Posted on April 05, 2004 in Washington Watch

Israeli Prime Minster Ariel Sharon may be facing criminal indictments that could end his political career, but the Bush Administration appears ready to hand him the victory he has long sought. It appears that the United States may be ready to accede to key elements of Sharon’s design for a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

What Sharon has wanted from the United States was an acceptance of the route he has established for his separation wall, an American rejection of the Palestinians’ “Right of Return” and an U.S. agreement that a final peace between Israel and the Palestinians did not require Israel to return to its 1967 borders.

While it appears that Sharon will not get all that he has asked for, there are reports coming out of Israel that the United States will provide the Primer Minister with a letter of assurances that he can use to validate his plan for unilateral withdrawal from Gaza and parts of the West Bank. The vaguely worded formulas that will be included in the letter still need to be finalized but apparently they will allow Sharon to move forward with his West Bank/Gaza plan. The Bush Administration’s letter, which will be presented to Sharon when he visits with the President on April 14th, will be worded in a way so that Sharon can interpret it as he wishes while still allowing the United States enough “wiggle room” to not have a direct confrontation with key Arab states and European allies. In other words, the letter will enable the Administration to continue to maintain that it is committed to its Roadmap plan and vision of a two-state solution.

But Sharon’s victory is actually much greater than the U.S. assurances and the partial validation he will get for his disengagement plan. From the beginning, what Sharon has sought is to deal the Palestinians out of the process. He has long been an ardent foe of Palestinian national self-determination. While several Israeli leaders have agreed, over the last decade, to sign agreements with the PLO, knowing that in doing so, they accepted the national movement embodied by that organization, only Sharon remained firm in his rejection. Even at the White House ceremony marking the signing of the Wye River Accord between Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud government and Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian Authority, Sharon, then a minister in the government, was alone in refusing to endorse the agreement or to even shake hands at the ceremony.

Since taking office in early 2001, Sharon’s entire effort has been focused on discrediting and dismantling the Palestinian Authority, ending the Oslo agreement and re-establishing Israeli control over occupied lands. This has come at an enormous price in both Palestinian lives and fortunes and Israeli lives as well.

During the last three years Sharon was able to evade every effort to reestablish a negotiating relationship with the Palestinian Authority (PA). He set up arbitrary and unilateral pre-conditions that blocked several American peace initiatives from the Mitchell Plan, to the Tenet Plan to the Roadmap. In each instance, Sharon stonewalled and won. By making no concessions, knowing that the United States would not take firm action against them, he succeeded in wearing down his opponents and rendering the PA a non-factor.

Sharon’s victory, then, is that he has dealt the Palestinians out of the process and is now engaged in direct negotiations with the United States, and the United States alone. None of this, of course, would have occurred without the U.S.’s acquiescence, the impotence of the international community and the continued violence that at each step played into his hands. Even in periods when there was a lull in violence, Sharon was able, with assassinations and other repressive measures, to provoke acts of terror that would then be used to accelerate further measures against Palestinians.

So as it now stands, with a tacit U.S. acceptance in the form of a vaguely worded letter, Sharon will continue to build his wall, cutting into Palestinian lands, isolating Palestinian villages, separating Palestinians from their property and their livelihood while protecting huge Israeli settlements which will now be linked even more directly with pre-1967 Israel. This is what is known as establishing “facts on the ground”. At the same time, Sharon will now be able to “withdraw” from a devastated and impoverished Gaza while maintaining full control over all of Gaza’s borders and reserving the right to re-enter and wreak havoc whenever Israel deems it necessary to do so.

The U.S. will maintain that this is not a final agreement, only a temporary measure and that the Roadmap is still operative. But the reality on the ground will be quite different. The U.S. letter will enable Sharon to lock in Palestinian despair and kill the hope for a just peace.

The irony, of course, is that Sharon’s leadership may not survive as he is currently being threatened with a career-ending criminal indictment. But what has been established during his horrific tenure in office will no doubt survive at least for the foreseeable future. No U.S. leader will demand that these Israeli “facts”, once created, be dismantled.

This, then, will be Sharon’s victory: an expanded Israel, an impoverished ghetto called Palestine–and continued violence.

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