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 The Sharon Plan Is in Place
 Marcia Freedman, Israel
 November 29, 2002
There are many Israeli pundits and politicians on the left who have criticized Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on the grounds that he has only a short-term military response to the current Palestinian uprising, but no long-term political solution. But this interpretation ignores history. Whether he has articulated it lately or not, Sharon continues to advance a vision he began steadily putting into place while serving as housing minister and then as infrastructure minister in various Likud governments during the 1980s.

This largely realized plan would limit Palestinian "sovereignty" to just 40 percent of the West Bank, leaving the rest under permanent Israeli control while allowing Sharon to appear to make good on his promise to back a Palestinian state. The steps he has already taken will continue to determine the starting point for negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. The facts he has created on the ground will be difficult, though not impossible, to alter.

Though not a player in the Oslo Accords, the man responsible for drawing the map that served as Oslo’s starting point was Ariel Sharon. Under the agreement, 40 percent of the West Bank was placed under full or partial control of the Palestinian Authority. For Yitzchak Rabin, this was the starting point. For Sharon, it is the end game.

Sharon has been consistent on this point for years: The "40 percent solution" is the only basis for his acceptance of a Palestinian state on the West Bank. Today, the point is made indirectly: Sharon has consistently maintained that he will never agree to dismantling a single settlement, that the Jordan Valley Rift must remain in Israeli hands, and that separation between Israel and the Palestinians along "the seam line" (the 1967 borders) requires considerable annexation of Palestinian territory, all of which would require holding on to at least 60 percent of the West Bank.

Sharon’s recent statements as prime minister that he favors the creation of a Palestinian state and that he is ready to make "painful concessions" need to be understood in the light of this history, which belies the claims that Sharon lacks a plan. While necessary to maintain good relationships with the United States, Sharon’s voiced support for a Palestinian state is, under examination, a far cry from what the U.S., the world community, and the Palestinians themselves —not to mention most Israelis —mean by a two-state solution.

Further evidence of Sharon’s plan has emerged in his actions since taking office early in 2001. Clearly Israel has a right to defend its citizens against wanton and cruel acts of terrorism, and the government’s military policy is often described as an attempt to make it difficult for Palestinians to carry out terrorist attacks.

However, the military strategy has, in effect, divided the West Bank and its 2 million Palestinians into eight urban population centers. Outside of the centers is a no-man’s land of small agricultural villages, each surrounded by the army and/or Israeli settlements and cut off from the Palestinian body politic. The villagers face continuous pressure from settler violence to evacuate and move into one of the eight enclaves (as the village of Yanun recently did). The eight population centers are surrounded by barbed wire and trenches and separated from one another by road closures and checkpoints; travel and commerce between them is severely restricted. Even Palestinians who have received daily travel passes from Israeli authorities face long waits at checkpoints and find themselves climbing over deep ditches or hills of rubble.

The 40 percent solution is largely in place already. All Sharon needs to do is to stall long enough for these facts to be so deeply embedded on the ground that they will be irreversible. He does not need the help of the U.S. or American Jewry to realize his vision. But he does need the abdication of the U.S. as a superpower and diaspora Jewry as a possible critic of his policies.

The only thing Sharon seems to have failed to take into consideration is what kind of state the Palestinians themselves might be willing to accept. It is hard to believe that confinement to overcrowded enclaves, with movement between them controlled by Israel, is one of the possible alternatives. It is hard to believe that this plan will lead to anything that can reasonably be called a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The name may change from "occupation" to "independence," but the reality will continue to be an endless cycle of bloodletting that empowers the extremists on both sides to continue in their pursuit of a 100 percent solution. Sooner or later, the Sharon plan is doomed to failure. The only unknown is how many lives it will claim.

Marcia Freedman is a former member of the Israeli Knesset and board president of Brit Tzedek v’Shalom, the Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace.

From The Jewish Week, November 29, 2002. © 2000–2002 The Jewish Week, Inc.