Sharon's bet

The funny thing is that Ariel Sharon's withdrawal proposal was voted on by about 50,000 Israelis out of several million, but it is heralded as a definitive, withering loss for the old bastard. I think the plan is horrible because it is based on abrogating fundamental Palestinian claims before negotiations, and it reinforces systemic distortions in Israeli society that lead to expansion of the settlements and racist policies of land confiscation. However the withdrawal from Gaza was a good thing that even the IDF would like to do.

Here are some various things about how happy the settlers are now (and dreaming of political domination of all Israel) as well as how horrible it is for Bush to be in this situation where a bunch of rightwing lunatics have basically sawed off the limb he'd climbed out on.

Serge Schmemann in the NY Times, cautiously balanced:

The symmetry of these [peace] proposals was highly delicate — knocking out any element collapsed the whole.

Americans have known this ever since they became the principal mediators in the conflict. Though the United States has been an unwavering supporter of Israel since the 1967 war, American presidents and secretaries of state have recognized that a credible mediating role also requires assuring Palestinians that the United States hears their grievances and will not give Israel a free hand to decide their fate unilaterally.

Tough love has often been needed. In the first Bush administration, Secretary of State James Baker III held up loan guarantees to Israel over the issue of settlements; President Bill Clinton compelled Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to withdraw from Hebron. No administration accepted Mrs. Meir's definition of evenhandedness.

Until last month, that is, when President Bush signed off on Israeli West Bank settlements and the abrogation of the Palestinians' right of return. He said he was merely recognizing the facts on the ground, and there is an element of truth to that, even if he missed the larger point. Anybody who's been to Ariel or Maale Adumim knows these "settlements" are real cities, just as everyone knows that a skyscraper in Tel Aviv will not revert into a Palestinian's olive grove.

But knowing how things should end has never been the problem in the Middle East. It's always been about how to get there, as the vote in Ariel Sharon's Likud Party, rejecting his initiative for Israel to withdraw unilaterally from Gaza, has made so abundantly clear.

It's hard to believe that Mr. Bush failed to realize that by denying critical elements of the Palestinians' national narrative, he was stripping them of negotiating leverage and undermining whatever faith they still had in American mediation. His father could have explained it to him; so could a close reading of his own road map, which held that refugees and borders were issues to be resolved at the negotiating table.

WaPo editorializes the Poor Wager:

PRESIDENT BUSH's ill-considered bet on Israel's Ariel Sharon is looking shaky barely two weeks after it was made. Mr. Sharon's decisive loss of the referendum Sunday within the right-wing Likud Party on his plan to withdraw Jewish settlements from the Gaza Strip may have crippled the initiative -- or, at least, Mr. Sharon's ability to implement it. It's not yet clear what the political consequences will be in Israel, but the prospective damage to the Bush administration is already obvious.

The president delivered to Mr. Sharon, in writing, historic changes in the official U.S. position on a final Israeli-Palestinian settlement, thereby enraging Arab opinion and alienating European allies at a moment of crisis in Iraq. By staking out positions on Israel's annexation of parts of the West Bank and the non-return of Palestinian refugees, Mr. Bush compromised the ability of the United States to serve as a mediator for a future final settlement. In return, Mr. Sharon has now allowed 50,000 members of his hard-line party, or less than 1 percent of Israel's population, to reject the withdrawal the administration portrayed as justifying its concessions. Mr. Bush won't take back his commitments; unless the pullout is somehow revived, the result will be another blow to U.S. standing in the Middle East -- one the administration can hardly afford.

Christian Science Monitor says Bush Out on a Limb with Sharon, but at least the vote clarifies how worthless the Likud party is:

That plan, which cut the Palestinians out of the loop on their future, was strongly endorsed by President Bush in order to help Mr. Sharon win the vote. But both men have now suffered a big loss. And Mr. Bush only ended up undercutting the war on terrorism in ignoring the Palestinians and thus angering even more Arabs.

Yet despite failures in both these approaches, the extremes - Arafat on one side, and the Jewish settlers and most of Likud on the other - have unwittingly exposed their active opposition to a two-state solution. They both defied an idea that most Israelis and Palestinians want. They can more easily be isolated as obstacles to peace.

