Sharon comes clean

From the archive (legacy material)

Editorial | Financial Times | 8 October 2004

So now we know for certain. Ariel Sharon’s plan to “disengage” from the Gaza Strip is a gambit to freeze the Middle East peace process indefinitely, hang on to nearly all the Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, deny the Palestinians a state, and set aside forever the future of 4m Palestinian refugees, the status of occupied Arab east Jerusalem and where Israel’s final borders are to be drawn.
While little of this will come as a surprise to readers of these columns, we now have it on the authority of Dov Weisglass, Mr Sharon’s closest aide, who secured the support of the Bush White House for this manifestly one-sided outcome. He told Israel’s Haaretz newspaper that the Gaza plan “supplies the formaldehyde that is necessary so there will not be a political process with the Palestinians”.
“When you freeze the process, you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state,” said Mr Weisglass. “Effectively, this whole package called a Palestinian state, with all it entails, has been removed indefinitely from our agenda.” All this, he crowed, with the blessing of the US, which formally still purports to be seeking a negotiated solution to the problem at the heart of the Middle East conflict, through the internationally underwritten “road map” that foresees a secure Israel within universally recognised frontiers alongside a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza.
While Mr Sharon has reiterated his pro-forma backing for the road map, and batteries of analysts say the Weisglass interview is just a sop to irredentists within his rightwing nationalist Likud party who are blocking the Gaza withdrawal, the essential point is that what Mr Weisglass outlined with such candour has been his boss’s plan for at least two and a half decades.
Those who believe this is a response to the irresponsibility of the Palestinian leadership and the present intifada need to explain why the land identified for annexation – everything except the 44 per cent of the West Bank enclosed in three cantons inside the so-called security fence – is identical in its essentials to a map first drawn up by Mr Sharon in 1982.
It is hard to understand how this injustice – accompanied by this sort of gloating and extraordinary use of indiscriminate firepower in northern Gaza – serves the interests of Israelis or their US backers. It is grist to the mill of the massing ranks of their enemies in the region and the wider Muslim world.
The Sharon strategy is to grab as much as possible of the geography of the West Bank – an area not much bigger than Delaware in the US and smaller than Lincolnshire in the UK – with as little as possible of the (Palestinian) demography. It will not work.
Whoever takes over in Washington next year needs to explain to the Israeli leadership – the Palestinians have already been told – that the world can no longer afford this running sore, this renewed contract for conflict now set to run for at least another generation.