bush and Sharon, but such stories ignore the possibility that the "clash" is just a sophisticated good cop/bad cop routine. Mr. Sharon seems to genuinely want peace and to recognize that means many of the settlements are lost causes. In selling this to his own people--and to hardline Americans--it is very helpful to be able to say that it is necessary because Washington demands it. It is also useful to be able to say to the Palestinians that he's already made as compromises as he realistically can without losing support at home. Mr. Bush and Mr. Sharon have effectively turned the negotiation process into one between America and Israel, with the Palestinians given little role but to say "yes" to a deal that's been worked out at a level above their pay grade. So long as George Bush at the same time keeps equal or greater pressure on Israel's Arab neighbors to liberalize, and retains the threat of forcible regime change for the worst of them, Mr. Sharon has great room within to function and achieve a deal, or impose one, that's as good as Israel can get, having already lost the argument over an eventual Palestinian state. Posted by Orrin Judd at April 13, 2003 9:31 PM
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