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News and views on Israel, Zionism and the war on terrorism.

February 10, 2003

Open Letter to PM Sharon (Ted Belman)

Once again the JPost has confirmed your agreement with George W. Bush to move toward a two democratic state solution. I wrote about this agreement in my article Sharon/Bush Road Map and was convinced this was the case.
One of the strongest arguments that lead me to this conclusion is that you have “fought the Likud central committee's proposal to ban the creation of a Palestinian state in May, and you have made a point of mentioning the inevitability of the two-state solution at every Likud event since.” My guess is that your quid pro quo was Bush’s agreement with you to adhere to the conditions in his vision speech and to support the borders that you mutually agree upon. You are on record as saying; "You don't take such a political risk if you don't mean it."

I am sure you made this decision after looking at your options and your pressures.
a) The EU is championing the Palestinian State and it is quite capable of putting severe pressure on you by cancelling your trade agreement with them or going so far as to impose an economic boycott. As a warning both Britain and Germany had already restricted the sale of certain vital goods to Israel.

b) You are looking to receive 12 billion USD in aid and guarantees from the US. I am sure you didn’t want to jeopardize that particularly when your economy is suffering such great distress.

c) The alternatives to a Palestinian State were virtually non-existing. Forced transfer was not an option nor was perpetual occupation. Voluntary transfer as a total solution needs US financial backing and the US, aside from having to finance the upcoming war, would probably be against transfer because it would be too destabilizing for the neighbourhood.

d) The growing threat of an imposed solution by the quartet.

Given these realities, and the excellent relationship you had engineered between yourself and Bush and between Israel and the US, you no doubt opted to cut the best deal available with the support of Bush. According to your agreement, you are now preparing Israel’s "road map" for Bush’s consideration knowing full well that he is on your side.

What troubles me though, is why there is such a focus now on solving this problem at this time. Surely dealing with Iraq is enough of a problem for the world and putting together a coalition is enough of a problem for you. Why now? And after the dust settles from the Iraqi war, everyone will have their hands full with the reconstruction and Bush will start focussing on his re-election. Why now?

Secondly, you appear to be crossing over your own red lines, of no negotiations until all terror stops and no negotiations with Arafat. Now, there is a proposal of phased withdrawal and indirect negotiations with Arafat. Is this a political ploy to help get Labour into the government? Is the US putting pressure on you for movement. If so, just what is your understanding with Bush? Why isn't all this waiting until after the Iraq war? Why now? And one more thing, you appear to to offering a state on only 42% of the land. Arafat rejected 97%. Why would he now accept less?

You have often said that you have made assurances to Bush that you will not break and I wonder what assurances Bush has given you, that he will not break?

Allow me to make some suggestions for inclusion in the Road Map.
a) I know that you are already going to insist that it be performance based. Even Powell recently said “But you're not going to get there [Palestinian State] in 100 years unless there is a different kind of performance on the Palestinian side with respect to ending terror," and "So performance is required."

b) Only after a cessation of terror - and this is already agreed by most world leaders - will the commencement of peace negotiations between the parties be possible. [Your words]

c) The achievement of true and genuine coexistence must be a pre-condition to any discussion on political arrangements. [Your words]

d) I am sure you don’t need me to tell you not to have the Quartet responsible for determining whether stages have been met or to serve as a buffer force. I might add, if a buffer force is needed, items ‘b’ and ‘c’ haven’t been achieved.

e) Nor need I tell you to categorically refuse any right of return.

f) Now as far as I know, no borders are set out but the ruling principal is some of the land for peace as set out in Res. 242. This will be hotly contested. The location of the borders is not just a question of land it is also a question of populations. Now the Arabs want you to uproot at least some settlements and to agree to rational borders. If you are to agree to this, you must get the same in return. As an example I am suggesting that we insist that Qalqilyah be uprooted and the Arabs moved out and the land ceded to Israel. This would include a great deal of the land to the east, all the way to Ariel, which presently contains mainly Jewish settlements. I need not remind you that Israel is at its narrowest at this area and the extra girth would be much valued. Following this example, there should be many other situations where voluntary transfer can be arranged and land retained by Israel. Israeli Arabs who want to move to Palestine must be permitted to do so.

g) Jerusalem is the undivided capital of Israel and should remain so. But there is room for ingenuity. As I understand it there are about 250,000 Arabs living in Jerusalem constituting a demographic problem. You must propose a system of government whereby the Arabs in Jerusalem are not Israeli citizens but Palestinian ones. They will be governed by Palestinian law for certain matters and Israeli law for others. This is no different than in a federal system whereby people are governed by provincial laws in some matters and federal law in others. But Israel must retain sovereignty over the land and the Arabs in Jerusalem must not be able to live anywhere else in Israel just as other Palestinians can’t.

In order for your plan to have any chance of success, it must first be adopted by the US publicly. The time for the US to be an honest broker is over. This is crucial. No doubt that the EU and the UN will be on the Palestinian side and will not posture as evenhanded or honest brokers.

Ultimately it will be up to the US to get the Arab countries to make peace with Israel. The only way this will happen is if they have no alternative to massage the deal. Given the forthcoming US victory in Iraq and the threat to their own regimes, they should be concerned with how they can hold on to their own power rather than what they can get for the Palestinians. It all depends on what the American vision is for the whole ME.

To tell you the truth Ariel, I am happy as hell that you and George have such a close working relationship, more than anyone knows, but what exactly is it?