Thursday, June 05, 2003
You know, it's very useful to have principles in politics. One of mine is: never get to the left of Shimon Peres. Peres is the eminence grise of the Zionist doves, the father of Oslo, a man who knows Israel and its security needs and has always been ready and eager to give peace yet another chance. If he is perhaps a bit too infatuated with himself and his image, that is only reason to want to err to his right, since enthusiasm for him in the courts of Europe might have now and again led him to forsake reality for a pleasing dream. Bottom line: if I find myself to the left of Shimon Peres on a matter related to Israel's security, I have screwed up. I used this principle to good effect in arguments with dovish Jews in the days of the last government. The fact that Peres was willing to serve as Sharon's foreign minister was in itself sufficient proof that Sharon's government was a fine thing to support, and that the anti-Sharon hysterics had no case. Anyhow, it's a good principle.
Well, another principle I have is not to get to the right of Arik Sharon, and this is also a good principle. Sharon is the father of the settlements, the uber-hawk, a man whose whole life has been devoted to the defense of his homeland. He does not share the late Yitzhak Rabin's twilight pessimism about his country and its abilities, a pessimism that I think was central to Rabin's great Oslo mistake. If I get to Sharon's right on a matter related to Israel's security, I am probably off the deep end.
Which is why I can't work up a big froth of worry about the Road Map. I do not believe that President Bush intends to sell Israel down the river, but who knows? His job is to defend the United States of America, and if he's convinced that Israel needs to take some risks to protect America from greater risks, by gum I'd expect him to lean on Israel. But Sharon's job, and his life's work, is to defend Israel. He is not going to pursue a mirage of peace. And he is not going to be railroaded by an American administration that he no longer trusts. He clearly still trusts Bush. He clearly thinks that, on balance, trying to deal with Abbas is the best strategic alternative for Israel.
All Sharon has really committed to, concretely, is the removal of illegal outposts, and that should happen anyhow because their existence is an affront to the rule of law in Israel. Being forced to do what one should do anyhow is a neat trick. The restriction on natural growth of settlements is not a big concession, because there is ample housing already built for a good measure of natural growth, and because it, like the rest of the Road Map, is conditional on Palestinian fulfilment of their obligations, and is eminently reversible. As for Sharon's acceptance of a Palestinian state: this is not news. He has repeatedly said he accepts the need for such a state, and did so explicitly during the last election campaign, which he won decisively. Why then the outrage from the right?
I personally don't expect the Road Map to achieve much. I'm hopeful that it, along with American action in Iraq and (inshallah!) a serious effort to destroy Hezbollah in Lebanon, will precipitate an open conflict among Palestinians (hopefully not a violent one, though I would expect it to be violent based on past experience) over their future, and open the possibility for a pro-peace faction to take the reins for the first time in Palestinian history. But if it doesn't and Abbas does nothing, then nothing will happen. Sharon is not going to surrender his ability to defend Israel.
Finally, I'd like to register a complaint against the likes of Michael Freund. First of all, the current hero of the far-right and Freund's old boss, Netanyahu, was the man who single-handedly destroyed Likud; who brought a Likud imprimatur to Oslo; who was ready to give the entirety of the Golan to Syria, and lied about that fact not only to the Israeli public but to his own cabinet - this man is now saying that he supports the Road Map with the conditions that Sharon's government has attached. The figures who attack Sharon and say he is endagering the state - Avigdor Liberman most prominently - serve in Sharon's government and have not resigned. Why should anyone listen to any of these people? Second, it is not becoming to threaten. And if you know anything about Bush, you should know that he in particular does not respond well to threats. Threats by right-wing Jews to vote Democrat because of the Road Map are particularly ludicrous - which Democratic candidate is going to run *against* a settlement with the Palestinians? In fact, I'll make a prediction: Joe Lieberman will be among the most supportive of Democrats to any peacemaking initiative by Bush. Third, and I am most tentative but most serious in making this argument, think what it does to your own cause to make the argument in these terms: that Jewish votes are bought by endorsing the ideology of National Union as American foreign policy. If you want to make a purely messianic argument that Israel should trust in God and not in allies, that Israel can never fail so long as it cleaves to the Land and the Torah, well and good; I think the Torah is against you on this (I particularly advise anyone who believes that Israel can never fail so long as it cleaves to the Land to read the book of Jeremiah again) but any practical objections I might make are obviously not germane. But if you are making a practical, real-world argument for American support for Israel, could you imagine a worse one than to say that the litmus test for support for Israel is opposition to any plausible settlement?