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

The Sharon Plan Is Not Dead
by Allan Topol, [IMAGE]2004


Photo Courtesy: Julie Zitin
[Allan Topol / AllanTopol.Com] The Sharon plan for a unilateral Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, as endorsed by President Bush, received a temporary setback with last week’s referendum among members of Prime Minister Sharon’s Likud party and protest letters issued by retired British and U.S. diplomats. However, the plan shows surprising vitality. Among key American and Israeli officials, there is a strong conviction that this initiative, as endorsed by the United States, represents the first real hope for progress since Arafat blasted the compromise reached at Camp David out of the water three and a half years ago.

On the American side, President Bush did more than give a nod of approval to the plan. He made a personal commitment that the U.S. would stand by this peace initiative. As we have seen in other contexts, when Bush is personally committed on a course of action, he does not back away.

Bush had the perfect opportunity with the visit from Jordanian King Abdullah II last week to point to the Likud vote and shift U.S. policy. But he didn’t do that. Indeed, Bush reaffirmed his support with an interview in the Egyptian newspaper Al Ahram published Saturday. He also made it clear that, while negotiations between the parties will be required to settle many issues, the previous target date of 2005 for a Palestinian State was unrealistic because the Palestinians have not been responsive.

At the same time, the Administration has not repudiated Bush’s statements of two realities which everyone has known for years and no American President was prepared to state publicly. First, that U.N. Resolution 242 of 1967 does not call for Israel to withdraw to the 1967 territory lines, and that is not realistic in any event. Second, that there will not, and cannot, be a right of return for all Palestinians who left their homes in 1948.

Indeed Bush has sent out his emissaries to clarify how firmly the American government stands by the Sharon Gaza withdrawal as shaped in negotiations with the Americans. Secretary of State Colin Powell will be in Jordan next weekend delivering this message to Arab leaders.

Condoleezza Rice has scheduled a meeting with Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei in Europe. If the Palestinians expect Ms. Rice to indicate that the U.S. will not support the Sharon plan, they will be disappointed. There may be vague promises about compensation for refugees and border adjustments, but the basic message will be: get behind the Gaza withdrawal plan. It represents your best chance to move toward statehood.

In these talks as elsewhere, the Palestinians suffer from the deficiency that they have no reliable negotiating party, i.e., spokesman who can be accepted as speaking for the Palestinian people. The Palestinians have no meaningful government. Merely the aging cadre of corrupt leaders assembled by Arafat. Those with the guns control the streets and can undermine any promise made by one of their leaders.

Israel has precisely the opposite problem. Prime Minister Sharon is bound by law to follow the dictates of his legislature and to work with his cabinet, both of which are horribly split on the Gaza withdrawal. Unquestionably, Sharon made a tactical error in calling for the Likud referendum. He miscalculated, expecting to win when in fact those who were opposed had more incentive to campaign hard, which they did.

It is fair to say that Sharon has spent every working hour since the Likud vote trying to find a way to get what he wants, namely approval for the unilateral withdrawal, as endorsed by Bush, by the Israeli legislature. And there is a very good chance that Sharon will succeed. Even Sharon’s critics recognize that he is someone who will not stop until he gets what he wants if he believes it is for the good of Israel. On the Gaza withdrawal issue, his chances of success are buttressed by the fact that a majority of the Israeli people as a whole, as opposed to Likud members, support the initiative.

This brings us to the joker in the deck. The European countries. Initially, they were opposed to the Sharon initiative as endorsed by Bush. After the Likud vote, they had a change of heart. After all, anything that is opposed by Israel’s right wing party is worth supporting.

Equally important, the Europeans joined the other members of the so-called quartet, which include the U.S., Russia and the U.N., in a statement that delivered a strong slap at Yasir Arafat. Echoing the U.S. position, the quartet called for an “empowered” Palestinian Prime Minister with whom to negotiate and reinforce Palestinian security and economic structures.

The quartet statement called the Sharon Gaza withdrawal as endorsed by Bush a “positive” step. With Bush committed, the quartet on board, and Sharon likely to find a way to succeed, the burden is on the Palestinians. Here’s an opportunity to take a giant step toward having their own nation.