Shall We Say a Prayer for Ariel Sharon?
Jude Wanniski
August 3, 2004


Memo To: Website Fans, Browsers, Clients
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Is Something Cooking in Israel?

We see Israeli moderates writing in the Israeli daily Haaretz complaining that with George Bush and John Kerry both telling Ariel Sharon they will give him anything he wants, given the Jewish vote in play in Florida, there is no chance of a resolution to the endless war with the Palestinians. I thought so too, until I read an editorial in the July 31-August 6 Economist that suggests light at the end of the tunnel: Here is how the editorial opens:

TO THE casual observer, it is business as usual—that is to say, bloody stalemate—between the Israelis and Palestinians. What is more, with America in the throes of a presidential election, there seems little hope of serious outside diplomacy. But look closer. For the first time in several years, some momentous changes are under way on the ground. And, by the standards of the Middle East, the changes are good.

First, though, be clear about what is not happening. The two sides are not talking: Ariel Sharon says that agreements with Yasser Arafat are not worth the paper they are written on, and both President Bush and Candidate Kerry say they agree. The peace plan known as the “road map” is not being implemented: neither side has managed its first step, which is a ceasefire. The Palestinian intifada is not ending: the number of suicide bombings has dropped in recent months because of Israel's tough anti-terrorism methods, not because the Palestinians have stopped trying to blow Israelis up.

So where is the glimmer of light? A year ago in this space, The Economist argued that before the two sides could make peace, each would have to fight a (preferably non-lethal) civil war inside its own camp. A Palestinian leadership would have to take on and defeat the idea that the Islamic extremists of Hamas stand for, namely the extinction of the Jewish state. And an Israeli leadership would have to take on and defeat the idea that the Jewish settlers in the territories stand for—that a Jewish minority is entitled to rule these Palestinian areas forever. This is what may at last be starting to happen now.

Outside Israel, Mr. Sharon is still seen as Israel's fiercest hawk. Inside, that has abruptly changed. The prime minister's decision to evacuate all the Jewish settlers from the Gaza strip by the end of next year is seen on the right as a religious betrayal and a cowardly surrender to Palestinian terrorism. This threatens to split not only Mr. Sharon's ruling centre-right coalition but also his own Likud party. The entire settler movement—not only the 7,500 or so in Gaza—is up in arms. The government is preparing for violent resistance, and the head of the security services says that there is a serious risk that Mr. Sharon might be assassinated.

From afar, this internal Israeli upheaval looks like an over-reaction. Many outsiders say—and they are probably right—that Mr. Sharon is giving up Gaza merely to tighten his grip on the West Bank. But many Israelis say that quitting Gaza is the thin end of a wedge that will eventually lever Israel out of much or all of the West Bank as well. And, paradoxically, they are probably also right.

I've actually been willing to buy into this argument, giving Sharon the benefit of the doubts that most of the world has about him, and was happy to see the Economist take this line. It concludes in the editorial that those around the world who have no confidence in Sharon may now start wishing him success in his Gaza strategy. Then I checked with the Jewish weekly Forward, which reflects the views of the Israeli Labor Party, and discovered an editorial in this week's edition celebrating "a new report issued by the Jewish Agency for Israel, calling for closer consultation between Israel and Diaspora Jewish communities on policies that affect each other's welfare." The editorial, entitled "A Global Jewish Strategy," goes on to say:

In particular, the report says, Israel needs to consider how its policies toward the Palestinians affect the global atmosphere of Islamic rage that is fueling anti-semitism and endangering Jews in Europe and elsewhere.

"Seemingly permanent turmoil in the Middle East continuously polarizes attention in a dynamic world, tarnishing Israel's image and international standing, and adding pressure on Diaspora Jews," the report says.

Compounding the danger, "The U.S.'s pro-Israel leanings antagonize other countries, including some in the West, thus generating hostility against Jewish communities."

To address these challenges, the report urges a combination of defensive and security measures around the world and policies aimed at reducing the conflict and lowering the intensity of hostility. Most startling, the report urges the creation of a formal consultative structure that gives Diaspora Jewish communities a role in helping shape the Israeli policies that will affect them.

Do you see what I mean? There can never be an end to the Clash of Civilizations that now threatens endless terrorism, unless the endless war over the Palestian state can be brought to a satisfactory end. I'd been suspicious that Sharon was only making one more move in the Likud Party's chessgame to defeat the Palestinians in all particulars. But maybe he is serious, in which case I will pray for his success.