Israel/Palestine: The Politics of a Two-State Solution

  • Israel/Palestine and the Politics of a Two-State Solution
  • When Peace Fails: Lessons from Belfast for the Middle East

Monday, March 14, 2011

Israeli Interlocutor with the Palestinians Part III

In February 1983 the Kahan Commission, appointed by Begin under pressure by the Israeli peace movement and Labor following the massacres, held Sharon unfit to serve as defense minister and Eitan to serve as chief of staff. Sharon became minister without portfolio and spent the next fourteen and a half years in internal "exile" filling minor posts in Likud governments. Begin went into a deep depression and retired from politics in September 1983.

His successor was Yitzhak Shamir, a former leader of the Lehi underground movement and foreign minister under Begin. Shamir spent the next nine years making sure that settlement continued without stop on the West Bank--he met little resistance from Labor--and that no peace plan got anywhere. In 1992 after losing an election Shamir retired from politics and his designated successor, Moshe Arens, suprised everyone by retiring as well.

Shamir's successor then became an Arens protege, a scion, of a distinguished Revisionist and Israeli family, Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu. Sharon would spend the remaining fourteen years of his political life attempting to outflank Netanyahu from the right or the left. He joined Netanyahu in attacking the Oslo peace process. Netanyahu appointed him foreign minister in October 1998 on the eve of the Wye Plantation Summit to fortify his own right flank. Bibi signed a deal but upon returning to Israel lacked the clout to sell it to his coalition. His government collapsed and Sharon emerged as leader of the Likud, a prize he had sought since founding it a quarter century before.

In July 2000 the Camp David Summit ended with no agreement and Clinton failed to produce bridging proposals. Arafat prepared the Palestinians for a major uprising by stocking up on medical and food supplies, something that the Palestinian leadership had not done in 1936 or in 1948. Netanyahu, who had resigned his Knesset seat, looked to be preparing a comeback. The Likud voted in the Knesset for a law that would allow Netanyahu to become prime minister without being a deputy. Sharon needed to act quickly. He sought and won permission from Prime Minister Ehud Barak to visit the Temple Mount with a police escort at the end of September 2000. The visit lasted about an hour and provoked some minor clashes with Palestinian worshippers on the Mount. Arafat quickly exploited this to touch off the Al-Aksa (named for one of the two mosques on the Mount) Intifada. Barak called an election for prime minister for February 2001. Sharon handily won and then had to clean up the mess that he had helped to make.

The Al-Aksa Intifada quickly devolved into a contest between the Islamists of Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the Fatah Al-Aksa Brigades to see who could mount the bloodiest terrorist incidents. Unlike the mid-1990s, the Islamists no longer needed to fear any temporary jailing by Arafat. Arafat quickly returned to his true metier as leader of the "armed struggle." Attempts by Washington and Cairo to intervene got nowhere because Arafat was determined to improve his bargaining leverage and his popularity, seriously eroded due to the nature of his regime, and Jerusalem was determined to not allow Arafat to gain any advantage.

Sharon gradually adopted two main tactics. The first was "targeted killings" a euphemism for assassination of Palestinian terrorist and political leaders. The other was invasion of the areas of the West Bank from which the IDF had withdrawn in the mid-1990s under Oslo. After a major terrorist bombing in Netanya on March 27, 1992, Sharon sent the IDF back into the cities of the West Bank to destroy the terrorist infrastructure. Unlike in 1982, this time he had the complete sympathy of the American president who despised Arafat. After reestablishing control Sharon adopted the separation strategy proposed by Labor, but changed the boundaries. The separation barrier, a combination of electrified fence and high brick walls, ran along the Palestinian side of the green line or border and occasionally deep into the West Bank to include settlements like Ariel.

Sharon, who believed that a Palestinian state should consist of less than half the territory of the West Bank, began using the language of the Israeli Center-Left. He spoke of occupation and the suffering of the Palestinians. And he prepared a redeployment of the Israeli military to politically more defensible lines--he would withdraw from Gaza, abandoning the settlers who had lived there for a quarter century. And he abandoned four settlements in northern Samaria. The Likud bulked at this plan and Sharon had to turn to Labor for the Knesset votes necessary to win approval. The IDF carried out the redeployment in August 2005. Sharon then withdrew from the party, which he had founded thirty years before, two months later. Two months after that he suffered a massive stroke and his political career was over.

Sharon, except for the length of his political career, is typical of many of Israel's military politicians. He in many ways serves as a role model for military politicians in the Likud and Kadima such as Shlomo Mofaz and Moshe "Boogie" Ya’alon. Dayan had his first encounters with Palestinians fifteen years before Sharon in 1938-39 as did Yigal Allon. Ehud Barak had his about fifteen years after Sharon's in the late 1960s. His role in the assassination of Palestinian terrorist leaders in Beirut in 1973 helped to make his military career and establish him as Israel's most decorated soldier.

Except during Oslo in the 1990s and in 2008, most Israeli leaders have only dealt with Palestinians, either directly or indirectly, on the battlefield. In this they resemble Andrew Jackson who dealt with American Indians from 1788 until 1837, mostly on the battlefield or in one-sided peace negotiations. Jackson, like Sharon, also exceeded his orders in invading foreign territory in Florida in 1817. But unlike with Sharon, it helped his career. Maybe we can count Sharon's fourteen years in minor posts as a major advancement. Jackson, unlike Sharon, was able to carry out his dream of removing the natives. Sharon could only plan for this when he was a staff officer in Northern Command in the late 1950s.

1 comment:

  1. Fascinating history of a complicated man, Tom. I've definitely enjoyed reading it. And learned a lot.