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

May 05, 2003

Ariel Sharon's Plan B

This Washington Post articles assumes Sharon wants the Road to fail and that all he need do is sit tight as more terror attacks put the plan on hold. And then Sharon has a fallback plan.
[...] All this might make it appear that President Bush's "personal commitment" to pursue an Israeli-Palestinian settlement will prove as evanescent as his promise of a Marshall Plan for Afghanistan or a "vital" United Nations role in Iraq -- particularly as a number of senior administration officials fully share Sharon's views. Yet Bush retains enormous leverage over Sharon. Many Israelis regard him as the most supportive American president in their history and might well turn on their government if it seemed to be thwarting a peace initiative they desperately hope will succeed.

Sharon knows this, too -- which is one reason why, behind the stall, he had readied a more accommodating Plan B. In a visit to Washington three weeks ago, his top aide, Dov Weisglass, quietly laid out a series of possible Israeli concessions to Abu Mazen at a meeting with senior officials from the National Security Council, the State Department, the Pentagon and the vice president's office. They ranged from the humanitarian, such as granting more Palestinians work visas in Israel, to the political, such as releasing a batch of Palestinian prisoners, to the practical facilitation of a Palestinian crackdown -- redeploying Israeli forces from agreed-upon sectors of Gaza, for example, to test whether Abu Mazen's men can keep the peace.

Weisglass's ideas fell well short of Israeli obligations under the road map, but if implemented they would nevertheless be substantial. On settlements, for example, Sharon's envoy rejected the road map's requirement for an early freeze on all construction but said Israel would be willing to take down the dozens of new settlement "outposts" established in the past two years -- a step that, if seriously pursued, probably would force Sharon to break up his current right-wing government and would give Abu Mazen a substantial boost.

Sharon further positioned himself for embrace of a Plan B by granting an interview to Israel's most dovish daily, Haaretz, in which he portrayed himself as an old warrior who has reluctantly chosen to make the sacrifices necessary for peace rather than leave them to the next generation. "I am 75 years old. I feel that my goal and my purpose is to bring this nation to peace and security," he said. The idea of compromises on settlements, he added, "agonizes me. But . . . I feel that the rational necessity to reach a settlement is overcoming my feelings. . . . One has to view things realistically. Eventually there will be a Palestinian state."

So is Sharon now ready to accept the available final settlement? Certainly not; he'd rather see Abu Mazen fail. But he has also decided that if Abu Mazen proves competent and Bush determined, he will strike a deal himself rather than risk fighting a powerful president. Therein lies a slim opportunity [more]