THE ISRAEL REPORTJanuary/February 2001
Israel According to Sharon
In the Prime Minister's Office, Ehud Barak has no regrets: his mission is to defuse a ticking bomb - for the sake of the future, because there is no alternative. On his verdant ranch, Ariel Sharon is worried: the Jews don't know how to defend the land, feel it, cling to it. One of these two men will be prime minister next week.By Ari Shavit
Ehud Barak and Ariel Sharon have quite a lot in common: Both are from farming communities, both served in special units in the army, both are commanders with high pretensions. Their conception of reality, too, is not altogether different: neither of them believes in the New Middle East, neither is an exponent of the Oslo process, both attach overarching importance to restoring internal cohesion in Israel. Both Barak and Sharon are very perturbed about the strategic threats on the horizon, both are concerned about the weakening of the country's sense that justice is on Israel's side, both hold the view that in the near future, Israel will have to arrive at arrangements with the Palestinians that do not have an end-of-conflict status.At the same time, though, there are polar differences between the two candidates for prime minister: Barak thinks demography, Sharon things geography. Barak thinks in terms of decolonization, Sharon thinks in terms of land settlement. Barak represents the shock of the future, Sharon represents the continuity of the past. Ironically, the Labor candidate in the current elections is a political Zionist who devotes considerable thought to international legitimization and international law, whereas the Likud candidate is a Mapainik of the old generation who still believes in the power of facts on the ground, in the strength that derives from controlling territory, in "a dunam here and a dunam there."
At the personal level, too, they are very different: Ehud Barak thinks fast, delivers his thoughts with high density and is focused on the closed logic of his arguments. He has a compulsive need to talk. Again and again he makes his case, proves with signs and symbols that his logic is the only logic, that despite everything, his way is the only way. The way he carries his political troubles these days is impressive. Even when it is obvious that things are hard for him, very hard, Barak makes sure he is in control of himself, restrains himself, doesn't betray emotions. He's made of iron, people around him whisper.
Sharon, in contrast, is a bit emotional. Thoughtful, slow, earthbound. His perception of things is both keen and sensitive; his presence in the room is relaxed; his sense of humor is surprising. He doesn't always organize his remarks into a structured presentation, a logically consecutive delivery, but there is something charming about the way he intersperses thoughts about statecraft with personal memories and with his intimate knowledge of the land. Arik Sharon lacks any real capability of self-criticism and has no real readiness to confront difficult parts of his past. But Sharon is looking for conciliation. He is looking for a way to extend a hand to the tribe from which he came and which ostracized him.
There is no symmetry between the two reports that follow. One consists of a monologue by Ehud Barak which directly quotes what the prime minister said in a series of conversations held with him in his bureau, at his home and in his car a little more than a week ago. The other article is a third-person account based on remarks made by Ariel Sharon in a very lengthy conversation, which covered an entire day and took place in his home and in his fields more than a year ago.
Sharon's refusal to be interviewed in the past few weeks made it impossible to offer the readers of Ha'aretz a detailed and up-to-date description of Sharon's positions and plans. Nevertheless, the impression created by the conversation that was held with him a few months after he became leader of the opposition provides an opportunity to become closely, almost intimately, acquainted with the mental and conceptual world of the right-wing candidate for prime minister.
The comments of the two reflect the way each of them perceives the reality in which Israel finds itself. However, what comes across most strikingly from a perusal of what they have to say is that the choice facing the Israeli voter in February 2001 is a very dramatic one. Nothing less than a choice between two worlds."What is the choice between? Between a realistic, sober-eyed, disillusioned way, which says that the conflict is a ticking bomb beneath our existence here, and another way, which got us into Lebanon and created this attachment to the guts of the Palestinians in the form of what are called political settlements, and has now conferred on the present Intifada its Muslim-religious coloration. Between a way which, in essence, is an attempt to reach a point of equilibrium and stability, and a way of exercising force of which the underlying internal logic will only cause the exacerbation and widening of the conflict."The diplomatic process that Arik Sharon is describing is effectively a dictate to the other side, It is not a dialogue. Therefore it has no chance to succeed. And on that road, if an impasse is reached with the Palestinians and with the Syrians, there is a high probability of deterioration. And then the danger to the stability of the peace agreements we have with other Arab states is very real indeed.
