On the Narrow Shoulders of Abu Mazen

The Herzlia Conference has become, in the last few years, Ariel Sharon’s favorite forum for addressing the nation. One year ago (December 18, 2003), the Israeli PM used it to high dramatic effect: If the Palestinians do not take steps, he said, to quash terrorism within six months, as prescribed by the Road Map, Israel would disengage unilaterally from the Gaza Strip. The speech was curt and tense, without optimistic flourishes. This year (December 18, 2004), Sharon’s Herzlia speech was euphoric. The year 2005, he announced, would be “the year of opportunities.” Roni Ben Efrat comments. 

The Bag of Aeolus

Two days in October 2004 may have brought new winds into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but no one can say which way they will blow. These stirrings came after eighteen months of political standstill, which led Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to initiate a plan for unilateral disengagement from Gaza and part of the West Bank. On October 26, the Knesset approved this plan by a margin of 66-44. The next night, suddenly, a new possibility raised its head. The health of Yasser Arafat, President of the Palestinian Authority (PA), took a sudden turn for the worse. 

Imperial Misconceptions

On June 10, 2004, Amos Malka, head of Military Intelligence (MI) from 1998 until 2001, was interviewed in Ha’aretz. He castigated the reigning Israeli conception with regard to the Palestinian leadership. The conception is: The Oslo process was nothing more than a Trojan horse designed by Yasser Arafat to destroy the State of Israel. After four years of public silence, Malka states that his assessment, all along, has been completely different: At Oslo, the strategic goal of Arafat and the PLO was a viable Palestinian state beside Israel. Arafat wanted all along to reach a political solution, but his flexibility was limited by Palestinian public opinion. 

Disengaging Sharon

Most Israelis consider it pointless to keep settlements in Gaza, where 7,500 of their countrymen live beside 1.3 million mostly impoverished Palestinians. In recent opinion polls, 56% or more of Israeli Jews backed the disconnection plan of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, calling for the evacuation of all 21 Gazan settlements plus four in the West Bank. It foundered, however. Doubtful of support from the Likud members in his cabinet and the Knesset, Sharon had the idea of bypassing them by means of a referendum among his party’s 193,000 rank-and-file. Here too the opinion polls had at first seemed favorable. 

Gaza Striptease

When Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon announced his decision to withdraw unilaterally from the Gaza Strip and dismantle 17 settlements, there was reason, one might think, for celebration in certain quarters. Yet few rejoiced. There is the uneasy feeling that his words do not bode an end to the 37-year-old Occupation, rather further entanglement. Some call the would-be withdrawal an escape, some call it a threat against the Palestinians, and some call it a means to strengthen Israel’s hold on the West Bank. One thing it is not: a step toward resolving the conflict. An editorial from Challenge magazine explains why. 

Jerusalem: The Wall at the End of the Cul-de-Sac

Until recently, when any of the hundred thousand people in Al Eizarya, Abu Dis or Sawahre wanted to reach Jerusalem, all they had to do was take Al Eizarya’s main road, which connects to the Jerusalem-Jericho road, and within minutes they could reach the Old City. Those days are gone. Today the Al Eizarya road comes to a sudden halt at a wall two meters high, topped by rolls of barbed wire. What was once a major artery has become a parking lot for service cabs. If you want to get to Jerusalem, the expedition goes on for an hour or more. Michal Schwartz writes in Challenge. 

The Geneva Accord: Beyond Time and Space

Representing no official body, Palestinians close to the PA and members of the Israeli left have signed a detailed plan for a peace agreement. Switzerland financed the exercise, whose result is known as the Geneva Accord. The chief figure on the Israeli side is Yossi Beilin, formerly a central leader in the Labor Party and an architect of the Oslo Accords. His Palestinian counterpart is Yasser Abed Rabo, the PA’s former Minister of Information. The new accord places before the two peoples, for the first time, an idea of the approximate price that each would have to pay in order to gain a peace agreement that the other might perhaps someday be persuaded to live with. As to the Accord itself, we shall focus on two questions. How far exactly are the signers willing to go? How relevant is the document?  The following editorial is reprinted from the current edition of Challenge magazine.