changes have been occurring in Israel in recent days. On Sunday,
the Israeli government, for the first time, gave its support to
a Palestinian state when it accepted the so-called road map for
Middle East peace. On Monday, an equally significant moment occurred
when Ariel Sharon, the prime minister and the father of Jewish expansion
in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, told his party faithful that Israeli
rule over Palestinians must be brought to an end.
"You may not
like the word, but what's happening is occupation," he told Likud
members of Parliament in a heated two-hour session. "Holding 3.5
million Palestinians is a bad thing for Israel, for the Palestinians
and for the Israeli economy."
has not abandoned his support for the scores of Jewish settlements
in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. He seems to think that most of
them could continue to exist on land that Israel would keep and
that would not be part of any future Palestinian state. Yesterday,
Mr. Sharon pulled back on the advice of his attorney general, who
said the legal term from Israel's perspective was "disputed" rather
than "occupied" territories. Mr. Sharon is also a clever politician.
He knows that by edging to the center, he can portray himself as
besieged from the right and unable to yield all that the Americans
may ask of him.
Mr. Sharon said what needed to be said, succinctly and clearly,
and by doing so, he shifted public debate in Israel. No Israeli
has spent more time on the battlefield or developed a more deserved
reputation for hard-nosed patriotism than Mr. Sharon. When he told
his party members that he knew every stone in the West Bank, he
was hardly exaggerating. Anyone who has spent time with the prime
minister knows him as someone who has a profound attachment to the
biblical lands of what he calls Judea and Samaria. Giving them up
— or a large chunk of them — in the name of security for Israel
will not be easy for him. Perhaps this 75-year-old warrior has taken
a realistic look at his nation's future and understood that Israel
must not rule over another people.