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

April 25, 2003

Not so fast

James Bennet, writing in the NY Times in an article entilted Mid East Next for Bush takes a realistic view of the situation. I am impressed because its not the usual pro peace stuff.
[...] On the Israeli side, Mr. Sharon so dominates political life that he may have the capacity to achieve a deal. But his willingness to make what he calls "painful concessions" is untested. Mr. Sharon's worldview was shaped by decades of fighting first for Israel's creation and then its survival, and he is not inclined to gamble for a peace deal with what he considers matters of security, despite the defeat of the Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussein.

Once, his advisers pointed to the proximity of Iraq's tanks to argue for Israel's need for "strategic depth" — the thickening of its borders achieved by West Bank settlements. Now they say that there is no telling whether Iraq may eventually revert to its old ways.

Mr. Sharon wants significant changes in a new peace plan, known as the road map, which foresees recognition of Israel throughout the region and an independent state of Palestine in 2005. His advisers predict that Mr. Bush will not put serious pressure on him to abide by its terms, including immediate removal of settlement outposts built in the last two years.

One adviser to Mr. Sharon called the talk of an American push for the peace plan a "show" for the benefit of Britain, and another one said, "I don't think this is going to lead to a major confrontation — or any confrontation — with the United States."

Benjamin Netanyahu, Mr. Sharon's finance minister and an avowed opponent of a Palestinian state, told an Israeli newspaper this week that Israel could overcome any American pressure. (This is further evidence that Netanyahu has bought into Sharon's strategy of "yes, but..". How else to explainn the quiet and the confidence of the Israeli Right.)

"Pressure is expected, but we can and must resist it," Mr. Netanyahu told the newspaper, Yediot Ahronot. "It is in our power to affect American policy towards Israel and towards the Palestinians."

Still, there are signs of new American involvement. In pursuit of the peace plan, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell is expected to return here early next month for the first time in more than a year, since the administration abandoned a drive for peace in the face of continuing violence.

Regardless of the plan's details, it may compel the adversaries, who are exhausted by the violence here, to sit down and talk peace with each other for the first time in more than two years.

But Israeli and Palestinian officials and analysts, as well as foreign diplomats involved in the peace process, say that Mr. Bush has yet to show much enthusiasm for the diplomatic and political struggle necessary to achieve an agreement. It is a struggle in which the only certainty is the occurrence of setbacks.

[...] Bush administration officials have repeatedly emphasized that while they will help, the Palestinians and Israelis must make peace themselves. (This is key. Negotiated solution and not an imposed solution.)

Mr. Sharon's advisers say he envisions a Palestinian state far different from the one outlined in the road map or sought by Mr. Abbas. He believes a provisional state should endure for 10 or more years, rather than the 2 years specified in the plan.

He is said to believe that only after years of peaceful coexistence will Israelis and Palestinians have the confidence to come to enduring terms on precise borders. Mr. Sharon sees a final Palestinian state as holding less than half the West Bank, with no presence in Jerusalem, no military and no control of its own airspace. This may be posturing before negotiations, but his allies say they doubt it.

Referring to the peace plan's timetable, one adviser said, "A state by the end of 2005 — I don't think that's conceivable."
For once, I believe what they say. Sharon proposes to offer far less than Barak did. It will be interesting to see if he gets there.