I read with trepidation Ariel Sharon's fastidiousness about implementing the unilateral Gaza disengagement plan. It is hard to miss the 'agenda' behind the entire exercise. Sharon's mentor, former Prime Minister Menachem Begin, had proceeded along similar lines in 1978 a propos Sinai, which effectively stalled the establishment of a Palestinian state. Sharon's plan smacks of comparable intentions.
When Begin returned to Israel from Camp David with a 'Framework for Peace in the Middle East', an agreement that recognized the 'legitimate rights of the Palestinian people and their just requirements' it was widely believed that immediate disengagement from Sinai would be the beginning of a process of autonomy for the Palestinian territories. However, as the later developments showed, eventual withdrawal from West Bank and Gaza on a 'land for peace basis' (the spirit of the UN Security Council Resolution 242 and Camp David Agreements) and an end to settlement activities were not topics for negotiations.
Begin's approach had been based on the Zionist belief that the West Bank was an integral part of Israel. In his eyes and those of his Likud colleagues, the Six-Day War had been a 'defensive' war during which the West Bank was purged of 'foreign aggressors'. He did not consider that the territory had been 'occupied in the recent conflict'. In his view this clause applied only to Sinai.
For Sharon, the strongest votary of settlement building in the Territories, withdrawal from Gaza is but a ruse to strengthen Israel's hold on large settlements blocks in the West Bank, where most of the 240,000 settlers live. The 'return' of Gaza does not imply a future withdrawal from the West Bank, a territory with considerably greater religio-historical significance for the Jews.
The policy of territorial maximalism has its limit ' Begin confirmed this three decades ago and Sharon has demonstrated his belief in it through the Gaza plan. Though Genesis (15:18) speaks about a Jewish homeland from the River of Egypt until the great river, the river Euphrates,' Begin tended to focus on the boundaries in terms of the British Mandate. Sharon has taken refuge behind numerous Biblical interpretations of ancient Eretz Israel, which for some even contains parts of Syria. Despite the fact that Torah had traditionally been given to the Jews on Mount Sinai, the area was given back to Egypt twice, first by Ben Gurion in 1956 and later by Begin, when confronted by the political realities of the situation. Gaza is mentioned only once in the tenth chapter of Genesis, and hardly has a historical site to bolster Jewish claim. Thus, Israel shorn of Gaza is eminently conceivable, as it exudes little importance for the Zionists. Accordingly, Sharon's plan is hardly a reflection of his statesmanship or an exercise in courage.
Begin knew that Jewish settlers under Egyptian rule under historic Eretz Israel contained the seeds of complex political problems in the future. Suicide bombings inside Israel and the socio-economic costs of 'retaliatory' attacks have taught Sharon the difficulties involved in keeping the indefensible Gaza settlements, where 7,000 Jews live cloistered from 1.3 million Palestinians.
Those who criticize Sharon for rewarding Palestinian terror and accuse him of laying the foundations of a Palestinian state are making the same mistake as those who doubted Begin's sincerity in retaining Judea and Samaria ' the West Bank. They, at different historical junctures, missed the deviousness of their leader's approach.