"We have seen the signs of this even now. After all, the war scenarios that were published at the end of November in Yedioth Ahronoth were not concocted out of thin air by the reporter. They were based on situation appraisals made by our systems. Because what we have here is a force-driven collision between the wills of two national movements, one of which is already seeking normality while the other is still looking for initial expressions of proud nationality and independence. And within that clash of forces, there is an asymmetry in readiness to make sacrifices and asymmetry in readiness to pay the price."
The iceberg:"I truly see an iceberg. And I don't just say this now. I also said it two and a half years ago, when I was leader of the opposition in the period of Bibi [prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu]. I said already then that we were headed for a disaster. That it was a tragedy. And when I sat with the American peace team, I told them, Friends, you are shutting your eyes to something that is obvious. The writing is on the wall. The whole thing is galloping toward disaster. Galloping.
"You know my approach. The way I look at reality: a very strong country in very difficult surroundings and a window of opportunity in between. And if we do not reach a solution and the window of opportunity closes, we will find ourselves in a very sharp deterioration. It is impossible to set a timetable. It is impossible to know exactly what the trigger will be. Large-scale terrorist attacks by Bin Laden or a fundamentalist wave of operations against us - which the Americans and the rest of the world will be wary of dealing with for fear of their own interests - and with simple nuclear instruments and means of launching in Arab states in the background. It's hard for us to imagine it. But I have been dealing with these things for many years, as director of Military Intelligence and as chief of staff, and I have devoted a lot of thought to how it will really look, to what it will consist of, to how that reality will affect us. Therefore, I understand that we have an interest of a very high order in trying to reach agreements now.
"I know the truth. I do not deceive myself in anything. And I believe that we will not lose these elections. Because I think we have a nation that is more serious than people give it credit for. And beneath everything that is flowing through the headlines of the papers, there is the flow of reality itself. In the end, people will understand that the process we are leading is a real one. But even if we lose, I know that I did what was right. Because I would have had no problem spending four or eight years in a unity government and even doing a few good things in it. But I kept seeing the iceberg. I am not an observer on the sidelines. I am inside. And for the past 18 months, I have been in it as prime minister. And I see - I see like a captain who sees an iceberg. And I don't know whether it is possible to avoid a collision. But I know that the wheel has to be turned full-force so that maybe there will be no collision. Maybe we will only brush against it."
Anyone but Golda:"It's not just a matter of not being Golda. It's not being Golda-Dayan and not being Begin-Sharon and even not being the collective governments of Israel since 1967, which thought it was possible to rule another people at the end of the 20th century without things blowing up from inside. You know, you read the report of the Agranat Commission [about the 1973 Yom Kippur War] and you ask yourself how they didn't see that the question was not whether '[keeping] Sharm al-Sheikh is better than peace' or 'peace is better than [keeping] Sharm al Sheikh.' The real question was, 'Are you ready to bury 3,000 soldiers for Sharm al-Sheikh?'. And how they proceeded to the Intifada without seeing that at the end of the 20th century it is impossible to maintain a Jewish-Zionist-democratic state that is plugged into the world and also rule over another people. We are not talking here about some modern Sparta in South America, you know. We are talking about a Jewish-democratic state that arose on the basis of that heritage and that Declaration of Independence.
"So, if you are blind and don't see, that is your right. But I see. And it's not a matter of another 20 years. It is a matter of just a few years. Maybe even in these very years that are at hand.
"That is why I had no hesitations of any kind. Because my situation is different from that of Moshe Dayan, who understood the reality we were moving into but who did not have to make any concrete decisions. I am in a completely different situation. Because here the bomb is already ticking and it has to be defused. We have to hurry and dismantle it. And then, when you get to the real thing, you suddenly discover that it was not Moshe Dayan who was right, not Yigal Allon, but Ben-Gurion, who said immediately after the Six-Day War, 'Take Jerusalem and all the rest in safekeeping for peace.' Immediately. But who listened to him then? No one. I myself, and I was no longer a child, I was a young captain who thought highly of his autonomous judgment, I also thought he was a little past his prime. But today we see that Ben-Gurion was right. He was right. What he said then showed a deeper understanding of history than all the others."
