We used to hear a good deal about “third way” politics. In the context of Israeli politics, Ariel Sharon actually came up with a third way — a policy that consists neither of resistance to all Israeli territorial concessions and to a Palestinian state nor of concessions made in negotiations with the Palestinians. Sharon’s way is to withdraw without Palestinian involvement from territory deemed too difficult or costly to defend, thereby creating a de facto Palestinian state with borders of Israel’s choosing, and to build a fence betweent the two states.
There are two major risks associated with this approach. The first is that, in the absence of an Israeli presence, Palestinian territory will become an even more dangerous launching ground for terrorists. This appears to be happening in Gaza. The second risk is that Israel’s drawing of its borders will not be the final word. Rather, under pressure from “world opinion” or even the U.S., Israel eventually will be forced to sit down with the Palestinians to negotiate a “final settlement.” That would mean additional concessions, since those Israel unilaterally made won’t count.
The presence of Ariel Sharon helped disguise these risks. Israelis trusted Sharon to attack Gaza if necessary to set back terrorism. And they trusted him to stand up against pressure for additional concessions. This trust was misguided — not in the sense that Sharon didn’t measure up, but because he was never going to be around very long.
That Sharon probably is out of the picture doesn’t make his approach more risky, but it does make the risks more apparent. I doubt that Israelis would have been willing to start down his path under any other leader’s stewardship. Daniel Pipes thinks that with Sharon likely gone, normal service will be resumed and, as he puts it, policy will become “less escapist.” However, Israelis understandably yearn for a third way, and with Sharon having purported to find one and started the country down its path, I’m less convinced than Pipes that his policies will be reversed.
UPDATE: Shortly after I wrote this, it occurred to me that I had missed an issue as large as the effect of Sharon’s exit on his third way approach to security — namely its effect on the Iranian nuclear program. If the threat of an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities is a card in a larger plan to deal with the problem, how credible will that threat be absent Sharon? If an Israeli attack is the plan to deal with the problem, how likely is Sharon’s successor to launch the attack? My guess is that Israel has its strategy in place and, barring a victory by the left, will carry it through.
Shrink Wrapped has more on this issue, including references to one of my favorite movies, The Garden of the Finzi-Continis.
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