Sharon puts Israel back on path that could yet end in peace

Share
Related Topics

Rejuvenated, perhaps, by his pivotal role as opposition leader in guaranteeing Ariel Sharon the parliamentary majority the Prime Minister's own deeply divided Likud party would otherwise deny him, Shimon Peres was optimistic when he met foreign journalists this week.

Rejuvenated, perhaps, by his pivotal role as opposition leader in guaranteeing Ariel Sharon the parliamentary majority the Prime Minister's own deeply divided Likud party would otherwise deny him, Shimon Peres was optimistic when he met foreign journalists this week.

Listening to him, it was not hard to imagine that the long march to peace had at last begun again. Dismissing widespread claims that the internationally agreed "road-map" to peace was dead, he said that there was "no person who can dismantle it".

And the Labour leader insisted that the plan to disengage from Gaza, finally approved by the Knesset last night, was the "beginning of a journey to a permanent solution".

A key question for the Middle East after last night's vote is whether the octogenarian veteran of the Oslo Accords is right or whether Mr Sharon will now draw a red line having achieved the minimum required to get the Americans and the rest of the international community ­ to use the phrase of his close lieutenant Dov Weisglass ­ "off our case".

That last night's vote will presage a welter of speculation about the future of Mr Sharon himself is a safe bet ­ paradoxically, since on an important level last night's victory was an undoubted personal triumph.

But he is at odds with half of his party, in effect leading a minority government, and regarded by the settlers themselves as a traitor to the cause he once so zealously espoused. All sorts of permutations will be canvassed ­ that he will still be obliged to hold the referendum that he has resisted, that he will be forced out, perhaps by a defeat on the annual budget, and that he will be replaced as Likud leader. Any of these scenarios is possible; he could certainly do without the resignations threatened last night by ministers led by Benjamin Netanyahu; but Mr Sharon did not blink when they delivered their ultimatum before last night's vote. The dissident ministers may even have blown their best chance to stop disengagement in its tracks.

Mr Sharon is a shrewd survivor, and his political obituary has been written many times.

For one thing, Mr Peres's own party, faced with the choice of bringing down Mr Sharon or seeing the withdrawal of 8,000 settlers from Gaza next year, shows every sign of opting for the latter.

But in any case the meaning of last night's vote goes well beyond the labyrinthine permutations of internal Israeli politics. One analysis, shared between Mr Peres, (just) to the left of the political centre, and Mr Sharon's most vociferous critics on the far right ­ including Mr Sharon's old friend the Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin ­ is that the Gaza disengagement plan is the beginning of the much bigger withdrawal from the occupied territory in the West Bank and a path to the creation of a viable Palestinian state.

The other, proffered by many Palestinians, is that it is quite the opposite: a concession that will allow the Sharon government to consolidate its grip on the occupied West Bank, including almost all but the most remote settlements there. Proponents of this view have powerful evidence ­ a Haaretz interview earlier this month by Mr Weisglass, who hatched the withdrawal plan with Mr Sharon, in which he said it was the "formaldehyde" that would "freeze" the peace process and which ensured that "out of 240,000, 190,000 settlers will not be moved from their place".

In his Knesset speech on Monday Mr Sharon gave conflicting signals. On the one hand he said in terms that could have been dictated ­ and perhaps were ­ by a Washington perturbed by the Weisglass interview, that disengagement was not a substitute for negotiations, but a move made when negotiations were impossible. On the other he said disengagement would strengthen Israel's hold over territory essential to its existence, which it is hard to believe does not refer to the West Bank.

Yet even that should not obscure what remains a historic event, the first reverse of relentless Jewish settlement, illegal under international law, in territory occupied by Israel in the war of 1967. The right-wing extreme, the bearers of the torch of a greater Israel running from the river Jordan to the Mediterranean, can no longer be sure of prevailing over a majority that pays dearly for the settlements, financially and in the lives of soldiers, and who want to see Gaza evacuated.

Mr Peres's view may well be over-optimistic in the short term but last night's vote has created a momentous precedent.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Middleweight

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: One of the South East's fastest growing full s...

Guru Careers: Marketing Manager / Marketing Communications Manager

£35-40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Communicati...

Recruitment Genius: Commercial Engineer

£30000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Estimating, preparation of tech...

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Technician

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will work as part of a smal...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron has reiterated his pre-election promise to radically improve the NHS  

How can we save the NHS? Rediscover the stiff upper lip

Jeremy Laurance
 

Thanks to Harriet Harman, Labour is holding its own against the Tory legislative assault

Isabel Hardman
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor
The ZX Spectrum has been crowd-funded back into play - with some 21st-century tweaks

The ZX Spectrum is back

The ZX Spectrum was the original - and for some players, still the best. David Crookes meets the fans who've kept the games' flames lit
Grace of Monaco film panned: even the screenwriter pours scorn on biopic starring Nicole Kidman

Even the screenwriter pours scorn on Grace of Monaco biopic

The critics had a field day after last year's premiere, but the savaging goes on
Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people used to believe about periods

Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people once had about periods

If one was missed, vomiting blood was seen as a viable alternative
The best work perks: From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)

The quirks of work perks

From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)
Is bridge the latest twee pastime to get hip?

Is bridge becoming hip?

The number of young players has trebled in the past year. Gillian Orr discovers if this old game has new tricks
Long author-lists on research papers are threatening the academic work system

The rise of 'hyperauthorship'

Now that academic papers are written by thousands (yes, thousands) of contributors, it's getting hard to tell workers from shirkers
The rise of Lego Clubs: How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships

The rise of Lego Clubs

How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships
5 best running glasses

On your marks: 5 best running glasses

Whether you’re pounding pavements, parks or hill passes, keep your eyes protected in all weathers
Joe Root: 'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

Joe Root says the England dressing room is a happy place again – and Stokes is the catalyst
Raif Badawi: Wife pleads for fresh EU help as Saudi blogger's health worsens

Please save my husband

As the health of blogger Raif Badawi worsens in prison, his wife urges EU governments to put pressure on the Saudi Arabian royal family to allow her husband to join his family in Canada