Beyond Images Challenging myths and presenting facts about Israel 
ARIEL SHARON: unwilling to compromise….?
London - published on 5 May 2003
Beyond Images Ref: 32

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“Ariel Sharon wants to maintain permanent occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and crush the Palestinian nation. He is unwilling to compromise.”

RESPONSE – hatred of Ariel Sharon is blinding Israel’s critics

Ariel Sharon is widely disliked and vilified across the world. His intentions are routinely portrayed in the most negative possible light, and any indications of moderation are either ignored, or dismissed cynically as “public relations”.

Yet, in a series of public statements in Israel since 2001, Mr Sharon has outlined a political position which confounds his critics. The two most significant recent statements were his speech to a conference on Israeli national security in December 2002 (known as the Herzliya speech), and his interview with left-of-centre Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz on 15 April 2003. Mr Sharon reiterated his commitment to defending Israel’s security, and that Palestinian terrorism must cease before diplomacy can resume. However, here are extracts:-

…..on the pursuit of peace and a two-state solution

“We all want peace. It is not a competition over who wants peace more. We also know that entering into political negotiations for peace is the true path which will bring about an acceleration of economic growth and prosperity. I have said it before and will say it again today: Israel is prepared to make painful concessions for a true peace…. in the present regional and international reality Israel must act with courage to accept the political plan [based on Mr Bush’s vision for a two-state solution]. There are risks involved, but also enormous opportunities…Mr Bush’s peace plan [which calls for a viable Palestinian state coexisting side-by-side with Israel] is a reasonable, pragmatic and practicable one…” (from Herzliya speech)

…..Palestinian statehood and enabling them run their own lives

Question: Have you accepted the idea of two states for two peoples?

Ariel Sharon: I believe that this is what will happen. One has to view things realistically. Eventually there will be a Palestinian state. I view things first and foremost from our perspective. I do not think that we have to rule over another people and run their lives. I do not think that we have the strength for that. It is a very heavy burden on the public and it raises ethical problems and heavy economic problems…” (from Haaretz interview)

…. on Israel’s reoccupation of Palestinian cities since June 2002

“… our stay in Jenin and Nablus is temporary. Our presence in those cities was created in order to protect Israeli citizens from terrorist activities. It is not a situation that can persist…” (from Haaretz interview)

“Political concessions which will be made [by Israel] in the future - as those made in the past - are irreversible…. Israel will not re-control the territories from which it withdrew as a result of political agreements….” (Herzliya speech)

…. on dismantling West Bank settlements and withdrawing from parts of the biblical Land of Israel

“…If it turns out that we have someone to talk to [on the Palestinian side], that they understand that peace is neither terrorism nor subversion against Israel, then I would definitely say that we will have to take steps that are painful for every Jew and painful for me personally….

… We are talking about the cradle of the Jewish people. Our whole history is bound up with these places. Bethlehem, Shiloh, Beit El. And I know that we will have to part from some of these places….

“… There will be a parting from places that are connected to the whole course of our history. As a Jew, this agonises me. But I have decided to make every effort to reach a settlement. I feel that the rational necessity to reach a settlement is overcoming my feelings….” (Haaretz interview)

What Israel will do once Palestinian terror ceases

“…..[once terror ceases], Israel will act to lift the military pressure, create territorial continuity between Palestinian population centres and ease daily life for the Palestinian population….” (from Herzliya speech)

Moving towards peace - Mr Sharon’s final ambition

“…I am determined to make a real effort to reach a real agreement….. I am 75 years old. I have no political ambitions beyond the position I now hold. I feel that my goal and my purpose is to bring this nation to peace and security. That is why I am making tremendous efforts. I think that this is something I have to leave behind me – to try to reach an agreement…”

“… I will make every effort to make [the dark and violent period of the last three years] end. I do not intend to be passive. The moment a Palestinian state forms I plan to begin working with it. I will not wait for the telephone to ring….” (Haaretz interview)

Conclusion: challenging, not scorning, Mr Sharon

Critics of Israel often appear more comfortable with the image of Mr Sharon the extremist than Mr Sharon the potential peace partner. But the statements above would have been unimaginable from Mr Sharon only a few years ago. They have been made away from the international media spotlight, to domestic Israeli audiences, and cannot be cynically dismissed as public relations. The Herzliya speech is being routinely referred back to, by his own advisers, as a defining statement of Mr Sharon’s views, and the Ha’aretz interview may have a similar impact.

Rather than scorning Mr Sharon’s statements, Israel’s critics should be urging the Palestinians to challenge Mr Sharon in a diplomatic process to fulfil the principles he has outlined.

Another argument used is that Mr Sharon cannot be serious because his government includes coalition partners which will never permit a Palestinian state. This argument ignores the fact, firstly, that Mr Sharon has other coalition options, and secondly that Israeli public opinion continues to support a two-state solution, despite the current violence, provided that Israel’s security is assured.

By curbing Palestinian violence, the Palestinian leadership can create the political conditions to enable Mr Sharon to achieve the historic, painful compromises to which he has committed the Israeli people.