Arafat:"No, I don't think Arafat beat me. What does that even mean? He won in the sense that the Algerians beat de Gaulle when he saved France. And what does it matter who won? This is not a zero-sum game. After all, if we remain stuck in an endless conflict, we have both lost. And if we succeed in resolving it, we have both gained. I know that in the public feeling there is this dimension of a contest. But I think it is negligible in the face of the importance of the issue on the agenda. We are talking about the fate of a people. So what difference does it make what people felt at a certain moment?
"And what will Arafat do with all the concessions you say he has supposedly documented? If he takes them along to his perdition, what will he have gained? Let's say the outcome is that within half a year or a year, there will be no Palestinian Authority as we know it today. So what did he gain? He collected a lot of cards and brought about his destruction. "I don't think he tripped me up. I knew from the start that we were [mutually] dependent. That it takes two to tango. But I learned a few things in the past nine months. Because we had these great experts on the Palestinians who knew for sure where you could cut a deal. But it turned out that they didn't know. They were wrong. Because the Palestinians really do have intransigent national attitudes. They have been in the struggle for 50 years and they are ready for another 20.
"It's possible that the hardest point of all is the refugees. Tony Blair was right when he told me from the outset that that would be the toughest nut to crack. Because it's a symbolic issue. It is not a matter of facts. It is the Palestinian national narrative. But there are ways to resolve it, if they want to. I am still not sure they want to. Or are capable. Let's put it like this: I am not sure if they are capable.
"For me personally, the hardest moment was the discussion on Jerusalem at Camp David. That was hardest for me. What do we do? That is the most precious thing we have. It was a very tough discussion. Because I do not intend to sign off on a document that transfers sovereignty on the Temple Mount to the Palestinians. Because emotionally, I have a very deep connection to every nook and cranny there. And the heritage. The memory. But there is a historical fact there of mosques which have been there for about 1,300 years. We did not intervene in that. We intervened only at the symbolic level of sovereignty, regarding who will have sovereignty."
The Barak plan:"The overall plan? Two states for two peoples. Within the framework of separation in which we do not return to the 1967 borders and the Palestinians do not have the right of return to Israel. There is no right of return to Israel - that is a cornerstone. It's possible they will have 90 percent of the territory or even more, and a few Palestinian neighborhoods in Jerusalem. But in return for that, we will have the recognition of the entire world in our 12 neighborhoods across the  Green Line, in which 150,000 to 180,000 reside. And as I say all the time: 80 percent of the settlers will be in settlement blocs under our sovereignty. And the Jordan [River] as Israel's effective security border, with security arrangements and arrangements for deploying [forces] that ensure that our forces will get there faster than anyone else. And, in the wake of what we learned in the past few months, security arrangements along lines of friction too. And demilitarization. The Palestinians agreed to practical demilitarization of everything concerning heavy units - tanks, artillery, planes.
"What I say is that at the deepest level, the way to a solution is separation. Separation with an agreement or without an agreement. Therefore, if within half a year, it turns out that the Palestinians insist on the right of return and want sovereignty on the Temple Mount - that they want to erase the Temple Mount from Jewish memory and consciousness - that will not happen. There will be no agreement. We will go to separation, initiated by us. And in that case there will be broader borders, and a broad security zone, because without an agreement, we will need a broad security zone in the Jordan Rift Valley. A kind of unilateral Allon Plan. But we will do it gradually and by degrees. Not within a month or two, but within a year or two. So as not to take on ourselves the burden of international responsibility. That too will not be easy, but it is essential.
"It is essential because there are 10 million people living between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean: 6.5 million citizens of Israel and 3.5 million Palestinians. And if we want a state that is both Jewish and democratic, the only way is separation. Separation is also essential because our strength as a society will be focused and reorganized coherently only when unity of purpose is achieved. And unity of purpose in Israeli society will be achieved only on the basis of looking together at the essence of the problem. And that [will happen] only when the right understands that there is no solution that includes ruling over another people, and when the left understands that the partners [to the dialogue] are not what it thinks they are. You know, if we can resolve this, then all the pain and grief along the way will look like nothing after we resolve it. But if it can't be resolved, then we should know that truth.
