Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s unilateral withdrawal plan may be ill-timed, defeatist, and perceived as a reward for terror. Until April 14, I fervently hoped it would be rejected at the Likud referendum.
But ultimately politics amounts to the art of the possible. And it is undeniable that Sharon astonished most of us by the extent of his success in persuading the president of the United States to support Israel.
After all, President George W. Bush is facing a real crisis in Iraq and is trying to restore relations with the Europeans, who openly promote the Palestinian cause. To have made such a dramatic statement in support of Israel was a highly courageous political act.
That is not to suggest that Bush’s April 14 statement is carved in stone or represents a new Balfour Declaration. Although highly unlikely, it could be repudiated by his successor. One only has to recollect how president Lyndon Johnson left Israel in the lurch in 1967, when he failed to uphold America’s commitment to maintain free passage through the Straits of Tiran.
As with many policy formulations, Bush’s statement also contains ambiguities. The fence is still an area of potential controversy. The settlement blocs that Bush implies Israel may be entitled to retain are not specified. The Palestinians will again demand an unrealistic exchange of territory for annexed settlements. And Bush proposes cooperating with Egypt and Jordan to resurrect the Palestinian security services, disregarding their terrorist connections.
Despite these limitations there is no denying that Bush, unquestionably the best friend Israel has ever had in the White House, has again delivered. In fact his statement goes a long way toward neutralizing the disastrous concessions conceded by Israel at Taba during the dying hours of Ehud Barak’s government.
Clearly, the 1967 boundaries will no longer be the starting point for future negotiations. The so-called Arab right of return, which would result in an end to Jewish sovereignty, has now been explicitly rejected. And unlike Bill Clinton, Bush did not make demands on Israel in relation to Jerusalem, providing greater flexibility in future negotiations.
The president also made it clear that in contrast to Clinton, he supports maintaining the existing security arrangements relating to land passage, airspace, and territorial waters in Gaza and the West Bank. He even refers to the need for strengthening “Israel’s capability to defend itself by itself” without reference to multinational forces.
In this framework it would surely be insane to repudiate Sharon’s proposals at the Likud referendum. Many Likud supporters would, under normal circumstances, oppose his policy, especially having regard to the authoritarian and undemocratic manner in which he bypassed his own cabinet.
But there should be no illusions. It would be Bush who would be humiliated and made to look like a fool. Such a slap in the face to a president whose ongoing support is so critical for our future would be catastrophic. Should that transpire, no other political leader would ever again contemplate taking up a pro-Israeli position against those baying for our demise.
Although it is now impractical, the ideal solution would have been to annul the Likud referendum.
In lieu of continued emotional outpourings, the leaders of the national camp should set aside their understandable frustration with the prime minister’s undemocratic methods and motivations and revert to strategic planning. There must be one single, overriding goal in our considerations: to retain as much as possible of Eretz Yisrael.
The time has come to set aside theoretical ideological considerations and face reality.
The leaders in the national camp should realize that those who are inflexible and refuse to compromise on anything frequently end up losing everything. They should remember that had David Ben-Gurion not been flexible in relation to the size of the Jewish state, Israel would not exist today.
We must now rally public opinion in the US and promote the passage of bipartisan resolutions in Congress in order to transform Bush’s statement into formal policy. We should also mount a vigorous campaign to annex those settlements which should remain within Israel.
It is also time to bring an end to the polarization and demonization in the political arena, which could still be our undoing. We must capitalize on the consensus shared by the vast majority of Israelis who seek to maximize retention of those areas in which Jewish demographic realities justify annexation, and separate ourselves from neighbors who have become suffused by a culture of evil and death.
The national camp should distance itself from a raucous radical minority which insists we should not give up an inch of territory, and from those who present themselves as the Almighty’s representatives and proclaim halachic edicts relating to security issues which impinge on pikuah nefesh (danger to life).
We also bear the responsibility of ensuring that the thousands of dedicated idealists who will be uprooted from their homes are not forsaken. They settled with the blessing and support of former governments, and in particular with the direct encouragement of Ariel Sharon. They are the innocent victims of a failed endeavor and nothing can overcome the traumatic experience they will undergo. But, at the very least, the state must provide generous financial compensation to assist them to resettle into new communities and enable them to procure new livelihoods.
Above all it is incumbent on responsible leaders in the national camp to hold fast and avoid replaying previous disasters by breaking up the government and marginalizing themselves into the opposition. That would once again guarantee the return to political power of the unreconstructed ideologues of Oslo, who even today continue proclaiming their intention to revert to the 1967 borders. When these defeatists reintroduce the policies of appeasement that led us into this foul swamp, the blame will rest squarely on those who broke up the government.
We face challenges and opportunities. But without becoming subservient satellites we must take account of the sober reality that we are not a superpower, and that a supportive US today stands between us and the abyss.
The US has now, for the first time, stated that UN Resolution 242 does not entail a return to 1967 borders. Bush in fact related specifically to the “existing major Israeli population centers” that have created “new realities on the ground.”
He was also unequivocal in his support of “Israel’s well-being as a Jewish state” and repudiated those who seek our demise by calling on us to absorb Arab refugees.
Most Israelis have every reason to say, passionately, “God Bless President Bush.” And Likud members would be wise to support Sharon’s plan.