Sharon’s Palestinian speech may backfire

Israeli prime minister and Likud leader Ariel Sharon delivered his first major campaign speech Wednesday December 4, declaring that after the January 28 general election he will ask his new government to endorse the Bush peace outline and the creation of a Palestinian state with Yasser Arafat as its “symbolic” head.
Sharon offered thereby to honor a terrorist chief with a nominal title – hardly the way to beat terror or uphold his pledge of security to Israeli citizens.
As politicians at home blasted his speech, debkafile‘s Washington sources disclose that National Security adviser Condoleezza Rice also reacted with anger and impatience, saying that the domestic politics of Sharon and his bureau staff would not be allowed to govern American Middle East policies. Interestingly, not a single member of his own Likud was prepared to comment on the speech.
The controversial address was delivered at the annual conference of the Herzliya Inter-disciplinary Institute. Its main points were:
Endorsement of the peace plan put forward by President George W. Bush on June 24, while taking issue with the published versions of the “road map”, which call for a provisional Palestinian state to be established in 2003 and a final-status agreement by 2005. Instead of a timetable, Sharon called for progress determined on the basis of performance. “There will be no political concessions until there is proven calm and the Palestinian leadership is replaced by one which is able and willing to achieve peace with Israel,” he declared.
But then he said enigmatically that past concessions to the Palestinians are “irreversible”. debkafile‘s analysts wonder what concessions he meant. If the reference was to the 1993 Oslo accords, then it was anachronistic, since the general consensus is that those agreements were killed stone dead by Palestinian terror; subsequent concessions made by the previous Barak government are not binding since the Palestinians rejected them.
Sharon stressed there would be no progress with Yasser Arafat as head of the Palestinian Authority. “He is not and never will be a partner for peace and must be removed from his command of power and sources of financing and relegated to a symbolic role.”
The existing security bodies – “a complex web of militias and armed gangs” must also be dismantled. While the Palestinians are engaged in reforms, the prime minister promised to lift military pressure, create territorial continuity between Palestinian population centers and ease day-to-day life for the population.
In the second stage of the process, Sharon explained, a Palestinian state would be established with provisional borders approximating areas A and B currently held by the Palestinians – “except for essential security zones”. This state would be completely demilitarized but allowed to maintain a “lightly armed police and internal force to ensure civil order.”
Israel will continue to control all the new state’s passage points, command its airspace and not permit alliances with Israel’s enemies.
The last stage will be final-status negotiations to fix permanent borders.
debkafile‘s analysts discover the key to the prime minister’s timing and judgment in accepting the two-state formula in his assertion that, after the January 28, he will strive for form another broad administration. This was a beckoning finger to the opposition Labor party’s new dovish leader, Amram Mitzna, asking him to join.
Sharon feels he is on a winning streak and takes it for granted that the voter will accept a version of the American “road map” for a Palestinian state as the guideline for his partnership plan with Labor leaders.
It took considerable courage to promise the Palestinians and Arafat a future state six days after nine Israelis died at the hands of terrorists in Mombasa, Kenya, and Beit Shean, northern Israel – or may it have been another symptom of the alienation from economic and security problems besetting Israel and the unfolding Middle East realities that marks his performance recently. The al Qaeda attacks on November 28 in the Kenyan resort of Mombasa, which left 13 dead – 10 Kenyans and 3 Israelis – struck Israel’s security and intelligence with the force of a hurricane analogous to the September 11 attacks in America. The scale was much smaller, but so is Israel. and the eye-opener was disturbing. One senior security official described it as “the terrorists’ Yom Kippur War”. He noted that In Kenya, Israel was abruptly catapulted into al Qaeda’s ambit before it could collect its military and intelligence resources. Suffice it to note how America is faring in its war against the Islamic terrorists in more than a year of battle – and after conquering Afghanistan – to assess the tremors from this global threat and the startling realization of how different it is from Palestinian terror.
Yet not a word has been uttered by the Israeli prime minister on this new threat. He left the stage to his national security adviser, Efraim Halevy, defense minister Shaul Mofaz, foreign minister Binyamin Netanyahu and chief of staff Lt.-Gen. Moshe Yaalon – all of whom sounded like extremely worried men. One declared that a new existential threat had raised its head, another mentioned a nuclear menace, a third mega threats. They all stressed that the new perils called for new and unconventional methods and weapons of warfare. Mofaz spoke of the “fourth cycle” of peril which must now to be urgently addressed.
In a corner of the hall in Herzliya sat a small group of individuals who listened quietly to Sharon’s address with growing astonishment. debkafile‘s military sources identified them as a US Pentagon delegation on an unofficial, unannounced visit. Its members failed to understand how Sharon could ignore the new threats menacing Israel on every hand and was sufficiently out of tune with the realities of Washington policies to offer his Palestinian treatise at this time.
It is an open secret in Washington that the White House has no time for the “road map” devised by Secretary of State Colin Powell and the Quartet, any more than it has for Arafat, whom Bush does not want to see anywhere near government, however “symbolic” the role assigned him. In any case, Israel faces untold dangers until the end of January and by then the Middle East is likely to be a different place.
The appointment of Elliott Abrams as head of the National Security Council’s Middle East section is important in the context of Powell’s initiatives in concert with European governments and the UN secretariat – and therefore Sharon’s newfound Palestinian concepts. Announcing the appointment, Dr. Rice made it clear that Abrams will take charge of the White House’s peace initiatives and its policies on Israel-Arab relations, thereby reducing if not cutting out the secretary of state’s powers on these issues.
Sharon may find his speech was not only unpopular in Washington, but also counter-productive as a campaign tool. From one end of the political spectrum to the other, everyone is up in arms. Right-wing opinion slams it as granting a reward for Palestinian terror; the left, whom he is courting, accuse him of poaching votes in its preserves. The average Israeli voter still clings to Sharon as a sort of sheet anchor in a dangerous sea, but Arafat is anathema and he has yet to absorb the shock of being exposed to Osama bin Laden and his works. Most Israelis don’t want to hear about the Palestinian’s future, but how his leaders cope with the expanding terror threat and how their prime minister proposes to restore the equilibrium of the security system that is still reeling from the shocks of Mombasa.
He also finds that escape overseas from the grim reality at home is becoming fraught with danger and hostility, even in the near vicinity. Thursday, December 5, Cyprus, a favorite Israeli playground, imposed restrictions on ground security for Israeli flights for fear of repercussions from al Qaeda. Israel’s aviation authorities then halted El Al, Arkia and Israir flights to the island, upon which the Cypriot authorities stopped Cyprus Airways flights to Israel from Sunday.

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