"All this is very hard. It is very hard for both sides. You can see it already. What is happening now is that the nation is kicking, kicking at the mirror I am holding up to it. Because I am saying, Friends, it's not what you thought. I am simply removing the masks. Removing the masks. Because it's impossible to dismantle this time bomb without removing the masks from it. Without seeing what is really there. And what is there - you can like it or not like it, but that's what there is. And it is about to blow up."
The left:"What is especially hard for the left to accept in what I uncovered is that the other side has a proud and demanding nationalism, which does not annul and will not annul its symbols and wishes. And it's not clear that if you hand over assets to its representatives, and behave nicely to them and transform them from being a bunch of terrorists into being a respectable bunch, that they really turn into a respectable bunch. The kind of people who will reach a fair and proper compromise with us, one that suits our demands too. It is because of the character of the Arab discourse that their culture does not contain the concept of compromise. Compromise is apparently a Western concept for settling disputes.
"That is why, even though I went very far, it is hard for the left. The left is in a state of dissonance. Because I am coming closer than ever before to the realization of the dream, but at the same time I am posing a question about the essence of the dream. People don't know if there will be an agreement in the end or not. And, if there is an agreement, what that will mean; and if there is no agreement, what that will mean. But in any event, they see that the neighbors are not benign. Not part of Western culture. They can be serial violators of agreements and they can be violent contrary to agreements and they can be a lot of things. Treacherous and manipulative at a level that does not coincide with the left's dream of the situation.
"One of two things will happen: Either there will be a settlement along the lines we put forward, which create some sort of equilibrium, or at least it will be clear to honest Israelis from the left that if there is no settlement, it is because the Palestinians are not ready for a settlement of two states for two peoples. Because the Palestinians are still clinging to the 'phased theory' as a practical plan. And all this is a source of tremendous strength. Because in the end, after a long and very complicated shortcut, you are back to the fundamental thing, to the inner core of vital interests, for which you are ready to struggle. The fundamental thing is what you are ready to be killed for. You don't like that and you don't want that and you will do everything in order to prevent it, but if there is no choice, you are really ready to be killed for that."
Ariel Sharon:"Arik Sharon and I are alike with regard to our army background and in our understanding that if military action is undertaken, it has to be done well and end in victory. But there are differences in our political approach, because I believe in careful attentiveness to opportunities that exist in situations. And what I am trying to do is to spare us some of the entanglements that are awaiting us along the way. On the other hand, Sharon is behaving like a person who prefers to try every other possible road before he chooses the right road.
"As a person, he is very charming. At the personal level I enjoy his company very much. He is also an exceptional field commander. But he has an extreme worldview which at bottom is driven by a dimension of force. And that dimension conveys some sort of primal attraction for a nation that is involved in a confrontation. But it doesn't suit the reality. And ultimately it will collide with reality - that is what happens to Arik time after time.
"I don't want to address the dimension of the extra danger of war that stems from the personality of the person at the top. I don't think it would be right to talk about that. But a road that does not lead to separation is a wrong road. And Sharon is unrealistic in that he thinks it is possible to impose basic facts that will render the Palestinian entity unproblematic. A kind of arrangement of 15 cantons with connections and bridges above and passages underneath. That is not viable. It has no chance.
"Therefore, if there is a right-wing government with Sharon's policy, we will again be in dissonance with reality. And ultimately we will collide with reality. And we will take a licking. We will take a hard licking and we will pay the price. It won't be easy for the other side either. But in the end, things will straighten out again. Because, you know, the bend in the road next to Karmei Tzur is not going to change. And the twists and turns on the ascent to Elon Moreh aren't going to change. The only thing that will change is the additional, unnecessary graves. And they will make things even more difficult. Because the residue of blood will only weigh down on both sides. It is not oil on the wheels of the process, it is thorns in the flesh of the solution.
"That is unfortunate. It is truly unfortunate. Because in the end there will be a settlement. And when the settlement comes, it will be within the parameters we have marked. You will need a microscope to find the differences. But we are liable to get there at the end of a trip that will take place at high levels of violence. And then people will understand that what is happening now was very far from what could happen."
