Sharon's plan

Monday, May 10, 2004

The (London) Daily Telegraph

The vagaries of democratic politics in Israel have once again left its friends in frustrated suspense. Ariel Sharon had correctly concluded that the Palestinians would not be a valid partner for peace while Yasser Arafat remained in overall control, and that in the chaotic absence of such an interlocutor it was prudent to withdraw from the Gaza Strip and erect a defensive barrier along the West Bank. ...

The danger now is that the prime minister will be held hostage by the right wing of his party. His apparent readiness to modify the original plan is likely to please nobody. The settlers who campaigned so effectively for Sunday's (Likud) vote will probably balk at anything short of full rejection of withdrawal. And Mr. Bush, Israel's closest ally, will be entitled to feel let down by the equivocations of a prime minister whom he went out of his way to accommodate. ...

The prime minister should ... cut the Gordian knot of Likud factionalism and go for a nationwide referendum on disengagement. He is likely to get cabinet and Knesset approval for the necessary legislation, and there is little doubt that he would win support for the plan in a popular vote. At the moment, having badly misjudged the extent of his influence over Likud, Mr. Sharon appears to be heading toward a deeply unsatisfactory compromise. Given the overall strength of his position, something much bolder is feasible: face down the right-wingers by going over their heads to parliament and the general public.

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