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He read out the written text of his speech, word for word, without raising his eyes from the page.
It was vital for him to stick to the exact wording, since it was an encoded text. It is impossible to decipher it without breaking the code. And it is impossible to break the code without knowing Ariel Sharon very well indeed.
So it is no surprise that the flood of interpretations in Israel and abroad was ridiculous. The commentators just did not understand what they had heard. That’s why they wrote things like "He did not say anything new", "He has no plan", "He is marking time", "He is old and tired". And the usual Washington reaction: "A positive step, but"
Nonsense. In his speech, Sharon outlined a whole, detailed–and extremely dangerous–plan. Those who did not understand–Israelis, Palestinians and foreign diplomats–will be unable to react effectively.
Here is the deciphered text of Sharon’s "Herzliyah speech":
The name of the game is Hitnatkut ("cutting ourselves off"). Meaning: most of the West Bank area will become de facto a part of Israeli, and the rest we shall leave to the Palestinians, who will be enclosed in isolated enclaves. From these enclaves, the settlements will be removed.
Stage One: In order to do this, we need time–about half a year. We are talking about a large-scale and complicated military operation. The army will have to occupy and fortify new lines, while "relocating" dozens of isolated settlements. This will require detailed planning, which has not yet even started. The necessary forces and instruments will have to be prepared. Half a year is the minimum.
During this period we shall not be idle. On the contrary, we shall finish the "separation fence", and it will play a major part in the new deployment. We shall develop the "settlement blocs", to which we shall transfer the settlers who will be relocated.
The execution of the plan in half a year is perfectly timed. At exactly that time the American election campaign will reach its climax. No American politician will dare to utter a word against Israel. The Democrats need the Jewish votes and money. The Republicans also need the votes and the money of the 60 million Christian fundamentalists, who support the most extreme elements in Israel.
While we quietly prepare the big operation, we shall continue to flatter President Bush and praise his idiotic Road Map, without, of course, fulfilling any of our obligations under the Map. But we shall blame the Palestinians for violating it.
At the same time we shall pretend to seek negotiations with the Palestinians. We shall try to meet with Abu-Ala as many times as possible and play the game to the end. When we are ready to go, we shall terminate the contacts, declare the Road Map dead and state sorrowfully that all our efforts to start peace negotiations have failed because of Arafat.
Stage two: By then, the "separation wall" will be ready. The Palestinian territories (Areas A and B under Oslo) will be surrounded on all sides. In practice there will be about a dozen isolated pockets. In order to fulfil our promise about Palestinian "contiguity" we shall connect the enclaves by special roads, bridges and tunnels, which we shall be able to cut at a moment’s notice.
The army will withdraw gradually to the separation barrier and redeploy in the territories that will be annexed to Israel, including, inter alia, the settlement blocs of Karney Shomron, Elkana, Ariel and Kedumim; the Modi’in Road and the territory south of it up to the Green Line, all the Greater Jerusalem area already annexed in 1967; the new neighborhoods around Jerusalem up to Maaleh Adumim and perhaps further; the Jewish settlement in Hebron and Kiryat Arba and the settlements in the Hebron area; all the Dead Sea shore; all the Jordan valley, including about 15 km of the banks. Altogether, more than half the West Bank.
These areas will not be annexed officially, but we shall annex them as rapidly as possible in practice. We shall fill them with settlements (also using the settlers from the "relocated" settlements), industrial parks, roads, public institutions and army installations, so that they will become indistinguishable from parts of Israel proper.
At the same time, we shall evacuate the settlements beyond the barrier, including those in the Gaza Strip (with or without the Katif bloc.)
In line with the American proposal, we shall call the Palestinian enclaves "a Palestinian State with Temporary Borders". That will give the Palestinians the illusion that they will be able to negotiate the "permanent" borders. But, of course, the "separation fence" will be the final border.
The terror will not stop completely, but the Palestinian enclaves will be at our mercy and we shall be able to cut each of them off at any time, prevent movement from one to another and make life in them intolerable. It will not be worthwhile for them to conduct violent acts.
Officially, the Palestinians will have free access to the border crossings to Egypt and Jordan, but in practice we shall maintain an effective military presence, enabling us to stop movement there at any time.