Icarus:"I understand what you're getting at when you mention Icarus. I understand. But Icarus likened himself to the gods. Whereas you can compare me, at most, to a surgeon whose operation on gangrene did not completely succeed. And then what? Not to try the surgery? After all, because the surgery did not succeed this time, you will have to cut even higher next time. That is all that will happen. And if it turns out that you were not successful in doing it below the knee, afterward you will have to do it above the knee. That's all. And then the cut will be harder and with a lot more bleeding.
"I have no complaints to anyone. I chose this road in full awareness. There is no way I can roll my eyes and pretend. And there is no one above me, either. So I see it as part of reality. Because I set out to examine something, and the very examination has valuable results for the future.
"You cannot suspect me of not being realistic. Of not knowing in advance that when I set out to dismantle this ticking bomb in this minefield there would be explosions all around and people would be hurt and there would be difficult moments when people with weak nerves would prefer to remain on the sidelines. I knew in advance that there was no guarantee of success. But this is part of an irreversible process that in the end will succeed. And when the process reaches its appointed end, it will be clear to everyone that we crossed a necessary passage here. So, if you are asking me whether I think I definitely did the right thing, the answer is yes. Because I arrive at this moment with a very strong feeling of having done the right thing. I have no doubt that I did the right thing."Above all else, Ariel Sharon sees himself as a Jew. Not an Israeli, a Jew. He is not in the least religious, but in his view what's most important is to be a Jew. That is also his major concern: what will happen to the Jews. What will happen in 30 years and in 300 years. He is worried about this; it is something that disturbs him very much.He sees Zionism as a tremendous revolution with huge achievements. The only revolution in the 20th century that succeeded. But the great failure of Zionism, as he sees it, is that it distanced the Jews from Judaism. It brought about an estrangement from all things Jewish in Israel. His feeling is that the break began in his generation, but they at least fought and brought forth the state. But since then, another generation has come, and then another, and the estrangement has become more intense. People don't know the Bible. They don't know Jewish history. They don't feel our right to the Land. And sometimes it seems that the roots are becoming ever more eroded. Sharon is especially concerned about the disintegration of the bond between the people and the land. Other peoples may not need this, he says, but the Jews do not have a sufficiently powerful tie to the land, to the homeland. And because education has failed, there are many today who do not have the feeling he has of an absolute right to the land. An absolute right. Yes. As he remembers his parents teaching him: All the rights to the Land of Israel belong to Jews; but others too have rights in the Land of Israel. That line is very clear to him. Very simple. He constantly reiterates it: all the rights to this land are Jewish rights, but the Arab residents also have rights.
He describes himself as a person who lives the sequence of history very intimately. When he is in Hebron, he says, the thought that David ruled in Hebron for seven years gives him a tremendous thrill. And when he goes through the Judean Desert, he admits, he closes his eyes a bit so he won't have to see the electricity lines and the roads and the modern infrastructure, and instead can see in his mind's eye Abigail, wife of Nabal the Carmelite, riding on an ass with her jewels and treasures. And on the road that goes down from Beit Aryeh and crosses Shilo Creek, he always stops. Never once has he failed to stop there. Because he always remembers the messenger who was sent from the battle at Afek and traversed the 40 kilometers to Shilo bearing the bitter news that the Ark of the Covenant had been taken.
He feels it anew every time. And it is the same when he passes by Ein Dor and thinks of Saul. And whenever he ascends Mount Gilboa.
The Labor party:Ariel Sharon says that he lives the story of the settlement of the land in the past 120 years with the same intensity. That is one of the things that ties him to the heritage of the Labor movement. Because without the settlement of Ruhama and Hanita and Degania and Nahalal, nothing would have been built here. And without Nir Am and Dorot and Yad Mordechai and Negba, we would not have stood firm in 1948. Nothing would have happened here without the land-settlement project. It set the borders. And it spawned the Hebrew defense force. It was the source of the strength. It is no accident, he says, that at the end of the War of Independence, in the small moshav where he was born, there was hardly a home where someone had not been killed or wounded. And it is no coincidence that after the Yom Kippur War, 13 men were laid to rest at Kibbutz Beit Hashita. Because in all those hard years, it was the land-settlement movement that took the lead, with its incredible might: the ideological passion, the self-sacrifice, the readiness to stand firm.
