Before the recent shake-up of the Israeli political map real peaceniks in Israel didn’t have much of a dilemma concerning which party to vote for – it was pretty clear who advocated negotiations and compromise with the Palestinians, and who didn’t. It was clear which parties and leaders were building settlements, and which were working to prevent them from being built.
Following the disengagement from Gaza it is no longer such a simple matter – today, as a matter of fact, we know who talks about dismantling settlements, and who has dismantled them.
Ariel Sharon is not a peacenik and he will probably never be a member of the club of those who have been advocating the two-state solution for tens of years. We peaceniks have organized and attended more demonstrations against Ariel Sharon and his policies than any other Israeli politician. Our anger, disdain and fear of Sharon and what he stands for has been greater than for any other Israeli politician.
THAT WAS the past. Today we must recognize that there are those who have talked about withdrawing from occupied territories; and then there are those who have withdrawn.
We had great hopes for Ehud Barak, who can be credited with only one achievement: breaking the myth of the indivisibility of Jerusalem. But Barak did not withdraw from one centimetre of occupied territories, and his arrogance and military tactics at the negotiating table created the myth of “no partner” and led to the intifada.
Shimon Peres has been the world’s best talker when it comes to peace, but where are his achievements in this area? He is credited with being the “architect” of Oslo, but the truth is that Yossi Beilin created Oslo and that without Yitzhak Rabin, Peres would never have had the courage to advance the dialogue with the PLO that led to the peace process.
Peres can also be faulted with taking steps after the Rabin assassination that led directly to the election of the killer of the peace process, Binyamin Netanyahu.
In my assessment Sharon will not bring us peace. He will not divide Jerusalem, and without sharing Jerusalem there will be no peace. Sharon will have great difficulty redeploying from the Jordan Valley, and without turning that area to the Palestinians there will be no chance of a Palestinian state. It is not even clear if Sharon will enter into a negotiated process with the Palestinians. I assess that he will find great difficulty in treating the Palestinians as equals on a level playing field at the negotiating table. But Sharon will advance peace more than any other leader. He will continue in the West Bank what he did in Gaza, and he will have the overwhelming support of the public to do so. Moving the settlements east of the separation barrier back into Israel proper, or into the settlement blocks west of the barrier, will be the greatest service to peace any Israeli political leader could do at this time.
Moving behind the wall, even while, for the time being, holding onto the Jordan Valley, the Ma’aleh Adumim bloc, and the area around Ariel will vacate about 60% of the West Bank. If the withdrawals include the settlements in the Jordan Valley, the vacated area becomes more than 75% of the West Bank. Sharon can do this and, in my assessment, it is very likely he will.
AMIR PERETZ and Labour, Sharon’s main coalition partner, will pressure him to enter into negotiations with the Palestinians, or at least fully coordinate the Israeli withdrawals over the next three years. The degree of negotiations or coordination will be largely be dependent on the outcome of the Palestinian elections in the end of January 2006 and the behaviour demonstrated by the new Palestinian government regarding the dismantling of the Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Fatah militias.
If Mahmoud Abbas goes beyond declarations and implements a policy of “one authority, one gun,” Sharon will be pressured by the Labour Party, Israeli public opinion and the US to enter into a negotiated process with the Palestinians along the lines of the road map. If the Palestinians do not implement this policy Sharon will move forward with vigour to advance further redeployments, withdrawals and the dismantling of tens of settlements unilaterally.
AS SOMEONE who has since the 1970s consistently supported the two-state solution as the ultimate fulfilment of Zionist values, if Sharon withdraws from even 60% of the occupied West Bank, I will say, for the time being, dayenu – it’s enough for now. It is not easy for someone who has been so deeply involved in processes aimed at advancing Israeli-Palestinian peace to openly proclaim support for Sharon in the coming elections. I do so not without great reservations and fears. But I do it with a deep belief, perhaps more than ever, that my vote will produce the results I wish for.
Israel still needs a strong Amir Peretz so we will can change our distorted social and economic values. Israel still needs a strong Meretz to stand guard over human and civil rights and, together with Shinui, guarantee that not only should we enjoy freedom of religion, but also freedom from religion. Israel also needs real peaceniks to join Kadima and Sharon to ensure that while advancing further redeployments, withdrawals and settlement dismantling more damage is not done by doing things like building in E1 between Jerusalem and Ma’aleh Adumim.
We must be there with Sharon to constantly push him and his government to negotiate with the Palestinians rather than act unilaterally in ways that strengthen the enemies of peace in Palestine.
I do not believe that Sharon will be the prime minister to negotiate a comprehensive peace agreement with the Palestinians, but he will get us closer than any other potential leader could in these times. Yossi Beilin brought us Geneva, but to achieve a negotiated agreement with the Palestinians he first has to get to the prime minister’s seat. He will not. Sharon will be the next prime minister of Israel.
If my assessment is correct and Sharon does in fact lead Israel out of some 60% of the West Bank, I will sleep soundly knowing I have made the right decision.
Gershon is an advisor to Israeli, Palestinian and International Prime Ministers on the Middle East Peace Process and the founder and director of IPCRI, the Israeli-Palestinian Public Policy Institute. He was the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel between Israel and Hamas for the release of 1,027 prisoners – mainly Palestinians and Arab-Israelis of which 280 were sentenced to life in prison for planning and perpetrating various attacks against Jewish targets that resulted in the killing of 569 Israelis in exchange for one Israeli soldier, Gilad Schalit. Gershon is actively involved in research and advocacy concerning topics such as social policy, environmental security, political strategy, peace education, economics, culture and in the development of affordable solar projects with the goal of providing clean electricity for 50 million people by 2020.