Sharon shows his cards

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On Wednesday, Army Radio reported the contents of a secret Foreign Ministry report which forecast the state of Israel's relations with Europe over the next decade. The picture it painted was bleak. Israel, the report's author claims, will be increasingly castigated by EU governments as a racist apartheid state.

In the sense that the leaked report does nothing other than project current trends onto the future, it is fundamentally uninteresting. What is interesting about it is how it flies in the face of the bravado-filled forecasts that Prime Minister Sharon's Svengali and outgoing Bureau Chief Dov Weisglass fed us last week through his long interview with Haaretz.

According to Weisglass, the downward trend in Europe's view of Israel will be halted by Sharon's withdrawal plan from the Gaza Strip and northern Samaria. By Weisglass's telling, the need to mollify and moderate Europe's view of Israel is one of the main reasons that Sharon chose the radical approach of withdrawal without an agreement and in the midst of war. In his words, the purpose of the withdrawal plan is to enable the US "to go to the seething and simmering international community and say to them, 'What do you want [from Israel]?'"


So, according to Weisglass, who speaks for Sharon, transferring territory to the enemy in the midst of war, while perhaps tactically problematic or even dangerous, is the right thing to do because it strategically and politically empowers Israel. This, of course was the assumption of Yitzhak Rabin in Oslo. By reaching out to the PLO and giving it arms, territory and political legitimacy, Israel was gambling with security in order to buy itself a political insurance policy. If things went well, there would be peace. If Oslo failed, the Palestinians would be blamed. Of course this turned out to be false. Oslo failed, our security was squandered, and Israel was blamed.


In speaking of the current plan, Weisglass echoes Rabin's mistaken assumption almost word for word as he says that the unilateral withdrawal plan "transfers the initiative to our hands. It compels the world to deal with our idea, with the scenario we wrote. It places the Palestinians under tremendous pressure It thrusts them into a situation in which they have to prove their seriousness."


Again, while he says this, as was the case throughout the Oslo years, we see on the ground that pressure on Israel since the announcement of the withdrawal plan has not abated. And we have the Foreign Ministry report – written with full awareness of the withdrawal plan – saying that pressure on Israel will increase and support for the Palestinians will remain constant throughout the coming decade.


Why is this? Although the leaked accounts of the report did not say, common sense has it that Israel, with all due respect, does not determine how the EU defines its interests. With oil now selling for $54 per barrel, and with the demographic challenges of growing Muslim and shrinking Christian populations in Europe motivating Bernard Lewis to say matter-of-factly that Europe will be Islamic by the end of the century, it should be fairly obvious that something other than the presence or absence of Jewish communities in Judea, Samaria and Gaza is motivating Europe.


Given this, we must ask, why would the Israeli leadership build its central policy initiative around the goal of influencing Europe?


Since Sharon unveiled his withdrawal plan last winter, we have heard a constant chatter of commentary – sometimes whispered, sometimes shouted – that things can't be as they appear; that Sharon must have something up his sleeve. Such talk also accompanied Ehud Barak to Camp David. The idea is that by pushing a radical leftist agenda, Barak then and Sharon today have both been pulling the wool over our eyes – forcing the Palestinians to show their cards and in so doing, pointing to the emptiness of the Left's ideology of appeasement, thereby, indirectly, advancing the platform of the Right.


Weisglass's interview serves to demystify Sharon. In it he proves definitively that no, there is no hidden agenda. Disturbingly, Weisglass not only shows that there is no secret plan, he also admits that Israel under Sharon has had no influence on US policy, while he exposes the vacuousness of the prime minister's thinking and Weisglass's own vanity and inanity.


The Weisglass interview focuses on two separate issues. The first is Weisglass's personal relationship with US National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. The second is his influence over Sharon's policymaking and the rationale for the decisions that have emerged from the Weisglass-Sharon duo.


In the first instance, Weisglass cannot stop congratulating himself for his friendly relations and constant communications with Rice. Yet what has Israel accomplished through this direct channel to the White House? The answer, according to Weisglass, is absolutely nothing. By his telling, Israel had nothing to do with the Bush administration's formulation of its policy toward the Palestinian Authority.