A few years ago, in the Knesset, one of the leaders of the Labor Party asked him why he had left the party. It is not I who left you, he replied, it is you who left yourselves. The truth is that everything he says is punctuated by longings for the old days of the Labor movement. He speaks with great esteem about Yigal Allon; and maintains that it is the Likud that today embodies Allon's security conception. He quotes Moshe Dayan. Time and again he mentions Eshkol, Galili, Golda Meir. And of course he admires Ben-Gurion, his decision to go to Hanita, to set the borders like that. And his decision to settle Be'er Sheva. Because it is impossible to know whether Be'er Sheva will remain in our hands or not, but if we don't settle it, it will certainly not remain ours. And he relates how in the 1950s, Ben-Gurion used to take him to his bedroom on Keren Kayemet Boulevard in Tel Aviv and sit him on the bed and tell him about his days in the King's Fusiliers. How Ben-Gurion would take out of the cupboard an old Czech rifle that arrived in April 1948 and stroke it. And how, after the raid in Kibya, he told him it didn't matter what the world would say, what was important was how it would be engraved in the memory of the region. How it would affect the ability of the Jews to exist here.
The Land of Israel is a hard land, Sharon says. A wonderful, riveting land, but a hard land. Surrounded by a hostile region, in which many years would pass before its enmity toward Israel disappeared. But that doesn't mean we don't have to try moves of one kind and moves of another kind. It doesn't mean we don't need peace. Peace is important. But we always have to remember this basic situation. Because the big picture is that you are alone and you are surrounded by a hostile population and you can survive only by means of deterrence. Deterrence, Sharon says, takes an immense effort to build, but it can be eradicated in a day. That is why we have to be vigilant at all times. As Dayan put it, We cannot guard every water pipe in the field and every tree in the orchard and we cannot ensure the life of every Jew in a frontier settlement, but we can exact a price for Jewish lives so that the Arabs will think many times before daring to raise a hand against us.
Jewish pride:It is a memory he has carried from childhood: Kfar Malal was surrounded by Arab villages. Abu Kishak and Hirbet Azoun and Al Ruan and Masni and Tira and Arab Kafr Sava and Qalqilyah. But relations were good because the Jews treated the Arabs with respect, but also made sure to maintain their dignity. Then, the Jews understood that the subject of self-respect and national honor is tremendously important. Today, though, these things are not sufficiently understood, even though they are just as important now as they were. Nothing has changed in that regard.
One of the things Ariel Sharon respects about the Arabs is the fact that they never budged from their positions. They did not budge, he says, they adhered to their positions firmly all along. It is not that he agrees with them or is ready to accept their positions. But he remembers with envy his talks with Sadat and with other Arab leaders. Because Sadat would always tell him that there was one subject on which he was not ready to concede anything: land. Because land is sacred, he remembers Sadat saying. That aroused Sharon's deep admiration, because that is something the Arabs have but which we lack, he says. Really, there are extraordinary talents here - in music, in science, in computers, in literature, in theater - wherever you look. Everything. In every sphere. But we are not sufficiently attached to the land. We are ready, with such facility, to give this and give that. To treat the country as though it were real estate. You don't find that in other peoples; it simply does not exist in a normal people.
No mistakes:There are two things that Ariel Sharon is particularly fond of. One is that he had the privilege of serving in the army, and of serving in the finest units and of fighting at the center of the major battles and influencing the most critical decisions. The other is his part in land settlement. The fact that between 1978 and 1981 he established 240 settlements in Galilee, in Judea and in Samaria. The settlement project is a prodigious achievement. Absolutely prodigious. It gives Israel the depth it needs and the water sources and the essential strategic assets between the coastal plain and the Jordan River.
Sharon does not think he made any mistakes in establishing the settlements in the territories. There is not one settlement that did not have a reason for being established. In great detail, he describes how he devoted much thought to each and every one of them. And when the television news shows a container and a generator and is scornful of the scene, that pains him. Because those who are being scornful don't know what they are talking about. They don't know that the container and the generator create possession of an area where in the future a major highway will pass that links the coastal plain to the Jordan Rift Valley. A road that will certainly remain in our hands. He has no doubt about it: it will have to remain in our hands.