At first the world will scream, but faced with a fait accompli they will quieten down. Even if Bush remains in the White House, he will be paralysed until after the elections at the end of 2004. If a Democrat is elected president, he will need some months to settle down. By then everything will be finished, and we shall be able to generously agree to some minor adjustments.
This is the Plan. Can it be realized?
It is quite possible that Sharon will convince Israeli public opinion. The great majority of the public is united around two points: (a) the longing for peace and security, and (b) the distrust of Arabs and the unwillingness to deal with them. (Some weeks ago, a satirical supplement published a slogan: "YES to peace, NO to Palestinians".)
Sharon’s plan promises both. It promises peace and security, and it is entirely "unilateral". No negotiations with Palestinians are required, it does not depend on the will of the Arabs, who can be ignored entirely.
In this respect, Sharon’s plan has a great advantage over the Geneva Initiative, which is entirely based on the assumption that "there is a partner" and that we must negotiate with the Palestinians and make peace with them. Long years of brainwashing, led by Ehud Barak and most of the other leaders of the "Zionist Left", have convinced the Israeli public that there is no partner, that the Arabs are cheating, that Arafat has broken every single agreement he has signed, etc. The Sharon plan conforms to all these myths, while the Geneva Initiative clashes with them.
But beneath the road to the implementation of the Sharon Plan there lie two big landmines: the settlers and the Palestinians.
The inhabitants of the settlements that are supposed to be "relocated" include some of the most extreme elements of the settlement movement. There is no chance that these will go away peacefully. They will have to be removed by force.
That will require a huge military effort. While many moderate settlers will remove themselves voluntarily if given fat compensation, many others will resist. According to an informed estimate, some 5000 soldiers and policemen will be needed to remove just one small "outpost": Migron, near Ramallah, which Sharon was supposed to have removed long ago according to the Road Map. When dozens of bigger and more established settlements have to be removed, it will need a giant, quasi war-like operation, requiring a general call up of reserves, with all the political implications.
The army cannot just leave these territories with the settlements remaining behind. As long as the settlements are there, the army will be there. In other words, the implementation of the plan will not be quick and tidy, like the last night in south Lebanon, but a process of many months, perhaps years.
While the deployment in the areas that will be de facto annexed to Israel will be quick and effective, the transfer of the territories that will be turned over to the Palestinians will be very slow.
It is a complete illusion to believe that all this time the Palestinians will quietly look on. They will see the execution of a plan that they believe, quite rightly, to be a device for the destruction of the national aims of the Palestinian people. Clearly there will be no place in the Palestinian enclaves for returning refugees (not to mention any return of refugees to Israel itself). To call this structure a "Palestinian State" is a joke in bad taste.
If Sharon succeeds in executing his plan, a new chapter in the 100-year old Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be opened. The Palestinians will be crowded into territories that will constitute about 10% of the original territory of Palestine before 1948. They will have no chance of enlarging this territory. On the contrary: they will be afraid of Sharon and his successors trying to remove them from what is left, completing the ethnic cleansing of Eretz Israel.
Therefore, the Palestinians will fight against this plan, and their struggle will intensify the more it progresses. All possible means will be employed: firing missiles and mortar shells over the separation barrier, sending suicide bombers into Israel, and so on. Probably, the violent fight will spill over into many other countries around the world, both on the ground and in the air. There will be no peace, no security.
In the end, the basic factors will be decisive: the endurance of the two peoples, their readiness to continue the bloody fight, with all its economic and social implications, as well as the willingness of the world to look on passively.
The idea of "unilateral peace" is strikingly original. "Peace without the other side" is a contradiction in terms. Learned people will call it an oxymoron, a Greek term meaning, literally, a sharp folly.
Eventually, the fate of this plan will be the same as the fate of all the other grandiose plans put forward by Sharon it in his long career. One need only think of the Lebanon war and its price.
URI AVNERY is an Israeli writer and peace activist with Gush Shalom. He is one of the writers featured in The Other Israel: Voices of Dissent and Refusal. He is also a contributor to CounterPunch’s hot new book The Politics of Anti-Semitism. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.