Reading the local and international media, one gets the feeling that the brain hemorrhage which pushed Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon out of politics will have almost the same effect as those two bullets which ten years ago ended the life of his friend and predecessor, Yitzchak Rabin — the death of the peace process.
The assassination of Rabin ended the Oslo Process, and the stroke of Ariel Sharon may end, so are we told, current Israeli advancements towards an Israeli-Palestinian peace, a trend which started with Israel’s redeployment from the Gaza Strip and the dismantling of several small settlements. Even a few Palestinian officials expressed concern about the political future without Ariel Sharon.
This strongly entrenched evaluation could not be further from the truth. Sharon was not and never claimed to be, even in the last few years, a man of peace. Sharon never intended to reopen negotiations with the Palestinian leadership, let alone reach a “fair compromise” capable of ending this century-old conflict.
On the contrary: any honest evaluation of Sharon’s many speeches and interviews over the past thirty five years — and especially since he became Prime Minister in 2001– reveals an extremely consistent and coherent political vision, which explicitly rejects the very possibility of peace between Israel and the Arabs. In fact, Sharon is the only Israeli leader, with the exception of David Ben Gurion, to embrace a holistic political vision — a global and long-term national project — which can be summarized in four points:
- The war of 1948 has not ended and the final borders of Israel should not be fixed, at least for the next fifty (sic) years;
- For the next fifty years, Israel’s priority is to create Jewish continuity from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan river through a never-ending settlement drive;
- In order to maintain the demographically Jewish nature of Israel, the Palestinians are to be excluded from the State through their expulsion (“Jordan is the Palestinian State”) or their enclosure within “Indian reservations” (Cantons) which, if they want, can be labeled a “Palestinian State.”
- No Arab will ever (at least in the next fifty years) make peace with Israel, and since we don’t and will not have a partner, the creation of this “Palestinian State” and the establishment of both its borders and prerogatives will be unilaterally decided upon by the government of Israel.
Israel’s “unilateral redeployment from the Gaza Strip” was supposed to be the first step in this long-term strategic plan. After the next elections, Sharon intended to take further unilateral initiatives: a determined settlement’s drive along with withdrawals from areas with a high concentration of Palestinians.
Indeed Sharon had a plan. But it would be ludicrous to call it a “peace plan.” It was supposed to be an Israeli plan, unilaterally imposed on the Palestinian people. With the end of the Sharon era, one can legitimately ask whether this plan will continue to represent Israel’s strategic framework.
Though Sharon’s disappearance from the Israeli political scene is, by no means, the end of any kind of renewed peace process, it doesn’t mean that, at the present political juncture, Sharon’s illness should be reduced to a minor incident. It is, in fact, a real earthquake: Not since the days of David Ben Gurion has one person so monopolized the Israeli political scene or garnered such a huge majority of the vote (following the pathetic failure of Ehud Barak).
Sharon was the only leader able to leave his party, the Likud, and only a few weeks later establish a party — Kadima — which was predicted to receive more votes than the Likud and the Labor party together. For a majority of Israelis, Sharon was the man who embodied the new consensus based on security and what they believed to be “unilateral peace initiatives.” The problem of Kadima is that it is a one-man party, a structure aimed to give Ariel Sharon — and only Ariel Sharon — the means to implement his policy; it has no institutions, it has no program, and, without Sharon, it is nothing but a collection of deserters from the rest of Israeli politics — from the far-right to left Zionism.
Given the timing of the next elections, which are set to be held at the end of March, Kadima’s leadership has little time to shape a political profile and leadership team able to convince the Israeli voters that it has the capacity to implement Sharon’s policy without Sharon. Some of Kadima’s leaders are already secretly negotiating their return to the various parties from which they came, which makes both Benjamin Netanyahu and Amir Peretz happy. But both Peretz and Netanyahu will have to reshape their political platform in order to regain the masses of voters who intended to support Ariel Sharon in the coming elections. This is no easy task.
In short, the Israeli political scene is in an unprecedented state of turmoil, and no one dares to predict what the situation will be the day after the elections: who will form the government, what the coalition will look like, or even who will belong to which party.
Should the Palestinian people be happy about such a mess? Not necessarily. As a Palestinian spokesperson said few days ago: “when an Israeli Prime minister doesn’t know what to do next, he always has the option of strengthening the repression against the Palestinian people. . . .”
Of course, there is another reason to be sad: Ariel Sharon will be one of the many war criminals who died without having been brought to an international court of justice; his victims will not see him judged for the crimes he committed over the last fifty years.
Michael Warschawski is a co-founder and former director of the Alternative Information Center in Jerusalem and a well-known anti-Zionist activist. His books include Israel-Palestine: le défi binational, an award-winning memoir, Sur la frontière, and Toward an Open Tomb: The Crisis of Israeli Society. This essay was first published by the Alternative Information Center.