Sharon's opinion is that not one settlement should be evacuated. Because there is nothing to evacuate, no reason to evacuate anything. And anyway, he wonders, what is this passion for evacuating? After all, he still remembers how the establishment of a new settlement in Israel would thrill people. What has happened to us since then? Why is there this kind of desire to withdraw? To uproot. Let's say there is no choice, okay. Those kinds of situation happen. Like when we evacuated Beit Ha'arava [a kibbutz on the Dead Sea, which was abandoned in the war of 1948]. But even then you do it with grief, because you know there is no other choice. But now he sees this strange enthusiasm, a joy he can't understand. After all, these places are the cradle of the Jewish people. They are ours. Where does this powerful wish to leave them come from?
Sharon believes that Israel cannot withdraw from the Golan Heights. Because what keeps things quiet there is the fact that we are so close to Damascus. So, during this conversation he stated that if he were to conduct negotiations with Syria he would demand the Golan Heights, the reduction of the Syrian armed forces - especially in the sphere of chemical and biological weapons - and that Syria pull its troops out of Lebanon. After that, in the course of the negotiations, he would undoubtedly make some sort of concession. Because in negotiations each side has to make concessions. But he would start with these large demands.
He does not accept the Abu Mazen-Beilin plan. It is not even worth discussing. It contains no buffer zones, no control over water, its thrust is toward the borders of 1947. Sharon's map is well-known: an eastern security zone 10 to 20 kilometers wide and a western security zone 5 to 7 kilometers wide. And Jerusalem, of course. Above all, Jerusalem. And the main roads. The strategic points. The holy places of the Jewish people.
Security arrangements:For months before he taped his election ads, Sharon told people who visited him that peace is important. It is important even when it is a hostile peace. Because when people talk they don't shoot. And if it is possible to travel and to phone and to maintain commercial relations, that distances war. And he has seen all the horrors of war. But at the same time, without his saying so explicitly, his thinking sounds like it entails non-belligerency. It is not thinking about final peace accords but about stabilization agreements, deterrence, non-belligerency. With the emphasis on security arrangements and particularly on the ground element of the security arrangements. Because what preoccupies Sharon is concern over what is liable to happen if the diplomatic arrangements should collapse over one issue or another; how Israel will respond to situations in which it turns out that its optimistic assessments were wrong.
Ariel Sharon too has heard about the simple nuclear instruments and ballistic launchers that Ehud Barak talks about. He is very concerned about what is going on in Iraq and about what is liable to develop in Iran. The buildup of the Egyptian army is also cause for concern. Again and again he mentions the thousand missiles possessed by Syria. Really, who in the world has a thousand missiles, he asks. Only the powers. But Sharon's conclusions are different from Barak's. He thinks that the importance of territory has increased precisely in the missile age, that Israel cannot afford to lose the small strategic depth it has. No, it is not that he sees scenarios of full-scale war and divisions moving forward. His major fear is that it is under a missile umbrella that ostensibly limited moves will be taken against Israel, such as violations of demilitarization arrangements. Or a raid by dozens of terrorist squads that will paralyze traffic in the center of the country. Steps that will confront Israel with a dilemma: to show restraint or to attack. To forgo what is essential for its security or to go to war.
Hence Sharon's emphasis on the subject of security arrangements and on the necessity for agreements to be upheld strictly. Because in his view, anyone who wants to make far-reaching concessions but does not insist that the agreement signed in the past be upheld, is increasing the danger that Israel will find itself confronting impossible dilemmas. Sharon is very critical of the way the agreements of the past decade were formulated. The negotiators at Oslo had no idea what they were dealing with, he says. They did not see the terrain, they never visited the territory, and they did not know what they were talking about. In general, foreign policy thinking in Israel is shallow. Very shallow. And there is no orderly strategic thought either. In many cases things are done impatiently, rashly, out of a desire to satisfy people. That is not the way a serious nation manages its affairs, Sharon argues. That is not the way a serious nation makes decisions.
