Ariel Sharon has established a new government that is ostensibly based on a profound disagreement over the key issue it confronts: the eventual emergence of a Palestinian state. Accordingly, Sharon is either not serious about the issue and never intends to oversee the creation of a Palestinian state on less than 50 percent of the territory; or he intends to dismantle this government and replace it with a more left-leaning one, if and when the time comes and a Palestinian state becomes a reality.
In this regard, the key clause in the new government’s guidelines is the one that opens the section on “Security, peace and settlement.” It states that “the parties to this coalition decided to act in concert. . . despite the fact that each continues to adhere to its positions of principle. . . regarding settlement and. . . the nature and conditions of final status arrangements.” When taken together with the side agreements and letters of reservation in which the National Religious Party and the National Union take their distance from even the paltry mosaic of enclaves that Sharon is promoting as a Palestinian state, this rather extraordinary disclaimer can only indicate that the prime minister does not expect this particular coalition to accomplish anything in terms of political progress with the Palestinians.
The guidelines go on to point to the second document that is key to understanding Sharon’s approach to the Palestinian issue. Section 2.6 of the guidelines states: “the government’s activities in the political arena will be guided by the principles presented by the prime minister to the public prior to the elections (including the principles of the prime minister’s speech at the “Herzliya Conference” of December 4, 2002). Prior to active negotiations over a political solution, if it comprises the establishment of a Palestinian state, the subject will be presented for discussion and decision by the government.”
The Herzliya speech is a summary of Sharon’s approach to the roadmap and to United States President Bush’s June 24, 2002 speech:
“The only way to achieve a true peace agreement with the Palestinians is progress in phases, with the first phase being a complete cessation of terror.”
“Progress [from phase to phase] is determined on the basis of performance.”
“The achievement of true coexistence must be carried out, first and foremost, by the replacement of the Palestinian leadership. . . . no progress will be possible with Arafat.”
“Parallel with, and perhaps even prior to the governmental reforms, a security reform will be carried out.”
The second phase of President Bush’s sequence proposes the establishment of a Palestinian state with borders yet to be finalized, and which will overlap with territories A and B, except for essential security zones.”
“In the final phase. . . negotiations will be opened to determine the final status of the Palestinian state and fix its permanent borders.”
The second and third phases outlined by Sharon in the Herzliya speech are the principles that the two extreme right wing parties in Sharon’s government do not agree with. Notably, nowhere does that speech mention the dismantling of settlements, while the guidelines present a settlement freeze in such murky language that the NRP, the party of the settlers, felt comfortable endorsing it. Hence it is doubtful that, as anticipated by the guidelines, an effort at “discussion and decision” regarding phases two and three will indeed take place, since it is hard to imagine any Palestinian government accepting Sharon’s version of the roadmap and agreeing to negotiate over the implementation of an open-ended rump state in “territories A and B, except for essential security zones”, i.e., in even less than 42 percent of the West Bank.
Conceivably, Sharon believes that this is not the case; that a new Palestinian leadership will indeed ultimately be obliged to negotiate on his terms, at which point he will if necessary seek to form an alternative government. After all, this is what he believed when he sought, abortively, to establish the collaborationist Village Leagues in 1981 and the Jumayil government in Lebanon in 1982, and this is where he appears to be heading with the gradual reoccupation of the Gaza Strip.
This is a formula for prolonged stalemate–or worse–throughout the coming months and years. Meanwhile Sharon’s obliging radical right coalition partners, to which he gladly gave control over the housing and transportation ministries, will build more settlements and bypass roads, thereby further interlocking Jews and Arabs (the latter soon to be the majority) both geographically and demographically throughout the Promised Land.
Willy nilly, this government will take another step toward the demise of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.
Yossi Alpher is the author of the forthcoming book “And the Wolf Shall Dwell with the Wolf: The Settlers and the Palestinians.”