[Allan Topol / AllanTopol.Com]
Lightning paced thriller writer
of International Intrigue
National Bestselling Author

An Historic Event
by Allan Topol, [IMAGE]2004


Photo Courtesy: Julie Zitin
[Allan Topol / AllanTopol.Com] With great courage and at high political risk to themselves, Prime Minister Sharon has advanced, and President Bush has supported, an Israeli plan to withdraw unilaterally from Gaza and evacuate settlements. For President Bush, that means incurring the wrath of much of the Arab world as well as American and European knee jerk supporters of the Palestinian cause. For Sharon, the onslaught will come from the far right in his own government and Likud party.

The historic announcement of April 14 has to be put into context. In the Clinton administration, the President invested an inordinate amount of time and prestige in an effort to assist the Israelis and Palestinians in reaching a negotiated settlement. Clinton and his advisers felt confident they had achieved success at the Camp David summit involving Clinton, Israeli Prime Minister Barak and Palestinian Chairman Arafat. For days the Americans had been leaning on the Israelis to make the concessions Arafat was demanding, including a massive territorial withdrawal in the West Bank as well as Gaza, acceptance of some refugees into Israel and even a sharing of jurisdiction in Jerusalem.

It was very close to the Palestinians' wish list. Nobody ever gets a hundred percent of what they come into a negotiation seeking. The Americans at Camp David were confident that Arafat would sign on the dotted line.

To their consternation and surprise, Arafat balked. He walked away from the negotiating table and launched "an intifada." That's a fancy word for a three year reign of terror which included strapping explosives with hundreds of nails inside around the waists of fourteen year old children and placing bombs in the handbags of pregnant women. These human grenades then walked onto Israeli busses or into crowded restaurants and detonated themselves.

Israel's response has been to eradicate terror at its source by attacking those who planned the operations and their bomb making facilities. At the same time, Israel has tried to enhance its own security by constructing a fence to block entry points from Palestinian territory into Israel.

Arafat's strategy was clear. He was gambling the future of the Palestinian people that he could get a better deal than what was offered at Camp David by resorting to terrorism. Unfortunately for Arafat, he picked the wrong United States President with whom to play this high stakes game. The pronouncements on April 14 prove that Arafat lost. President Bush does not reward terrorism.

Abba Eban, formerly an Israeli Foreign Minister and Ambassador to Washington, once said, "the Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity." That statement kept popping into my mind as I read the Bush and Sharon statements.

In the days after the June 1967 war, there were no "Israeli settlements." Israel was ready to give up all of Gaza and the West Bank in return for peace. Golda Meir expected the phone to ring any day to make the deal. What a great opportunity the Palestinians had. The call never came.

For the next thirty-five years as Israeli settlements grew in isolated portions of the West Bank and Gaza, the Palestinians stubbornly refused to negotiate. Finally, they spurned the Clinton-Barak Camp David offer.

For the past three years, suicide bombers struck, and Israeli troops assassinated terrorist leaders. At the same time, Sharon was looking for a negotiating partner prepared to halt the cycle of violence. It never happened. The suicide bombers continued to blow themselves up at a café in Tel Aviv, a seaside resort in Netanya and other places.

Meanwhile, numerous commentators criticized Bush for "not being engaged in the Mid East peace process." They ignored the fact that Bush had issued "the road map" for Israeli Palestinian negotiations. All the Palestinians had to do was reign in their extremists and buy some airplane tickets to Washington. In this context, the Americans might have leaned on the Israelis again as a so-called "honest broker." But that never happened.

When Israeli officials first broached the idea of a unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, their American counterparts thought it was a bad idea in concept. The timing was horrible, the Americans contended, in the midst of the Iraqi strife. Several months of intensive discussions followed with the Americans negotiating on behalf of the AWOL Palestinians.

These discussions culminated in the April 14th announcements, confirmed and provided with legal status by a presidential letter. Ultimately, Bush came to the reluctant conclusion that Sharon had no one with whom to negotiate. No one to represent the Palestinian people in helping them move out of the quicksand, their leaders had gotten them into, and toward their own state, which all parties accept. Bush realized that a unilateral Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, as shaped by the Americans, which means not only ceding territory, but also uprooting Israeli settlers, presented an opportunity for the Palestinians.

For the first time, the Palestinians will have land of their own to control and administer. All of Gaza for starters. To that, they can add all of the West Bank east of the security fence, which is the vast majority of the pre-1967 Arab territory. The Palestinians can have a viable state. Bush has left open the door to the Palestinians to negotiate themselves a final agreement recognizing their statehood. Americans and Europeans stand ready with cash and technical resources to assist the Palestinians in making the desert bloom, create an industrial base, and develop schools and other institutions of their own.

Initial reaction from the Palestinians has been outrage that with Bush as their surrogate negotiator, they did not get one hundred percent of what they wanted. A wave of fury has surged through the Arab world as the realization has taken hold that the map of the region will never look the way it did before the Arabs launched their war in June 1967. The time has come for other so called moderate nations such as Egypt and Jordan, who receive billions of dollars in American aid each year, to step forward and constructively support President Bush.

Words come easy. Actions speak volumes in the Arab street. By pursuing the negotiations with the Israelis on the Gaza withdrawal to their culmination, and then announcing that he was prepared to back the agreement reached, Bush has sent a powerful message to the Arab world.

On the Israeli side, Sharon will have to overcome the bitter opposition of the right wing in his own government. If not, he'll have to form a new government with Labor in order to implement the withdrawal plan.

The Palestinians also face a critical decision point. In the days ahead, we'll see whether the Palestinian pragmatists will prevail over the terrorists. The Israelis will be gone from Gaza. The Palestinians will now have land to themselves. It's up to them to seize this opportunity to build a viable society.