Israel’s Knesset has approved Prime Minister Sharon’s decision to withdraw from the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank. The vote was 67 to 45, with seven abstentions. Sharon obtained his majority with the help of the dovish left. Many members of his center-right coalition, as well as the religious opposition parties, voted against the plan.
As I said last night, this issue is an extremely difficult one. When Israel took over Gaza and the West Bank after the war in 1967, the mainstream intention was to give much of it back under the “land for peace” concept. For serious Israelis, this was always more developing about a map that would provide maximum protection and safety than about relying on Palestinian promises. In any case, it became apparent long ago that there was no viable Palestinian partner with whom to negotiate such a map. Sharon’s plan basically constitutes a decision to go ahead and draw the map himself.
To me, this would be entirely sensible if we could be sure that Sharon and President Bush, or people very much like them, will retain power indefinitely. But, in reality we can be fairly sure of the opposite. Thus, Sharon’s decision is not final. Eventually (and possibly quite soon if Kerry wins), Israel will be dragged back to the table, with American’s complicity, and Sharon’s map will be only the starting point for further pull-backs. For that reason, I fear that Israel has chosen the wrong course.
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