Likud, like Arafat, can no longer be counted on to make the necessary concessions. And as the US has decided it can't trust Arafat anymore, it must also think twice about endorsing any peace plan from an Israeli government.

Now to Haaretz which carries a fine analysis of how Sharon's two 'revolutions,' the Likud party and the settlement movement, might combine to bring him crashing down:

Now, it appears that two movements - both fathered by a revolutionary named Ariel Sharon, the Likud and the settlement enterprise - may come together in a new synthesis, in effect a new revolution, spurred by a joint offensive that may ultimately spell the end of Sharon's career.
The mother-model of Zionist revolutions, David Ben-Gurion's Labor movement, has spawned no end of rivals and parallel revolutions, none more energetic and influential than the settlement movement in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.

The movement combined religious-Messianic zeal with two principles of early Labor ideologues: territorial maximalism and land conquest through the creation of new settlements by small collective groups.

John Kerry tries some Israel love at a speech before the ADL, talking about how he once toured the country and decided to proclaim things on a ridge at the end:

The last stop on the tour Kerry told to the audience was Massada, where, after a lengthy discussion of the suicide by the survivors on the desert plateau-palace rather than be captured by the Romans, Kerry and the other members of the delegation found themselves, he said, on the ledge where air force cadets are sworn in.

"And we stood on the edge and we yelled `Am Yisrael chai!' And boom, across came the echo, the most eerie and unbelievable sound. And we sort of looked at each other and we felt as if we were hearing the souls of those who had died there, speaking to us."

There is indeed a weird echo in this, as Democratic presidential candidates and Iraqis alike take the ancient dead seriously.

The settlers are punch drunk happy! Their day has come!

Thousands of young people from the Jewish settlements of Gush Katif in the Gaza Strip yesterday stood at dawn in the amphitheater next to the Neveh Dekalim Local Council building and sang Hatikvah, and the hymn "I believe."

It's exactly the way Independence Day prayers end in National Religious communities - the national anthem along with a kind of religious anthem, the Maimonidean principle of faith that begins "I believe with perfect faith in the coming of the Messiah."

Before they began singing, the young people had been listening to Rabbi Rafi Peretz, head of the pre-army study program at Atzmona and a reserve IAF pilot who is greatly admired by the young people of Gush Katif. He spoke of "the war we won - a war for the love of this people. Something new was born today. Now, bring on the general referendum, and we'll win that as well."

The settlers of Gush Katif sense a time of grace is upon them. Rabbis, local council heads, and especially young people speak frequently of the need to expand their door-to-door campaign.

"Anyone who was part of this operation saw what spiritual energy is," said Rabbbi Yigal Kaminsky, Gush Katif's regional rabbi. "Everyone gave his spirit, his soul, his body to the struggle. When you begin to peel open the hearts, the bond between us and all of Israel is revealed in a big way."

Aw shucks. Nobody asked the IDF what they wanted:

IDF leaders believe a bilateral arrangement and agreement are preferable to a unilateral move. Ya'alon said during internal discussions that he supports the idea of leaving the Gaza Strip, but in the context of an agreement. In other words, the idea is correct, but not the method and the plan. The claim that he is opposed to leaving Gaza is therefore incorrect. On the other hand, like Prime Minister Sharon, the chief of staff and others on the general staff say Israel has no partner today for negotiations. Their stance is contradictory: If there is no partner, how is it possible to achieve a bilateral agreement?

The disengagement plan concept of "minimizing the damage" originated in the IDF in recent months. It has taken on various forms, and has become an operational plan of sorts. The military responses to the attacks on Israeli targets are becoming harsher. This can be measured in the number of Palestinians killed in each attack of the ground forces. They no longer try to spare Palestinian arms-bearers, whoever they may be. Not only is Hamas in their sights. It is also no coincidence that Hamas leaders Ahmed Yassin and Abdel Aziz Rantisi were assassinated after the disengagement plan was born.

More than once in the past, the IDF has taken a restrained approach, as opposed to the proposals of the political echelon, and especially the prime minister. No longer.

I like that: war as peace. Now that they are disengaging it's really all out.

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