After three years in power, Sharon said in an interview to Ha’aretz what seemed to be the contradiction of his previous disposition regarding the settlements in Gaza. He stressed that he had asked his advisors to study the consequences of the evacuation of 7,500 settlers living in 17 of 21 settlements in Gaza. In closed meetings with leaders of the Likud Party, strategists and analysts, Sharon spoke of a “unilateral separation” based on the severance of the territories known as zone “C” from the zones ” A+B.” The former to be annexed by Israel and the rest left to Arafat. This means that the Palestinians would keep 50 percent of the West Bank’s territories.
Did Sharon fail in accomplishing what he had vowed to, that is the eradication of Palestinian terror without the notion of separation? And accordingly, did he decide to dismantle the settlements in Gaza at the peak of the war? Did the “armed Intifada,” “suicide attacks” and the high level of Palestinian fertility rate succeed in forcing Sharon to change his ideological belief and force him to abandon the lands he deemed to be the “cradle of Jews” and their “historic treasure.” Ehud Olmert said during his visit to Washington that there is no turning back. Is Sharon capable of implementing this plan, or will the right-wing forces in Israel succeed in bringing him down, just as they did Netanyahu after the Wye River agreement? Will the process between the Palestinians and the Israelis be implemented directly or through the mediation of a third party? Will Sharon destroy the settlements in Gaza just as he had previously done with the settlements of Yamait in the Sinai desert?
Many questions were raised after Sharon’s sudden announcement of evacuation of the settlements in Gaza and the withdrawal of the Israeli army towards the interior. The fact that this plan was raised in an interview with an Israeli paper before it was even discussed inside the Likud Party, or even inside the coalition government, indicates that Sharon does not plan to implement it anytime soon. Sharon’s discourse about an Israeli referendum and his commission to his deputy Ehud Olmert to discuss this plan with the American administration asserts the conclusion that this plan is not
final and is in fact undergoing a process of political, financial and security assessment. In light of this inspection, there is a possibility for its modification or change, or even its addition to international and Israeli plans that are being proposed as a compromise for this dilemma. Sharon’s statements had a colossal impact inside Israeli society while the Bush administration reacted by sending special envoys for assessment. As far as the Palestinians in the West Bank are concerned, both the government and the opposition doubt Sharon’s intentions. Many prominent Israeli peace activists such as such as Baleen, Yossi Sarid and members of the Knesset are also suspicious of Sharon’s plans. The Palestinian historical experiences with Sharon from the October 1973 war to the Lebanese war in 1982, particularly Sharon’s direct involvement in the massacres of Sabra and Shatila, have led to the Palestinians’ disbelief of any of Sharon’s announcements and declarations.
Palestinians are convinced that Sharon’s instinct of expansion of the settlements in Gaza and the West Bank is much stronger that his instinct of peace with the Arabs. They believe that Sharon will not enter a conflict with his Party and will not gamble his political career. They also believe that the availability of a reasonable political and demographic justification, for the withdrawal and evacuation of settlements does not imply that Sharon will really unilaterally evacuate the settlements without any financial and security compensation. The majority of the Palestinians consider Sharon’s mobilization and worldwide marketing of his plan as a gambit with one purpose: to bypass the Roadmap and circumvent the Israeli commitment towards it. Furthermore, to disrupt the work of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in judging the legality of the Israeli wall. Not to mention Sharon’s intention of gaining American support for building his wall, expanding the settlements in the West Bank and the financing of these two plans, under the pretext of covering the expenses of the withdrawal and the construction of new houses for those deported from the Gaza Strip.
In addition, I acknowledge that Sharon and his advisors are security experts. They know that in the process of unilateral military withdrawal there are no cooperation and security arrangements that guarantee the desired success of the operation. Barak tried this before when he withdrew from Southern Lebanon and the result was the growing role of Hezbollah. They realize that unilateral withdrawal from Gaza without any prior security arrangements means the defeat of the colonial rule over the Palestinian people. Sharon still strongly objects to the mediation of a third party and he still refuses the aid of any American or multinational forces and therefore, it is unreasonable to believe that he will withdraw from Gaza and will leave the Palestinian-Egyptian borders unattended; for he believes that the Israeli security surveillance is imperative because it can impede the smuggling of weapons. I think that Sharon is in no hurry and that he is not subjugated to any international or regional pressure to withdraw from Gaza or to give the Palestinians control over the roads between Egypt and Palestine.
Sharon faces many external difficulties, in addition to the internal opposition; for it is not reasonable to believe that the Palestinian Authority would agree to establish a Palestinian state with only Gaza and half of the West Bank and a capital other than Jerusalem. Sharon will not be able to convince the Quartet that his plan does not contradict the Roadmap, and would facilitate the establishment of a Palestinian state. Despite the boundless support that Sharon has gotten from the Bush administration during the past three years, I doubt that the American administration is willing to respond to Sharon’s financial demands prior to the results of the coming American presidential elections next November.
Regardless of the fate of the plan to evacuate settlements and military withdrawal from Gaza, Sharon’s proposal asserts the failure of the power paradigm and Israeli military supremacy in subjugating the will of the Palestinian people. If Sharon’s plan does not constitute a firm ground for an agreement with the Palestinians, the core question is: would the Palestinian Authority take advantage of Sharon’s proposal and alter it into a tactical political maneuver that would help dismantle other settlements?