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The cartoons and contemplations of a twentysomething copy editor.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Ariel Sharon's surgery

If Ariel Sharon dies of his cerebral hemorrhage, Israel will have sustained a loss as grave as that of Yitzhak Rabin in 1995.
This conclusion has developed after watching Sharon serve Israel as its prime minister since 2001. Just as negotiation with the Palestinians was the right strategy of the 1990s, so was unilateralism the correct move in the first decade of the 21st century.
When Sharon first took office after defeating Ehud Barak, I regarded Israelis' choice with trepidation. Here was the man who had been found indirectly responsible for the massacres at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in 1981. Here was the man whose idea of the best thing to do during the riots of 2000 was to make a controversial visit to the Temple Mount. Here was the man who would repudiate the hard work of Oslo in 1993 and Camp David in 2000.
Instead, Sharon has brought Israel its best hope: a situation of perpetual cease-fire. His withdrawal from Gaza and construction of the security barrier has accomplished several objectives. The security barrier prevents Palestinians from crossing into Israel from terrorist strongholds such as Jenin. The departure from Gaza shows the world that Israel is ready to hand over territory to the Palestinians. Meanwhile, his policy of targeted assassination has claimed the lives of some notorious terrorist leaders, including Hamas' Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and Abdel Aziz al-Rantisi.
The problem with Sharon's solutions is that they are those of a politician, not a statesman. Sharon's successors will have to contend with a serious problem: what the Christian Science Monitor, in 2003, called "the growing realization that Israel is losing the demographic war with the Palestinians, even as it emerges more or less triumphant from the battles of recent years." Coupled with the demographic problem is the likelihood that many of these newborn Palestinians will have unhappy lives, if the people governing them combine the incompetence of the Palestine Authority with the fundamentalism and xenophobia of Hamas.
There does seem to be some hope when power will be passed to Sharon's deputy, Ehud Olmert. The Monitor reported that Olmert "intimated that Israel would have to remove settlements and cede control much of the West Bank and Gaza Strip," and quoted him in a Yedioth Ahronoth article: "Above all hovers the cloud of demographics...It will come down on us not in the end of days, but in just another few years."
The decisions to make will be difficult. Should Israel relinquish more of the West Bank, but not the parts containing the region's valuable water deposits? Should Israel continue on turning its attention within its own borders, ignoring the burgeoning Palestinian population mired in poverty and anger? And what happens if Hamas continues its success in Palestinian elections?
The problem with a cold war in the Middle East is that it can erupt into a hot war at any time. Sharon's surgery puts his country in a precarious position. With so many unresolved issues, it is necessary for Olmert -- and all of Israel -- to be on high alert.


At 9:56 PM, Blogger Ittay said...

many pressing issues for the israeli electorate to contend with. well summarised.


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