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November 21, 2005

Sharon Unchained and the Future of the Israel Palestinian Conflict
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

SharonAriel Sharon's bold decision to jump the fence of Israeli politics and form a new party to compete with Labor and Likud might just end up determining the future of the Middle East.   The narrative arc itself is so compelling that one can't help but want to see it happen:  the old warrior and his arch-rival Shimon Peres, cast out by both the right and the left meet in the center and, at ages 77 and 83m, finally make peace with the Palestinians.

Will it happen, who knows?   But the mere prospect seems to have galvanized Israeli politics.

Haaretz said this: "Sharon initiated the foundation of the Likud in 1973, and is now going to be the one who brings about its dismantlement, just like he did with the settlements he fostered and later destroyed."

The Bush Administration should seize the moment and mount a sustained push to get Israel and the Palestinians to go beyond paying lip service to the road map, and work out timetables for its implementation.  Condi Rice took a step in that direction last week when she helped to broker a deal to transit people and goods in and out of Gaza. 

By staying focused and involved, the Administration can help ensure that Sharon is positioned to deliver on his own personal dream of being the one to finally settle Israel's borders

While the Administration was busy avoiding what it regarded as the baited trap of the Israel-Palestinian conflict, it stepped into an even gnarlier snare in Iraq.  As Rice recognizes, a  big breakthrough in Israel would help redeem Bush's disastrous national security policy, forcing critics and historians to at least footnote the Iraq debacle with acknowledgment of a major foreign policy achievement.


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I don't trust him, but God bless him.

Well, there is no doubt this is a very interesting, and potentially constructive development. So far, I have been very skeptical about Sharon's moves, and have viewed his Gaza withdrawal as a ploy to amass a bit of foreign political capital, in order to consolidate the subsequent annexation of the West Bank and almost all of Jerusalem.

A permanent border is in itself a fine goal, but obviously the crux of the matter for the international community should be found in where that border is laid down. If Sharon can build a centrist or center-left coalition that establishes a permanent border by withdrawing Israeli settlers from most of the West Bank and ceding back to the Palestinians something decently close to their pre-1967 territories, thus fulfilling UN 242, then I will lay down my scorn and mistrust, and credit him with an act of great statemanship and political moxie.

If however, this turns out to be just a scam to ratify the existing facts on the ground, and satisfy most of the the land-grabbers on the right and center-right, while cosmetically distancing himself from their party in order to dupe the outside world, then the establishment of a permanent Israeli border will be no cause for celebration.

Sharon does have an opportunity here to redeeem his sordid political and military legacy, and do something great. Let's see what happens.

I think Sharon honestly desires a settlement of the border issue, but I think he also lays a clever trap for the Palestinians. To explain it, I must give some significant background.

The International Court of Justice at the Hague leveled an incongruous (that’s being generous) advisory ruling in 2003 regarding the wall built by Israel to counter terrorist attacks.

139. Under the terms of Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations: "Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security."

Article 51 of the Charter thus recognizes the existence of an inherent right of self defence in the case of armed attack by one State against another State. However, Israel does not claim that the attacks against it are imputable to a foreign State.

Notice that the qualification "in the case of armed attack by one State against another State" does not logically follow from the Charter! The ICJ simply made this up. The sole dissenter on the decision was the American Judge Buergenthal, who wrote

There are two principal problems with this conclusion. The first is that the United Nations Charter, in affirming the inherent right of self defence, does not make its exercise dependent upon an armed attack by another State, leaving aside for the moment the question whether Palestine, for purposes of this case, should not be and is not in fact being assimilated by the Court to a State. Article 51 of the Charter provides that "Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations . . ." Moreover, in the resolutions cited by the Court, the Security Council has made clear that "international terrorism constitutes a threat to international peace and security" while "reaffirming the inherent right of individual or collective self defence as recognized by the Charter of the United Nations as reiterated in resolution 1368 (2001)" (Security Council resolution 1373 (2001)). In its resolution 1368 (2001), adopted only one day after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, the Security Council invokes the right of self defence in calling on the international community to combat terrorism. In neither of these resolutions did the Security Council limit their application to terrorist attacks by State actors only, nor was an assumption to that effect implicit in these resolutions. In fact, the contrary appears to have been the case.

Sharon’s trap rests on one basically undeniable assumption: Hamas, Islamic Martyrs Brigade, Force 17, Fateh, etc. will never end their war against Israel. Once there exist stable borders, Israel will have a de facto "state actor" engaged in acts of war. The UN will thereby be unable to stand on its current irrational, anti-Israel bias --- the UN will have to act on behalf of Israel.

Sharon will use the current Western consensus on paranational terrorist groups to convert its conflict with Palestine into an Article 51 defensive war. I think it is a brilliant strategy for the political defeat of Palestine, and I fully support it.

Sharon has played on liberal hopes that he's really a 21st Century Begin for quite a while now.

But was his closest adviser only kidding when he said -- just last year -- that the real purpose of the Gaza pullout was to stall the peace process?

Did Sharon increase the illegal settler pop'n by 6% last year just to make it even more politically difficult for him to evacuate the settlements now?

Stranger things have happened I suppose, but until he actually stops *increasing* the # of settlers and starts talking to the Palestinians, I don't see why he should be given the benefit of the doubt.

Sharon is and has always been a dangerous man. His goal is to create a sense of danger in order to maintain Israel's grip on the West Bank, i.e. settled a border that gives Israel the most water. He is aided and abetted in this by the Palestinian leadership which is unable to create the necessary framework to a civil society. Even a dual strategy of no attacks from Gaza but hell from the West Bank in order to create a civil society in Gaza does not seem apparent to them. The result will continue to be two disaffected societies unable to achieve any meaningful sense of civil society. One a garrison state strangled by numbers. The other a rump state of anarchy like the present day Somilia. Both bleeding literally to death.

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