Financial Times (London)
December 23, 2003, Tuesday SECTION:
LEADER (Editorial) Pg. 14
Sharon's Plan of Annexation: Closing a few West Bank settlements is not a peace strategy
Ariel Sharon's threat to impose a solution on the Palestinians if there is no progress with the internationally underwritten "roadmap" for the Middle East should not be treated lightly.
It is not a peace strategy. Nor is it, as the Israeli prime minister disingenuously suggests, a "disengagement" plan derived dispassionately from Israel's need to protect itself against suicide bombers. It is an annexation plan.
Mr Sharon and his allies may argue that this is a logical and legitimate response to two years of the second intifada. In that case they should explain why the plan is identical in its essentials to a map drawn up - by Mr Sharon - two decades ago.
Spearheading the drive to colonise the West Bank with Jewish settlements, Mr Sharon in 1982 drew up a strategy to get as much of the occupied land with as little of the Palestinian population as possible. The area he identified for the Palestinians was essentially the same three sectioned cantons his government is now rapidly enclosing behind the so-called security barrier. With the settlements, the network of "bypass" roads connecting them and new land seized by placing the separation wall deep inside the West Bank, the Palestinians would be left with unviable reservations amounting to 44 per cent of the West Bank or 9 per cent of colonial Palestine.
It has been suggested that Mr Sharon's willingness to countenance as part of this strategy the dismantling of an unspecified number of settlements marks a sea change in the rightwing nationalism of the Likud. The evidence for this is thin, to say the least.
Settlements such as Nezarim in Gaza, or the far-flung "ideological" colonies in the Jordan valley, are costly and difficult to protect, while the hundred or so "outposts" - little more than caravans on West Bank hilltops - were always pawns to be given away once the chess game began. Policing the West Bank, moreover, currently requires 482 checkpoints in an area not much bigger than Delaware in the US and smaller than Lincolnshire in the UK. The essence of the Sharon strategy is thus to grab as much as he can of the geography with as little as possible of the (Palestinian) demography. Being assailed by his settler allies as a traitor, moreover, suits the Israeli prime minister, since it enables him to appear in the centre of the political spectrum.
But none of this has anything to do with a strategy to secure a peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The recent Geneva Accord, reached by former ministers on both sides and a continuation of the Taba negotiations broken off when Mr Sharon came to power, shows that such a resolution is possible, not least because majorities of Israelis and Palestinians believe peace is still possible.
The Sharon approach is really about Israelis negotiating with other Israelis. Peace, by contrast, as the late Yitzhak Rabin remarked, is something you have to make with your enemies.