September 10, 2004


Sharon's brain (Jerusalem Post, 9/09/04)

However one feels about the merits of this or that Sharon policy, there is no gainsaying that his has been an unusually consequential premiership. Partly this is a function of the circumstances history dealt him: The collapse of a peace process on which Israel had staked all; a full-blown terrorist offensive; September 11. But it also has to do with Sharon's political skill - skill both his predecessors and his would-be challengers lack.

Sharon's key insight is that Israel needed, after a decade of polarization, a new center. He knew that the central thesis of the Right - that separation was suicide and peace was an illusion - was only half-right. Equally, he knew that the central thesis of the Left - that separation was necessary and peace was possible - was only half-wrong.

Oslo collapsed because there was no Palestinian partner (pace Yossi Beilin, not even Yasser Abd Rabbo). But the absence of a partner does not negate the necessity of separation. On the contrary, the more Palestinians offer Israel proofs of their intransigence, the more urgent the need to separate. Transfer is not an option, nor is a return to full-scale occupation, with Israel providing Palestinians with basic social services. Nor, either, is the status quo, which, Sharon says, "would have brought Israel heavy pressure to come up with solutions."

That leaves disengagement. Problematic in its own right, it is also largely contingent on the way its carried out. Disengagement can be an alternative to negotiations, it can be a preface to them, or it can be both. "If the Palestinians do their part," Sharon told us, "[disengagement] is meant to open the door to a diplomatic process." On the other hand, if the Palestinians do not do their part, then Israel disposes of a few territorial liabilities and consolidates settlements that remain territorial assets. This approach has the merit of serving both as punishment and incentive for the Palestinians. It also has the merit of moderation.

Above all, however, Sharon's plan has the merit of being something to which most Israelis can give their (grudging) consent.

As you look at Russia and Chechnya it's useful to recall that even though this was the only solution to the Palestinian problem all along it was considered unrealistic as recently as last year.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 10, 2004 12:56 PM

As discussed in a previous thread Russia has options that Israel does not.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at September 10, 2004 4:33 PM

Sharon is treating the so-called 'Palestinian' issue as a military matter. The retreat is tactical, so that there are fewer people exposed to terror. The 'wall' is working.

Posted by: Bart at September 11, 2004 6:47 AM