by Marlene Nadle
(PNS) -- Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is busy tinkering with his plan to withdraw settlements from Gaza and meeting with Labor party leaders about forming a new government. Meanwhile, President George Bush has sent his envoys around the world to resell Sharon's proposal, which was defeated in the Likud party referendum but is still very much alive.
The two leaders are spinning Sharon's Gaza plan as a path to a comprehensive peace. Instead, it is a dangerous detour away from the final negotiations needed to replace the fatally flawed road map and the fixation on Palestinian terrorism. The president and prime minister's public relations gesture won't end more political assassinations and suicide bombings. It will only delay a real solution.
"What this does is give you the illusion that you have more time," warned Shibley Telhami of the Brookings Institute in a recent appearance on the "Charlie Rose Show." "It gives you the illusion that you can afford not to be active. Meanwhile, you have too much bloodshed on the ground."
Sharon bluntly told Israeli press that the Gaza plan is an attempt to head off the international community's demand for a more far-reaching solution. It's also an effort to maintain Sharon's own popularity, by defusing Israel's worry about a demographic threat through ditching Gaza and its Palestinians. Once he has solved this political problem Sharon won't have any incentive to do more.
Bush hopes to use the illusion of progress to polish his foreign policy image and get more Jews to vote for him. This week he touted his support for the Gaza plan at a meeting of the right-wing Jewish lobbying group AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee). Once past the election, he is likely to disengage, as he has after other spurts of Holy Land activity.
Those close to the situation, like Israeli commentator Gideon Samet, aren't fooled. "The Bush administration," Samet wrote in the Israeli daily Haaretz, "isn't doing us any kind of favor ... It is both giving support to Israel's pseudo-policy and releasing itself from any sort of serious initiative to help us help ourselves." In the April issue of American Prospect magazine, former U.S. Ambassador Martin Indyk noted the discrepancy between the perception of Bush as a great friend of Israel and the reality that his failed diplomacy has put Israel at greater risk than it has been in for decades.
If the two leaders don't expand their policy beyond meaningless rhetoric tying the Gaza pullout to the road map, the future will be an even greater disaster. The Israeli military's General Staff has predicted that withdrawal from Gaza will make the area the militant's base for future attacks and lead to a re-invasion by Sharon's army. According to the Bush-Sharon agreement, the Israeli army will not even leave completely. It will retain control of Gaza's airport, coastline and border with Egypt, where Palestinian demonstrators were killed this week. The madness will simply continue and intensify.
The escalated Palestinian terrorism is likely to elicit the president's and prime minister's standard political response. They will again make the end of terrorism a precondition for all other progress on the road map, and dead-end everything. They don't have the vision of former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, whose stated policy was to continue the peace process as if there were no terrorism, and fight terrorism as if there were no peace process. That is why Rabin could simultaneously talk and fight with the imperfect Arafat, and make him a partner for peace instead of an excuse to do nothing.
If the current leaders had Rabin's same flexibility and statesmanship, they would have withdrawn from Gaza in 2003 to reward Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, who is opposed to terrorism. That would have strengthened Abbas and the other moderates. It would have been proof for the Palestinian public that peace pays, and would have been an incentive to further concessions on both sides.
Whether from ineptitude or design, Bush and Sharon are withdrawing in a way that leads nowhere. Paralysis suits their political and ideological needs. Sharon, by not resolving the conflict, gets to keep extending his hold on the West Bank and the Israeli electorate. Bush, by not forcing Israel to remove all the settlements, doesn't have to anger the Christian Zionists or the right-wing Jews he needs for re-election.
If they weren't so interested in personal gain, these leaders might have listened to the former head of Israeli Security, Carmi Gillon. He dismissed both the road map and the Oslo plan as unworkable because they are based on stages meant to build trust -- and there is no trust. He proposed doing a comprehensive peace treaty first, and then implementing the stages. Other advocates of final plans like the Geneva Accord argue that guaranteed results and rewards would give both sides incentive to face down the settlers and suicide bombers.
Bush and Sharon are nowhere near trying a comprehensive treaty. Fixed on the tactic of confronting Palestinian terrorism instead of a strategy for solution, unwilling to risk their political capital, they and their pseudo-policy for peace are certain to bring more misery to the region. Israelis and Palestinians won't get physical security, economic well-being or peace of mind. They will remain victims of the politicians.
May 22, 2004 (http://www.albionmonitor.com) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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