March 21, 2002
Recent critics of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon have impatiently charged that he has "no plan" to resolve Israel's current crisis. The charge is mistaken and is simply a case of shooting a messenger with a message few -- whether they be from the right or the left -- want to hear.
Sharon's message to the left is this: Oslo has catastrophically failed, and it will take time to fix the damage. How much time? A lot.
First, enough time to destroy the terrorist infrastructure in the Palestinian Authority, and then even more time to find a new Palestinian leadership. And, at the end of the road, Israel will not withdraw to the indefensible 1967 borders, will not abandon Israelis living beyond the Green Line and will not divide Jerusalem.
Sharon's message to the right is this: Oslo has opened a Pandora's Box, and a Palestinian entity or state is going to be the outcome of the process.
Sharon, the general, never would have created areas of Palestinian control on the outskirts of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. However, Sharon recognizes most Israelis do not want daily control over another people. Sharon believes that a Palestinian entity in significant portions of Judea, Samaria and Gaza can be a benefit to Israel if it allows Israel to preserve its democratic and Jewish character.
To both sides, Sharon makes no promise that the long Arab war against Israel is about to come to a miraculous end. As a realist, he sees that the Arab world will not accept Israel as an independent Jewish state until they are convinced that Israel is so strong it will never be destroyed.
In the meantime, Israel must use the interim period to regain its position as a nation growing stronger with time, not weaker. Only when the Arab world is convinced they cannot destroy Israel, will there be negotiations leading to peace. Israel had this edge in 1993; Sharon wants this advantage back.
Over the short term, Sharon wants to defeat the Palestinian Authority's war of attrition the way Israel has in the past. He sees this latest round of fighting as similar to Israel's three-year War of Independence, his 1970-71 campaign against guerrillas in Gaza and the intifada of the late 1980s -- all prolonged conflicts where the Arabs lost their will and/or ability to fight and Israel gained the upper hand. If Israel maintains her strength and composure, the terrorist infrastructure will be beaten.
For an extended war of attrition, Israel must have unity. Sharon is intent on keeping a broad coalition government for the duration of the conflict and, if needed, beyond.
In the longer term, to resolve the security challenge presented by a future Palestinian entity, Sharon has a consistent approach: build defensible borders.
Just as the Golan Heights protects Israel from Syria, the Sinai Desert protects Israel from Egypt and the Jordan Valley secures the eastern frontier at Jordan's border with Iraq, Sharon now seeks to set up defensible borders with a future Palestinian entity.
Specifically, Jerusalem will be protected by a ring of communities, roads and checkpoints. The coastal plain communities, which today have grown right up to and over the Green Line, will be protected by buffer zones in the Shomron along the defensible towns and villages that Sharon himself built along the high ground. The Jordan Valley, and related blocks of land that prevent a Palestinian entity from touching Jordan, will remain part of Israel.
Sharon is not withdrawing behind a new border. Instead, Israel will have the option to operate on both sides of these barriers. The degree of Palestinian control -- and Sharon is willing to give them viable sovereignty -- will depend on later negotiations, not terrorist extortion.
Sharon thinks that former Prime Minister Ehud Barak's offer of a return to the 1967 borders would have been a reckless error, especially in Jerusalem, where Barak offered to divide the city -- street by street. The details make all the difference. Sharon, who always surrounds himself with maps, believes the greatest sin of Oslo was that it created unworkable situations on the ground. For Sharon, defensible borders keep the peace, not agreements.
In the future, Sharon will consider making an agreement with a new Palestinian leadership, but he views Yasser Arafat as "irrelevant" and unable to make a final agreement with Israel. Furthermore, Sharon recognizes that some of the Palestinians, themselves, have had enough with terrorism and the corrupt gang from Tunis. While Sharon cannot select a new Palestinian leadership, he can show the Palestinians that those leaders who choose terror bring worse outcomes for their people.
In the meantime, Israel will continue to pressure, discredit and humiliate those who, like Arafat, have chosen violence as their only option. Sharon will not make a substantive deal under fire -- except for tactical cease-fires -- that either better Israel's security or help America's international war on terror. However, whenever he enters negotiations, Sharon knowingly runs the great risk that discussions concerning a cease-fire will be used to force strategic concessions from Israel.
More than anything else, Sharon has consistently asked for one thing from Israel and her friends abroad: patience. Just as it took an accumulation of poor choices from 1993 to 2001 for Israel to reach this crisis, it will take several consistent years of better choices for Israel to return the country to its former strength. Slowly but surely, Sharon wants the people of Israel to again control of their own fate in their own land.
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