Sharon wrecked the two-state solution
Ariel Sharon was the most formidable opponent that the Palestinian people have ever faced
Ariel Sharon was the most formidable opponent that the Palestinian people have ever faced. Militarily, he was one of Israel’s most gifted military generals, brave, brilliant but ruthless. His talents helped Israel win wars in 1948, 1956, 1967 and 1973. Ideologically he was a Greater Israel fanatic, championing the settler movement, devising strategic settlement plans that would erase the Green Line, separate Jerusalem, fragment the West Bank and control strategic resources, particularly water. He entered politics to execute this vision for Israel with extraordinary success. More than any other Israeli figure, he has engineered the cantonised West Bank of today and the devastating Palestinian geographic (West Bank and Gaza) and political divisions (Fatah and Hamas) that make a final political settlement now so remote.
There was little mystery about Sharon’s strategy for those who followed his career closely. It was explicit and consistent. His most lauded metamorphosis from bulldozer to peace builder was more spin than substance. The late Graham Usher, a brilliant journalist who passed away recently, once observed to me that that “if Netanyahu said that he would kill Arafat tomorrow, he would advise the Palestinian leader to do nothing. If Sharon said so, Arafat would be best advised to leave immediately.” For Sharon, in contrast to Netanyahu, personal ambition came second to decisive action to realise his dream.
Sharon believed passionately in a Greater Israel and went along with the peace treaty with Egypt precisely because it did not threaten Israel’s hold on the West Bank. As housing minister, he masterminded around 100,000 Israelis settling in areas of the West Bank and another 73,000 as prime minister. He summed up his view in 1998 when he told settlers that “everybody has to move, run and grab as many hilltops as they can, to enlarge the settlements because everything we take now will stay ours...Everything we don’t grab will go to them [the Palestinians].” His disciples heard his call and a hundred new hilltop outposts were set up across the West Bank.
Arafat was Sharon’s obsession. In his view, Arafat was dangerous because he was the symbol of Palestinian nationalism, whose regular visits to the White House and a Nobel Peace Prize marked an international acceptance that infuriated Sharon. He knew that Hamas, on the other hand, could never gain such global support. He opposed the Oslo Accords and was terrified that a peace deal, so nearly reached in the summer of 2000 at Camp David, would have ended everything he had worked for. His response was his deliberately provocative visit to the Temple Mount on Sept. 28, 2000 that triggered the second Intifada, the death of the peace talks and his election as prime minister.
Sharon’s Gaza disengagement plan was designed to smash the Palestinian national movement and, as his senior adviser boasted, “freeze the peace process”Chris Doyle
As prime minister, Sharon was once more in confrontation with Arafat. Sharon promised Israelis he would provide security whilst expanding settlements and without signing any peace deal. He declared Arafat to be irrelevant and backed this up by confining the PLO leader to just a few rooms of his Ramallah headquarters. His then-Foreign Minister, Silvan Shalom, summed up Sharon’s view in 2011: “between Hamas and Arafat, I prefer Hamas.” Sharon did not want to negotiate terms but dictate them.
Designed to smash
Sharon’s Gaza disengagement plan was designed to smash the Palestinian national movement and, as his senior adviser boasted, “freeze the peace process.” For the price of removing 8000 settlers from Gaza, a burden on Israel and not an area of great strategic importance, Sharon received the written promise from President Bush that Israel would not be expected to give up the large settlement blocs. By not negotiating a withdrawal from Gaza, Sharon quite deliberately undermined Arafat’s successor Mahmoud Abbas and rewarded Hamas. Sharon did not want Abbas to reap the rewards of the withdrawal. Hamas claimed to Palestinians that it had been its violent resistance that had forced the Israelis out, a message that helped it win the Palestinian elections five months later. Rather than advancing peace through negotiations Sharon was killing it by dividing the possible state of Palestine, the Palestinian leadership and by earning U.S. endorsement for a major annexation of the West Bank that makes a viable Palestinian state impossible.
Ariel Sharon’s maximalist dreams, might against right and winner-takes-all approach is little different to what has blighted recent political life in Syria, Egypt and Iraq. He nourished the belief amongst most Israelis that survives today that they could enjoy peace and security without ending the occupation or the settlement expansion. This was premised on the Palestinian people being cowed into submission, abandoning their aspirations and meekly accepting the semi-autonomous parcels of land he was prepared to allow them.
For genuine peace to take hold, Israelis will have to look beyond the mirage of Sharon’s short-term approach of security through force and to understand that like every other people, Palestinians will not be forced into abandoning their quest for freedom.
Chris Doyle is the Director of CAABU (the London-based Council for Arab-British Understanding). He has worked with the Council since 1993 after graduating with a first class honors degree in Arabic and Islamic Studies at Exeter University. As the lead spokesperson for Caabu and as an acknowledged expert on the region, Chris is a frequent commentator on TV and Radio, having given over 148 interviews on the Arab world in in 2012 alone. He gives numerous talks around the country on issues such as the Arab Spring, Libya, Syria, Palestine, Iraq, Islamophobia and the Arabs in Britain. He has had numerous articles and letters published in the British and international media. He has travelled to nearly every country in the Middle East. He has organized and accompanied numerous British Parliamentary delegations to Arab countries. Most recently he took Parliamentary delegations to the West Bank in November 2010 and November 2008, he accompanied a delegation including Edward Davey MP, the Liberal Democrat Foreign Affairs Spokesman, to Israel and the West Bank.