Weisglass states: "The Americans were here for four months in 2003 They saw the Palestinians' detailed working plans and their splendid diagrams and they saw how nothing came of it. When you add to that the trauma of September 11 and their understanding that Islamic terrorism is indivisible, you understand that they reached their conclusions by themselves. They didn't need us to understand what it was all about."

So, rather than enjoying a near-symbiotic relationship with the Bush administration – as Sharon likes to characterize his relationship with the Bush White House – what we have in the Weisglass-Rice camaraderie is an Israeli gasbag who mistakes access for influence.


Weisglass's descriptions of Sharon's motivations for making the decisions he has made provide ample room for worry. According to Sharon's right-hand man, "When Arafat undermined [PA Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas aka] Abu Mazen at the end of the summer of 2003, we reached the sad conclusion that there is no one to talk to, no one to negotiate with. Hence the disengagement plan. Because when you're playing solitaire, when there is no one sitting across from you at the table, you have no choice but to deal the cards yourself."


Yet, if Israel is playing cards by itself, why would it give its aces (or any cards for that matter) to someone who isn't even playing – to someone who blew up the card table? Barry Rubin pointed out in The Jerusalem Post this week that PLO legal adviser Michael Tarazi's recent op-ed in The New York Times calling for the destruction of Israel and a one-state solution marks a fundamental admission by the PLO that it is interested not in Palestinian statehood, but in the destruction of Israel. And yet, with this state of affairs self-evident, the prime minister has still decided to destroy Jewish communities in Gaza and northern Samaria and hand over land to PLO militias.

Weisglass said that by moving to the withdrawal plan, Israel would be ensuring that the US would continue to support Israel in spite of the absence of a peace process. In his words, "The Palestinian state, with all that it entails, has been removed from our agenda indefinitely. And this with authority and permission. All with a presidential blessing and the ratification of both houses of Congress."


Actually, the withdrawal plan, like Sharon's decision to accept the Quartet's road map, has not cemented the administration's pro-Israel position; it has served to exacerbate its anti-Israel position. The Bush administration is the first American administration to support Palestinian statehood. And Bush's support for the road map and for Sharon's withdrawal plan has not attenuated US pressure o
n Israel to build the separation fence more or less along the 1949 armistice lines. Nor has the administration's support for his plans lessened American pressure on Israel to freeze construction in Israeli towns in Judea and Samaria with an eye towards eventually dismantling them all, down to Ma'aleh Adumim.


Finally, Weisglass argues that Sharon's withdrawal plan was necessary because public support for the conduct of the war against Palestinian terror was waning at the end of 2003. In his words, "Domestically everything was collapsing The Geneva Initiative garnered broad support. And then we were hit with the letters of officers and letters of pilots and letters of commandos [letters of refusal to serve in the territories]."


The problem with the extreme Left is both real and manufactured. It is true that there are those on the leftist fringe of Israel's political spectrum who have sided with the Palestinians. But they are few in number and not growing. Almost three years after their first public appearance on the cover of Yediot Aharonot's weekend features magazine, the pacifist soldiers and officers club has only garnered 628 signatures on their manifesto. And Yossi Beilin is so despised that he couldn't get himself elected to Knesset even though he ran on two separate lists.


The importance of fringe movements is largely determined by the agenda-setters. Yediot and Haaretz have adopted the pacifist reservists as their cause celebre and so they have received notice.


But the prime minister is also a major agenda-setter. Weisglass is right: Sharon's adoption of the plan to withdraw unilaterally from territory in the midst of war did take the microphone away from the likes of Beilin and David Zonshein of the pacifist reservists' club. But he could have taken away their microphone with any plan. Why did he have to choose theirs? Why did he feel that he had to move Israel backwards rather than lead it forward?


Weisglass no doubt gave the interview in a bid to mollify the right-wing critics of Sharon's withdrawal plan with his claim that unilateral withdrawal effectively ends US pressure for Palestinian statehood. Yet his own words demonstrate the wisdom of those who oppose Sharon's policy. The rationale Weisglass provides for Sharon's decisions cannot stand up to scrutiny. Moreover, the great chemistry that Weisglass has cultivated with the Bush administration has made Weisglass personally popular, while rendering Israel effectively without advocate.



No wonder Sharon has insisted for so long on holding his hand close to his chest. It turns out that he's not holding any cards.



Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.

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