Monday, May 03, 2004
And now, belatedly, a couple of words about the Gaza referendum.
The kindest thing I can say about the Likud voters is that they behaved like Palestinians. They believe the Land is theirs, and they will not vote to leave it - whatever the consequences. They will now find out what the consequences are.
I'm very apprehensive about the pullout plan, specifically for the security implications. I don't think it will be that easy to get rid of Gaza. But getting rid of the Gaza settlements in exchange for ratification of the legitimacy of the "consensus" settlements, and ratification of Israel's refusal to countenance a Palestinian influx into Israel, is a huge win for Israel. And anyone on the Right who doesn't understand that is living in a dreamworld.
Bush took an enormous risk in supporting Sharon, as Sharon took a significant risk in proposing the plan in the first place. Sharon just lost his bet, and therefore Bush has lost his. Now comes the question: what will each man do?
If Bush is wise, he will hold Sharon's feet to the fire, and demand he find a coalition that will support the pullout. If that means civil war within Likud, so be it. If that means a unity government without the far Right, so much the better. Sharon knows where the center of gravity in Israel is, and so should Bush: it's with the pragmatists of Shinui, not the rightists of National Union or the doves of Shachar. There is a majority for disengagement, and a portion of the minority favors a more dovish course; only an electorally impotent (though large) minority would vote for a right-wing alternative to Sharon. Bush should make Sharon call the Right's bluff.
Whether he's wise or not, meanwhile, Bush is going to pay a price elsewhere for the Likud electorate's decision. Had Likud voted to support the pullout, Bush could have explained to King Abdullah that all he's trying to do is pull Israel in the direction of disengagement, getting Israel out of the Palestinians' lives, and that this is the best course towards ultimate peaceful coexistence given that Arafat has continued his warfare and no moderate alternatives to Arafat have real power. Now, everyone knows that Bush can't even deliver a guy from his own neighborhood, so to speak. Bush will pay a price. I hope America doesn't, but I expect we will. Sharon should know that, and he should tell Netanyahu and everyone else in the "no" camp in Likud what the consequences are on that front - because if America pays a price now, Israel will pay a price later.
What should Sharon do? Well, if Bush pushes him, he should do what he must. Sharon is not Bibi; he has spent his term winning the country's affection, not its contempt. He has built up Likud, not destroyed it. If there are new elections, Sharon's platform will win a governing majority, even if Sharon's party does not. And there's a good chance Sharon will still wind up as Prime Minister.
But if Bush does not hold his feet to the fire, Sharon should probably try to square the circle. Daring Likud to dump him would be taking a risk on top of a risk. The safer course would appear to be deception; the trouble is, who will be deceived? Can Sharon appear to implement his plan over its detractors objections while also appearing to have scuttled the plan to placate those detractors? Personally, I don't think it will work, and in the end the Right will not be deceived. They'll have to put up - and vote to dump Sharon - or shut up.