Thursday, June 05, 2003
Why is Ha'aretz worried someone is going to put a bullet in Sharon over the Road Map? The one who is at real risk - assuming he does what he has committed to - is Mahmoud Abbas. Abbas has in the past said that under no circumstances will he risk civil war among Palestinians. But that is precisely what he has committed himself to: to end terror attacks against Israel means the destruction of groups like the al Aqsa Martyrs and Islamic Jihad, and the "military" wing of Hamas. And it means, ultimately, the elimination of the rais himself, Yasser Arafat. If Abbas does not take on these terror powers, the Road Map will go nowhere; Sharon is not signing up for Oslo II. But if he does take them on, that probably means civil war.
David Frum makes a good analogy to the Irish Civil War as a map of what is - in the optimistic scenario - to come. Efrat, Ma'ale Adumim, Ariel: these are the equivalent of the six Protestant counties of Ulster that remained part of the U.K. under the treaty that created the Irish Free State. The Gush Emunim crowd complain that Sharon is planning to divide Eretz Yisrael again (the first division being when the British severed the East Bank from Mandatory Palestine), but a real territorial settlement means dividing what Palestinian *moderates* consider to be their homeland: the territories of Judea and Samaria. The overwhelming majority of settlements are of long standing and are in strategic locations that could easily be annexed to Israel in an agreement. Another bunch of settlements are on the Golan, which is a Syrian-track issue, or in the Jordan Valley, which is a purely strategic question since these settlements are far from Arab communities (as are those on the Golan). Only a small number of settlers live in close proximity to large Arab communities, such that there is no practical way to annex them to Israel.
Unfortunately, these settlements are among the strongest for "ideological resonance" - Hevron, Shechem, Shiloh, etc. That's why Ha'aretz is worried about Jewish extremism. Sharon's first act is going to be the removal of illegal settlements; that's a no-brainer, because it's ridiculous to privatize Israel's settlement policy by letting individuals decide where to found settlements and then blackmail the government into retroactively approving them. But if the Road Map goes forward, everyone knows that in the optimistic scenario, at the end of the road is the abandonment of isolated settlements like Shiloh. Perhaps they will not be uprooted; perhaps they will be allowed to remain as resident aliens in a sovereign Palestinian state. But that doesn't mean they would stay, not once the Israeli Army pulled out.
The challenge to the most radical believers in the messianic significance of settling the Land is real, and has grown throughout the Oslo period. If Israel surrenders, say, Hevron, and settling Hevron is essential to bring the Messiah, then, in this view, the State of Israel has become God's enemy and must be fought. Are there people who believe this? Yes. But I really do believe that since the Rabin assassination, there has been a change, even among the die-hards. I do not believe that they will take the fateful step of firing on other Jews. I think they have learned that murder does not pay. That doesn't mean that the challenge isn't deep. If Israel abandons Hevron, Religious Zionism will go into crisis, and may effectively cease to exist. Some will probably deny the legitimacy of the State of Israel, as the haredim did before them, though on opposite grounds. But that doesn't mean they will go to war with the State.
The contrast with the Palestinian side could not be starker. A majority of the Palestinian people rejects the legitimacy of the State of Israel. Armed factions have been waging a terror war against Israel of unprecedented scope and cruelty over the past three years. Moreover, assassination and fratricidal war have been staples of Palestinian history from the beginning. A civil war is a virtual certainty if peace is going well; indeed, Israel can gauge whether there is any progress on the Road Map by how much violence is going on in the P.A. areas. If there isn't much, the fix is in.
Depressing, but that's the way it is, it seems to me.