What Would Ariel Sharon Do?

Beinart vs. Lake on what Sharon intended with respect to the West Bank:

Strangely enough, since I think I’m on Beinart’s side with respect to the current Israeli government (it may be the worst government in Israel’s history, finally surpassing the government of Golda Meir) I think I’m on Lake’s side on this narrow issue of what Sharon intended to do.

Sharon was a unilateralist. He believed the dictum: it doesn’t matter what the goyim think; what matters is what the Jews do. I don’t think he had much faith in the prospects for negotiations. But that doesn’t mean he wanted to hold on to the West Bank. Sharon clearly articulated, multiple times, the necessity of withdrawing from the territories and establishing a two-state solution. He embraced the view from the Israeli center that Israel’s interests demanded giving up on the dream of Greater Israel. And for that very reason, he wasn’t going to hold Israel’s future hostage to the results of negotiations.

I believe that the pullout from Gaza was a dress rehearsal for a more substantial unilateral pullout from most of the West Bank, leaving only a presence in the Jordan Valley and inside the security fence – which, of course, extends well into the West Bank at numerous points, particularly in the area around Jerusalem, but which does not encompass the settlements in Hebron, for example, or most of the rest of those settlements that extend deep into the heart of Palestinian population areas. This would leave the Israeli people behind defensible borders, and would leave Israel in control of the small percentage of the West Bank that it intended to retain anyway. What would remain to negotiate would be: a withdrawal from the (mostly unpopulated) Jordan Valley, establishment of final borders between the Palestinian State and the State of Israel (including the sharing of Jerusalem and the possible transfer of Israeli territory within the Green Line to the Palestinian State to compensate for territory annexed from the West Bank), the final status of Arab Jerusalem, etc.

In other words: Israel would keep what it wanted to keep, and leave what it wanted to leave, and not wait for negotiations to be concluded. But what Sharon wanted to keep was pretty much the same territory that Barak wanted to keep.

Why do I believe this was his intent? Because Sharon would not have ripped up his own political coalition in order to hold on to the West Bank. Because either you believe that holding on to the territories is in Israel’s interest or is against Israel’s interest, and Sharon made it abundantly clear that he took the latter view.

The view I’m imputing to Sharon was basically my view at the time. I think the situation is a bit different now, and that it’s a tragedy we don’t have an Israeli government that was capable of conducting real negotiations. But I still understand the unilateralist view. What I have no sympathy for is what I think is the Netanyahu government’s view: that Israel is in no rush to establish a defensible borders and midwife the creation of a contiguous Palestinian state in the West Bank.

What I’ve been trying to argue is that the trend to further disenfranchise Israeli Arabs needs to be stopped, and even reversed, not only for the sake of Israel’s democracy but for the sake of peace. In that regard, I’d go further than Beinart. I think the dichotomy that says Israel can either be a Jewish state or a state with only one class of citizens is a pernicious one. If Israel is to be a Jewish state, that needs to mean something other than that Israel systematically discriminates in favor of its Jewish citizens or considers the concerns of its Arab citizenry to be of negligible importance. If there is no way for Israel to be the love-object of diaspora Jewish communities and a country that its Arab citizens consider to be their own, then Avigdor Lieberman is right in a fundamental way, and I don’t believe he is. If he’s not right, then people who love Israel need to find that way – and they are not going to find it without actually listening to Israel’s Arab citizens, and accounting for their views in the political process (which, in turn, will probably necessitate changes in the electoral system). And this is a process that I absolutely believe cannot be deferred until the advent of peace; call me a fool, but I think the processes will be mutually-reinforcing.