Arafat and Sharon Cannot Make Peace
Because of the diametrically opposite positions that Prime Minister Sharon and Chairman Arafat hold, it would seem most unlikely that the two leaders can agree on a peace agreement. Therefore, only the departure of both men from the political scene and the rise of new and moderate Israeli and Palestinian leaders can create the political environment necessary for peace. The Bush administration must adopt a new strategy that fully takes into account this political reality. Here is why … I begin with Mr. Sharon.
First, although he concedes that a Palestinian state must be part of the solution, the Prime Minister has vowed never to surrender more that 45-50% of the West Bank and all of Gaza, a position that is utterly unacceptable to the Palestinians. But for Sharon and his supporters, the West Bank represents the heart of the Jewish biblical homeland and the symbol of their redemption in their new commonwealth–the state of Israel. Retaining the West Bank is at the core of the revisionist Zionist ideology on which the Likud party's political platform is based. Therefore, surrendering most or all of the West Bank is seen as an historical betrayal not only of Likud political ideology but, as a challenge to the legitimacy and foundation of Israel itself.
Second, Mr. Sharon was the architect of the settlement policy. It was he who promoted the establishment of the "political settlements" throughout the West Bank during the seventies and eighties for the express purpose of changing the demographic makeup of the area. I cannot imagine any scenario that would persuade him to abandon most of the settlements built under his watch, for they represent the core of his convictions. He has in fact made it abundantly clear on numerous occasions that, with the exception of relocating a few settlements to create a limited contiguous territory for the Palestinians and to mitigate mutual security concerns, the majority will stay in place. The representative of the settlers' movement, the National Religious Party, and a strong faction within Likud, wields tremendous influence in Sharon's government. At the first hint of mass evacuation or relocation of the settlements, his coalition government will unravel.
Third, Sharon simply does not trust Arafat to live up to the conditions of peace. From Sharon's perspective, Arafat has shown egregious duplicity not only in dealing with Israeli officials in the past but even his own people. Sharon sees Arafat as a schemer, a double-talker and a weak leader, committed to a wide range of unsavory factions. Moreover, he accused Arafat of conspiring with Hamas and Jihad whose agenda is the eventual elimination of Israel by whatever means; therefore, he cannot accept him as genuine partner for peace. There seems to be no possibility that Sharon may one day overcome either his political differences with Arafat or his personal distaste for him. Nevertheless, although Sharon's positions may render peace an impossibility, he is probably the only Israeli leader who can counter violence by the Palestinians, lower their expectations and create an atmosphere for future substantive negotiations under new Israeli leadership.
Similarly, the manner in which Arafat has conducted himself and the policies he has pursued make him an obstacle to peace here is why:
First, although Arafat has been consistent in demanding the recovery of the entire West Bank and Gaza as well as the establishment of a Palestinian state, with east Jerusalem as its capital, he never prepared his people to accept such a solution without the repatriation of the Palestinian refugees. When former Prime Minister Barak finally offered nearly everything Arafat sought at Camp David, with the exception of the repatriation of the refugees, he flatly rejected that historic offer. It would be political suicide for him to accept now what he was offered then, as he remains unwilling to tell the Palestinian public that there is no prospect for the repatriation of refugees.
Second, the second Intifadah and its repercussions and implications may provide the final blow to Arafat¹s political life. Fifteen months of intense violence have cost the lives of nearly 700 Palestinians and resulted in more than $2 billion in material and economic losses. All the confidence-building measures undertaken between the Israelis and the Palestinians since the 1933 Oslo agreements have been destroyed. In the process, Arafat's strongest constituency in Israel, the peace now movement, has become extremely disillusioned. As both sides were burying their dead, they also buried much of their hopes and dreams of coexisting peacefully. But Arafat also lost the trust not simply of an overwhelming majority of Israelis. A growing number of Palestinians also feel betrayed by his colossal failure to deliver on his promises, the corruption that permeates his administration and his arbitrary and at times ruthless rule.
Third, Arafat has failed to assert his authority, fearing defections and attempts on his life. Rather than uniting his people and striving toward a dignified agreement with Israel, Arafat chooses to maintain an inherently factional community while making Israel the scapegoat for his failure at peace. Moreover, by promoting a second Intifadah, he emboldened the extremists Islamists such as Hamas and Jihad. As a result he has allowed them to gain in popularity and inadvertently eroded his own. Arafat is no longer the master of his destiny. He lost an historic opportunity to make of peace at Camp David dashing the hopes of yet another generation of Palestinians. Considering the untenable political situation in which Sharon and Arafat find themselves, the Bush administration needs to acknowledge that neither Sharon or Arafat can make the necessary concessions for peace. The administration must, therefore, consider a new initiative to resolve the conflict based on two phases.
First, the administration must publically endorse the overall framework for a solution along the lines of the Clinton/Barak plan offered to the Palestinians at Camp David in the summer of 2000. Generally, the plan calls for the establishment of a Palestinian state on 95-96 percent of the West Bank and Gaza. The Palestinians would have control over the Arab quarters in Jerusalem, and the Muslim holy shrines at Temple Mount. The integrity of the united city would be maintained and compensation to be provided for the Palestinian refugees. Israel would be able to annex 4-5% of the West Bank territory adjacent to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv upon which three groups of settlements exist with more than 75 % of the total settlers. This plan may not please either side, but it offers the only viable framework for peace.
Second, in the context of this general framework, the administration must focus on persuading Arafat and Sharon while still in power to end the cycle of violence and initiate new confidence-building measures. We should concentrate on furthering mutual security arrangements while easing the economic pressure on the Palestinians and increasing their mobility. These plans will provide the time needed to create the impetus for changing the internal political dynamic in both camps and permit the emergence of new leaders supportive of the new framework. In addition, it will allow us to address the Arab states¹ concerns about the explosive nature of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and stop them from using it as an excuse for their lack of public support of our war on terrorism.
Both Sharon and Arafat have spent their entire lives fighting, promoting and defending the cause of their respective countrymen. Both have achieved great successes and experienced many failures, but their service has finally come to an end. I believe that at this juncture in the history of Israel and the Palestinians, only new leaders can bring peace at last to a land destined to house both peoples, despite themselves. The United States must understand the limitations of these two leaders and pursue a policy that fully takes into account this reality.