The clever Arabs:Time and again he expresses his admiration for the Arabs. The clever way they are striving for the implementation of the United Nations partition resolution of 1947. They are not demanding its immediate implementation but are always bringing in elements of it. The same with Resolution 194, about the refugees' right of return. Even as we wage a just struggle for Hebron and Shilo, they are already gnawing away inside the Green Line. You can see it in the Safe Passage route. And in Galilee. The fact is that at least 50,000 Palestinians have already returned to Galilee. And about 15,000 have infiltrated the Negev by marrying Bedouin and through family unification. And officers of the Palestinian security forces are already sitting in Umm al Fahm. That is a process, a clear process. You have to see it, you have to understand what is going on here.
He is for peace. Truly, For the peace process, for a settlement, But he is not prepared to be stupid. Not in the eyes of the Arabs and not in his own eyes. He is not willing to ignore the fact that so far Arafat has not budged one millimeter, that he hasn't made even one concession. And he is not willing to see the Palestinian Authority storing huge quantities of weapons. Thousands of landmines, thousands of hand grenades, as well as antitank weapons and anti-aircraft weapons and mortars. Whereas we prefer to shut our eyes, he is not about to shut his. Nor does he believe in concessions that are intended to create a good atmosphere. Because he may be ready for a peace of the brave, but not for a peace of the stupid. And he definitely thinks that what Dayan said in his eulogy of Roi Rutenberg, who was murdered by Arab infiltrators on his kibbutz, Nahal Oz, on the border with Gaza, in 1956, are still relevant today: "What is the point of complaining about them, our enemies are out to save themselves. After all, they see across the way how we take their fields for our own... For we are a generation of settlers and by our sword we shall live..." He didn't like what he thought was said there about how the Palestinians see their land across the fence, but the gist was correct. Because if the Jews want a state of their own in this land, they will have to fight for it. And that is hard, very hard. Because this is not America. Or even Europe. And contrary to what some of us may think, we are not in a post-Zionist period. We are still only midway. He finds it difficult to talk about the Lebanon War. When the conversation comes around to that traumatic subject, he suddenly cuts things short. But he does think that the Lebanon War was no less just than all the other wars. No less just than the Sinai Campaign. After all, we were not even attacked before the Sinai Campaign, whereas in Lebanon there was a kingdom of terrorism that endangered us. That is why a plan was drawn up, before him, in 1979, when Ezer Weizman was defense minister. But his mistake was in not foreseeing properly the behavior of the left. Even though he was no longer naive, he never imagined that we would reach a situation in which an attempt would be made to topple a democratically elected government in the midst of a war; or that the war would be utilized for political purposes in order to generate everything that happened then.
Problematic people:Ariel Sharon thinks that the Jews are a problematic people. As individuals, they are among the best in the world: so talented, so creative. But as a people they are problematic. So, it is possible to understand why in the far past the periods of full Jewish independence were brief. Because there is a difference between independent life and life under a protectorate. That is why we have difficulties. There are many who are unable to distinguish between their personal interest and the national interest. There are many who do not feel sufficient commitment to the dream of the hundred generations. We lack all that, things are slack. True, Israel has become a major player in technology, economy, culture - he constantly follows developments with amazement. But in statecraft and in looking ahead we are not mature enough. We lack the solid ideology and the deep roots that he remembers from his parental home. We are missing basic things which for other peoples are self-evident. And the fact is that a people that is not willing to defend what belongs to it cannot, in the end, withstand any campaign anywhere. No, he is not pessimistic. The external dangers are great and the internal rift is dangerous, but Sharon remembers that there was always a small minority in the nation that was in the forefront. Bilu, Hashomer, Nili, Bar Giora. Then the kibbutzim and the moshavim. The underground organizations. The wearers of the knitted skullcaps. In the end, someone always appeared who was ready to assume the responsibility of carrying out missions. It will be the same now, Ariel Sharon says. Now too, the internal strength will awaken. He is certain of it. And he feels a historical responsibility in this regard. Every generation, he feels, has the responsibility to lead this great thing that is called the Jewish people forward. To move it ahead as in a relay race into the next generation.
©2001 Haaretz Magazine
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