A senior pundit of Yediot Aharonot, Sever Plotzker, wrote in the paper’s lead editorial for that historical Sunday: “The dream of Greater Israel has melted away, disappeared from the agenda, at least for the present generation. Under Ariel Sharon, Israel is withdrawing from Gaza and clearing all the settlements there – as a first step, and not as the last, toward a return to its proper borders.”
Where Israel is concerned, Gaza and the West Bank are separate worlds. In April 2002, when the Intifada raged, the Likud and Labor joined to make full-fledged war on the West Bank in an operation known as “Defensive Shield.” Israel did not hesitate to flatten the Palestinian Authority (PA) and quarantine Arafat politically. Yet it did not go into Gaza – and this was no coincidence. Israel has no interest there, whereas it sees the West Bank as its own strategic territory, even if part of it may pass someday to the hands of a docile PA.
Nahum Barnea, the veteran Yediot commentator, interprets Sharon’s course of action, in chess terms, as a sacrifice of the rook in an attempt to save the queen. (Feb. 21.) The rook consists of the Gaza settlers, the queen consists of those in the West Bank. Yediot satirist B. Micha’el wrote on Feb. 22: “Slow to learn, and led by a conjurer, Israel again sets forth on one of its ‘sting’ operations – again a futile attempt to sell half a sack of damaged goods at an exorbitant price.”
The “proper borders” of the future Palestinian state vary with the eye of the beholder. As seen by the cheated side, they depend on whatever power it can muster to recapture what it’s been robbed of. If, in order to get back Gaza, which Israel doesn’t want at all, the Palestinians have had to make four years of Intifada, imagine what kind of World War they would have to wage to retrieve the West Bank!
Meanwhile, except for the Palestinian people, there are plenty who benefit from the charade. For Abu Mazen and the PA, the way back into the political arena, after the fiasco left by Arafat, must pass through Sharon. Israel’s Labor Party gets a piece of the government without having to give up principles which, in any case, it never had. The Yahad Party (which holds the copyright to the Geneva Initiative) believes that Sharon, in breaking the taboo against dismantling settlements, will pave the way for it to continue where he leaves off. The Arab parties, as usual, have not risen above the level of proclamations. They announced their opposition to disengagement because it does not ensure the minimal Palestinian needs, but in crucial Knesset votes they either abstained or cast their Nays when they knew the Ayes would win. In Knesset committees, when the count looked close, two of them voted for disengagement. The official Israeli Left, in a word, shows its customary short-sightedness.
The fate of the West Bank will not be the fate of Gaza. The dismantling of somelittle West Bank settlements will cost the Palestinians dearly: they will have to let other, bigger settlements stay – not to mention concessions on Jerusalem and the refugees. When the price is announced, they will conclude that the cost of independence is the surrender of that independence. Then, once again, they will take to arms. And “Arik, King of Israel” will discover that he was leading not just them by the nose, and not just Israel by the nose, but finally himself by the nose. When he mewed Arafat in the Muqata’a to die a slow death, he left Abu Mazen to roam outside. But an empty-handed Abu Mazen will be powerless to stop the next uprising. And who will King Arik have then?