Sharon's New Pragmatism
May 28, 2003
Although caution is always required when considering the chances for a
lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians, the Israeli Cabinet
made history by accepting the eventuality of a Palestinian state. The
Cabinet's Sunday vote — combined with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's
statement a day later that the Israeli economy needs an end to hostilities
— adds up to cause for more optimism than has been warranted for
The Bush administration's increased involvement in the peace process and
its pressure on both sides is paying off. The Palestinians have created
the post of prime minister to take away some of Yasser Arafat's power,
as Washington demanded. Israel has endorsed the "road map" for peace,
which also sets out measures to be taken to create a Palestinian state
Palestinians remain dubious that Israel's actions will match Sharon's
words. His past rhetoric and his history as defense minister during Israel's
1982 war with Lebanon dim their hopes. He also disappointed them with
his indication that Israeli settlements would last for generations on
territory that Palestinians consider their own; those settlements are
a major stumbling block to ending hostilities.
Sharon further muddied matters Tuesday in his attempts to clarify what
he had meant by the word "occupation."
He did reflect reality, though, when he warned right-wing Cabinet ministers
opposed to talks with Palestinians that continued violence would further
weaken Israel's already battered economy.
The Palestinians' renewal of attacks more than two years ago led to Israeli
reoccupation of territories and establishment of roadblocks. This has
damaged Israeli businesses relying on Palestinian labor. Israeli army
crackdowns that barred Palestinians from getting to work have contributed
to increased poverty in the West Bank and Gaza as well. Sharon said Monday
that international charities were feeding nearly 2 million Palestinians,
something Israel cannot afford to do.
Relaxing the roadblocks would be a gesture of Israeli seriousness about
following the road map and would improve the economies of both Israel
and the territories. It also would improve the atmosphere for the next
meeting between Sharon and the new Palestinian prime minister, Mahmoud
Abbas, as well as the expected meeting next week of President Bush with
both of the leaders in Jordan.
Israel's endorsement of the peace plan meets a Palestinian requirement.
Now it is Abbas' job to press hard to stop terrorist attacks on Israelis.
Washington must keep pushing both sides for a permanent peace. Bush is
on the right track and should remind Israel's Arab neighbors that their
stake in a stable Middle East requires them to sway the Palestinians toward
2003 Los Angeles Times