Palestine: Caught in the Trap
Sharon offered the Gaza pullout without negotiation. It was a poisoned gift which should have been examined with circumspection. Whether Abbas calms Gaza or not, it's checkmate. If he is successful, the restoration of order is no bargaining chip for the West Bank; if Abbas fails, all international pressure on Israel to negotiate over the West Bank will be removed.
Gilles Paris, Le Monde's expert Jerusalem correspondent, analyzes the situation.
LE MONDE | 15.09.05 | 13h37
In the margins of the General Assembly of the United Nations, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon received congratulations from George Bush for the Israeli pullout from Gaza. I know that it was hard, but I admire your courage, assured President Bush. While Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas hoped to restart negotiations as quickly as possible towards a peace deal between Israel and Palestine, Mr. Sharon and, to a lesser extent, Mr. Bush have decided that the Palestinian Authority must put to the test in Gaza.
Mr. Sharon said that it is impossible to go forward in the peace process if the Palestinians do not rein in terrorism and that, for Israelis, this means dismantling and disarming armed groups. Mr. Bush believes that it will be easier to make progress on the Road Map—the international peace plan which provides for the creation of a Palestinian state—if the Palestinian Authority respects the principle of good governance and combats terrorism Mr. Sharon, who went to New York to reap the dividends of his disengagement plan, celebrated by the international community, is going to reiterate his position in a speech to the United Nations General Assembly today and to reaffirm Jersusalem as the eternal and unified capital of Israel. The Palestinians had hoped to one day make their capital in East Jerusalem, conquered by Israel in 1967.
According to accounts in the Israeli press, Mr. Bush expressed the hope that Mr. Sharon would win the elections scheduled for 2006, but Benjamin Netanyahu is banking on Sharon’s defeat and aims to take control of the Likud Party, deeply divided as a consequence of the Gaza evacuation. After having ostensibly treated Mr. Sharon with kid gloves over the months prior to the evacuation of Israeli settlers and military, the US Administration may display even more leniency with Mr. Sharon in his battle for control of Likud. Aboard the plane flying him to New York, Mr. Sharon restated his intention to expand colonization in the West Bank without receiving public criticism by the United States.
For now, the close relationship between Mr. Bush and Mr. Sharon allows him his own interpretation of the Road Map. The disarming of armed Palestinians groups is stipulated in this peace plan but is accompanied by a total freeze on Israeli colonization activity, including that which could be attributed to “natural growth” of the settlements, and by the dismantling of illegal settlements constructed since Sharon’s accession to power in March 1991. Nahum Barnea [Israel’s leading political commentator], a journalist for the Israeli daily Yedioth Aharonoth, writes today that the trap laid for the Palestinians by Sharon in the Gaza evacuation is beginning to show its effectiveness. According to Barnea, either the Palestinian Authority restores calm in Gaza (but the experiment, carefully billed as a “test", has nothing to do with the West Bank); or the Palestinian Authority fails and Israel will be under no further pressure to evacuate the West Bank while benefiting from a restored image on the world stage.