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Centrist Pragmatism Ariel Sharon

31 May 2003

By Yisrael Ne’eman

“So where’s Arik going?” is the big question in Israel relating to PM Ariel Sharon.  As a given he has two insurance policies, one – the Bush ‘Road Map’ enabling him to deal with the extreme Right and two – Yasir Arafat granting him protection from the far Left.  The Right blew a gasket this week when he mentioned Israel’s presence in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) and Gaza as a “conquest”.  The Left continues to accuse him of not knowing the limits of force.

A bit of background is in demand.  In the wake of the war in Lebanon then Defense Minister Sharon was relieved of his post. In retrospect it appears he did not know the limits of force, especially when he miscalculated world reaction to Israel’s capture of Beirut and support for the Christian Phalange who massacred innocent Palestinians in Sabra and Shatilla.  Arik paid the price and learned his lesson:  Pick responsible trustworthy allies.

The last few days have been one consecutive interpretation of what he meant by “conquest”, who he betrayed, whether he is really a leftist or is he just pretending in order to re-strengthen the right when he backtracks.  Arik is neither Left nor Right and betrayed no one but rather he is trying to maximalize ideology in the face of political, diplomatic, security and economic pragmatism.  Sharon’s emphasis when explaining the “conquest” is on the 3.5 million Palestinians living under Israeli occupation.  Others interpret it as land.  He knows the land had to be captured in order for Palestinians to live under Israeli rule.  Israel cannot grant them citizenship unless it wants to commit suicide.

Arik is being called a “Mapainik” (Labor party ideologues of yesteryear who are considered to have sold out ideology for pragmatism.)  Shimon Peres is a Mapainik and by the late 1980’s Sharon’s thinking became similar.  As a child growing up in the Yishuv (Jewish community under the British mandate) he knew the dangers of weakness and after Lebanon he knew the limits of power.  Ideology he received from his father and everyday existence.  As PM Arik came out of the closet.  Arik is a Mapainik, but neither he nor Peres forgot ideology.  They simply know its limitations.

By saying “conquest” he forces the ideological Right (National Religious and National Union Parties) to choose between taking his pragmatic approach, accepting a Palestinian state and evacuating proto-settlements for now and real ones later on, or they can quit, ideological commitment and all.  Peres and Labor wait in the wings.

As for the ‘Road Map’ Arik will hang on to the 14 objections submitted to the Americans.  Hence Finance Minister Benyamin Netanyahu representing the right wing of the Likud abstained on the vote endorsing the two state solution.  Netanyahu (being pragmatic) knows Israel’s economic health depends on America’s friendship.

According to Ma’ariv Arik has 62% support from the Israeli public to cut a deal with the Palestinian PM Abu Mazen and begin to work towards a two state solution.  Even if Arafat is immune to pressure, responsible Palestinian leaders are under massive pressure to stop terrorism, but the betting is they will fail after ten years of Arafat inspired hatred and demands for Israel’s destruction through the ‘right of return’.

Arik knows this very well and when the timing is appropriate he will implement his own pragmatic, centrist solution.  Just watch the demarcation security fence develop.