by Rabbi Michael Lerner
(PNS) -- Many of us in the peace movement are praying for Ariel Sharon's recovery even though we still see him as an obstacle to peace in the Middle East in the long run. While we would never wish for the death of anyone, even our enemies, we might have hoped that people like the president of Iran, or Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, or even President Bush would be peacefully removed from office quickly. Yet the developments of recent months have made many peaceniks hope that Sharon would stay in office at least through the completion of the next half-year.
The reason is that Ariel Sharon has done what no one on the Left was able to do: split the Right, marginalize the extremists who believe that holding on to the biblical vision of the Land of Israel is a divine mandate, and acknowledge that a smaller Israel with defensible borders is preferable to a large Israel that requires domination of 3 million Palestinians.
Sharon was not just a talker, he was a doer. Once he really understood that Israel could not hope to retain support of even its most enthusiastic allies if it continued the 39-year-old occupation, he dramatically withdrew several thousand settlers from Gaza and pulled back Israeli troops there to 1967 borders.
When his own political party, the Likud, repudiated his decisive actions, he quit and began to create a center-right party, Kadima, that was, according to the most recent polls, likely to win one-third of the delegates in the new Knesset, and to ally with the center-left Labor party headed by a social justice crusader Amir Peretz in forming a new government.
The potential government that might have emerged would have likely been more sensitive to the social justice needs of Israelis. It might have pushed Sharon to negotiate a settlement with the Palestinian people, rather than continue to impose one along borders that Sharon had unilaterally decided upon (as he unilaterally decided to leave Gaza without making arrangements that could have given the Palestinian Authority the power to effectively challenge Hamas and other extremist groups that are currently wreaking havoc).
Precisely because of his past as a ruthless militarist who cared little for the humanity of the Palestinian people, Sharon managed to bring with him, in the steps toward creating a Palestinian state, sections of the Israeli population who are not committed to holding on to the West Bank for religious reasons but who worry greatly about their own physical security from Palestinian terror. These Israelis trusted that Sharon was an expert in that sphere. It is hard to imagine anyone having the same credibility with those voters, and the same ability to gather their support for a Palestinian state. For that reason, Sharon's absence from politics is a grave setback for those of us who hoped to build peace step by step.
Few of us in the peace movements had any illusions, though, that Sharon ever intended to negotiate a Palestinian state with borders that would have been acceptable (roughly those agreed upon between Palestinians and former Minister of Justice Yossi Beilin in the Geneva Accord). In fact, Sharon's closest advisors tried to explain to Likud rejectionists that Sharon's plan for unilateral withdrawals were precisely aimed at stopping the Geneva Accord and other such plans from getting majority support in Israel and among Israel's allies abroad. It was also, they said, intended to derail the Road Map issued by President Bush.
Sharon's plan was to finish completion of a wall that he has built through the West Bank that incorporates the bulk of the settlers, as well as hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, and to declare that the new boundary of Israel. Then he planned to forcibly remove the one-sixth of Israeli settlers who were not inside that wall and allow Palestinians to have approximately half of the West Bank for a Palestinian state -- a state crisscrossed by Israeli roads, and a state in which the Israeli military would continue to police the Jordan Valley. The wall is already nearing completion. If Sharon had the political mandate, its path would become the expanded boundary of Israel.
Sharon has systematically ignored the humanity of the Palestinian people, violated their basic human rights, escalated torture and massive military assaults against civilian targets, escalated the use of targeted assassinations of "suspected" militants and refused to negotiate with the mild-mannered Palestinian prime minister Mahmoud Abbas. He has not been a man of peace.
Yet the loss of Sharon will be mourned by many of us in the peace movement because his current moves, insensitive as they were to the needs of Palestinians, seemed to be the one viable way to build an Israeli majority for concessions that might eventually create the conditions for a more respectful and mutual reconciliation with the Palestinians, thereby bringing peace to Israel.
January 3, 2006 (http://www.albionmonitor.com) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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