After Sharon's Speech
Prime Minister's statements raise more questions than answers.
Jewish Telegraphic Agency
riel Sharon's major policy
statement at the Herzliya
security conference last week
may have made world head-
lines, but it's far from clear what the
Israeli prime minister has in mind.
Sharon called on Palestinian leaders to
open negotiations with Israel and threat- -
ened unilateral steps if they don't, but he
did not spell out those steps.
In fact, Sharon's long-awaited Dec. 18
speech, in which he broached the possi-
bility of a unilateral Israeli pullback from
the West Bank and Gala Strip, raised
more questions than it provided answers.
For example, does Sharon envision a
major Israeli withdrawal and a large-scale
evacuation of Jewish settlements? Or will
the pullback be minimal, with few settle-
ments evacuated and the Palestinians sur-
rounded on all sides by security fences?
Will Sharon be able to get American
support for his new policy? Will he listen
to the Israel Defense Forces or to the
Shin Bet security service, which are urg-
ing him to go in opposite directions?
Will he actually be able to dismantle
dozens of settlements, assuming he wants
to? And what are the likely political ram-
ifications in Israel?
Local pundits give two very different
readings of the prime minister's inten-
According to one reading, Sharon's
plan is to redeploy Israeli forces behind
the security fence being built between
Israel and the West Bank, and to "relo-
cate' dozens of Israeli settlements from
the Palestinian to the Israeli side.
According to this scenario, the fence
would be no more than a temporary
security line, and the Palestinians would
have the option of coming back to the
negotiating table at any time to set final
But there is another, widely divergent
reading — that Sharon intends to com-
plete a second "eastern fence" along the
Jordan Valley, enclosing the Palestinians
between the two fences on about 50 per-
cent to 60 percent of the West Bank.
Under this scenario, Israel would retain
the Jordan Valley as a buffer zone
between the Palestinian entity and
Whether the Palestinians have territo-
rial contiguity or only contiguity of
movement will depend on which way
The IDF's Central Command, respon-
sible for the West Bank, has drawn up a
contingency plan called "Everything
Flows," in which a system of bridges,
tunnels and by-pass roads provides the
Palestinians with freedom of movement,
without full territorial contiguity.
Whether Sharon gets American sup-
port will depend on which plan he
adopts. The United States insists that
Israel do nothing to undermine President
Bush's vision of a viable Palestinian state.
That would seem to rule out American
support for the eastern fence plan.
For his part, Sharon has said that
whatever he does will be fully coordinat-
ed with the United States. Indeed, there
is nothing more important in his foreign
policy doctrine than Israel's U.S. ties.
Therefore, it's hard to see Sharon press-
ing for the eastern fence scenario.
On the other hand, for years Sharon
has been carrying around a map based
on "Israeli interests" which,
like the eastern fence scenario,
leaves the Palestinians with no
more than 60 percent of the
If the post-withdrawal lines
seem to correspond to
Sharon's "Israeli interests" map, suspicion
will grow that he is trying to impose a
permanent arrangement on the
Palestinians based on a minimal Israeli
The IDF's argument is that if such
moves are not reciprocated by the
Palestinians, the world will be much
more understanding of a subsequent,
unilateral Israeli move. If the moves are
reciprocated, then a negotiated settle-
ment could be in the cards.
The weight Sharon attaches to the
IDF view can be gleaned from the fact
that Eiland, who is slated to become
head of the National Security Council,
has been appointed to lead a team of
experts fleshing out Sharon's unilateral
But there also are other, opposing voic-
es in the Israeli defense establishment.
The Shin Bet is urging Sharon to pro-
ceed very carefully and not hand over
cities or lift roadblocks until Palestinian
The Shin Bet argues that the
Palestinians are doing nothing to combat
terrorism. These officials say that a devas-
tating Oct. 4'suicide bombing in a Haifa
restaurant may have been the last major
terrorist attack, but only
because Israeli forces have suc-
ceeded in foiling 26 suicide
bombing attempts since then.
The IDF, however, is urging Sharon to
be generous with the Israeli withdrawal.
"I he army's planning branch, under Maj.
Gen. Giora Eiland, has presented Sharon
with an ambitious plan leading to the
establishment of a Palestinian state with
The IDF is urging Sharon to show the
Palestinians and the international com-
munity how serious he is by handing
over West Bank cities to the Palestinian
Authority — a process that until now
has been conditional on. Palestinian will-
ingness to fight terrorism — as soon as
The army also is advising Sharon to
lift roadblocks and allow free movement
between Palestinian cities, even at the
risk of more terrorist attacks against
Relocation Of Settlements
Perhaps the biggest question for Sharon
is whether he will be able to relocate
dozens of Jewish settlements.
So far, the government has not set up a
team to negotiate with settlers over com-
pensation or alternative housing.
Even, if it does, the right-wing ideolog-
ical settlers — as distinct from those who
moved to the settlements for lifestyle rea-
sons or because of government financial
incentives — are unlikely to cooperate.
The government already is having dif-
ficulty dismantling sparsely populated,
illegal settlement outposts; when it
comes to large, authorized settlements,
settler opposition is sure to be much
Every such relocation would be a
major operation for the army. Given the
army's manpower limitations, the settle-
ments probably would have to be dealt
with one by one, in an emotionally
wrenching and time-consuming process.
Sharon also can expect opposition
from within his own Likud Party and
from the far right. As soon as a reloca-
tion program goes into effect, the
National Religious Party and the
National Union are expected to quit the
governing coalition, and some Likud
lawmakers will stop automatically sup-
porting the government.
Eleven of the Likud's 40 caucus mem-
bers already have signed a petition
demanding that any settlement reloca-
tion first be authorized by the caucus.
Others are pressing for a full-scale debate
on Sharon's new policy at next month's
The immediate test for Sharon will be
whether he can pass the 2004 budget by
the end of the year. Last minute, right-
wing opposition to the budget could
have a far-reaching effect on Sharon's
ability to move his policy forward.
Of course, all the unilateral arguments
would become irrelevant if Palestinian
Authority Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei
were to come to the table and negotiate a
deal with Sharon on the basis of the
internationally backed "road map" peace
But few on the Israeli side, including
Sharon, believe that will happen.
That leaves the two key, and so far
unanswered, questions: Which unilateral
plan will Sharon adopt, and will he have
the political support to implement it ❑
Leslie Susser is the diplomatic correspondent
for the Jerusalem Report.
Israeli Prime Minister And Sharon's
speech to the Herzliya 'Conference
last week was seen by some as historic
because it moved a Likud party-led
Israeli government closer than ever
before to a policy of dismantling
some West Bank settlements. This
would reverse the previous Likud-
endorsed philosophy of settling his-
toric and religiously significant Judea
and Sa.n-iaria. But is that really what
was meant by the Sharon speech?
BIMINI) 'TEE ISSUE
Some Israeli pundits are speculating
that what Sharon really intends is to
create a strong centrist coalition gov-
ernment by losing his right-wing
partners and bringing the Labor party
back into the coalition. This would
establish a broad consensus in Israeli
society for unilateral moves that
would entail some settlement dis-
— Allan Gale, Jewish Community
Council of Metropolitan Detroit