May 5, 2004
LIKUD REJECTION OF WITHDRAWAL PLAN: A RETURN TO
THE 'TERRIBLE IMPASSE'
** The vote is a
"painful defeat" for PM Sharon and an "embarrassment" for
** Mainstream Israeli
dailies predict "a new plan:
mini-disengagement" from Sharon.
** Many global dailies urge
a "national referendum on disengagement" in Israel.
** Leftist papers call for
an "international effort" to fix the "deadlocked"
The U.S. 'humiliated itself and undermined its role'-- Dailies agreed the Likud referendum is not only
a defeat for Sharon but also for Bush, who "was caught unprepared"
after "putting himself out on the line with important concessions for
Sharon." The UAE's
expatriate-oriented Khaleej Times assailed the "blatant show of
unilateralism" with which Bush "chose to endorse the Sharon plan even
before it was put to vote in Israel";
Germany's left-of-center Frankfurter Rundschau held that "Bush
is among those who were duped" by Sharon's promise to "implement his
plan." Belgium's independent De
Standaard added that Bush "could not have invented anything better to
alienate the Arab world."
Sharon will propose 'disengagement-lite'-- Israeli outlets judged that Sharon will now seek
a limited and step-by-step evacuation of settlers from Gaza. Sharon will "push forward with his
unilateral disengagement plan" because, said popular Maariv, both
the U.S. and Israelis "expect him to keep his promise." A leftist writer said the vote proved Likud
is the "zealots' poodle," referring to settlers. Nationalist Hatzofe countered that the
vote was a "victory of honest people" over Sharon's attempt to
"steal" the Likud party.
Non-Israeli writers speculated that the defeat actually was a
"relief for Sharon," who now can portray himself as "a moderate
man facing extremists from his own party" according to Jordan's
Sharon 'would win support for the plan in a
popular vote'-- Since "Sharon has
the support of a majority of the Israeli population," he should "seek
approval through some form of national vote" for his disengagement
plan. London's conservative Daily
Telegraph urged Sharon to "cut the Gordian knot of Likud factionalism
and go for a nationwide referendum"; Israeli and Jordanian observers were
in rare agreement in demanding all Israelis "be allowed to voice their
position" on the plan, not just a "tiny minority" in the Likud. Several dailies, however, saw "no
formula for peace" in Sharon's withdrawal plan. Saudi Arabia's moderate Al-Jazirah
rejected the idea that "Sharon by himself can determine the fate" of
Peace 'needs pressure and force from the outside world'-- Euro and Asian commentators insisted the
"outside world cannot remain idle" in response to the impasse. Hong Kong's independent South China
Morning Post called on the roadmap's architects to "step up the
pressure and argue for a return to negotiations." Other papers said the defeat of Sharon's plan
meant a continuation of a "dangerous, aimless phase"; Brazil's
center-right O Globo said Sharon now leads a "divided, confused
country." Spain's conservative ABC
glumly termed the current situation the "worst scenario for peace and
stability in the region."
EDITOR: Ben Goldberg
EDITOR'S NOTE: Media
Reaction reporting conveys the spectrum of foreign press sentiment. Posts select commentary to provide a
representative picture of local editorial opinion. This report summarizes and interprets foreign
editorial opinion and does not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S.
Government. This analysis was based on
65 reports from 20 countries over 2 - 5 May 2004. Editorial excerpts from each country are
listed from the most recent date.
"Sharon's Defeat: But Peace
No Nearer, With Or Without Withdrawal From Gaza"
An editorial in the independent Financial Times read
(5/5): "The policy is the problem,
not the Likud vote. For, despite much
Israeli, US and British sophistry about the Gaza withdrawal being a way-station
on the road map, in its present form it forecloses on a viable future
Palestinian state--at the same time as Mr. Sharon's so-called defence barrier
is enclosing Palestinians into an archipelago of cantons. What Likud activists defeated was not a
formula for peace."
"The People Of Israel Must Decide On Disengagement"
The conservative Daily Telegraph observed (5/5): "The prime minister should, instead, 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 towards 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
“Likud’s Veteran Leader Vows There Is No Going
Harvey Morris and Guy Dinmore noted in the independent Financial
Times (5/4): "Dealing with
fretful partners in the peace process had never been a high priority of the
Bush administration, and that the flexible road map had been tailored to fit US
domestic demands before, and would be again.
Analysts agreed it would be a gross exaggeration to say that the Likud
referendum had left US policy in the Middle East in tatters.... Nor does Mr. Bush have real problems on the
domestic front. On the contrary,
analysts say he can portray himself and his close friend, Mr. Sharon, as
moderates thwarted in their quest for peace.
The issue is not on radar screens of concerns ahead of November’s presidential
“A Tiny Minority Of Israelis Must Not Be Allowed To Dictate The
Destiny Of Israel And Palestine”
The center-left Independent editorialized (5/4): "Despite crumbling hopes for the once
much-vaunted road-map peace plan, an international effort to use yesterday’s
extremely serious reverse for Mr Sharon to start thinking creatively about
fresh steps to implement it would certainly be welcome.... The U.S. now has a responsibility to caution
Mr Sharon against a diluted version of the plan which would limit still further
the number of settlers to be evacuated, one which would attract as fanatical
opposition for even less gain, and would violate the understandings reached in
Washington in April. It is a bleak but
unmistakable sign of how far the conflict is from a breakthrough that, flawed
as it is, the Sharon plan rejected by Likud on Sunday has become a necessary,
if wholly insufficient, precondition of future.”
The left-of-center Guardian remarked (5/4): "The responsibility to bring that hope
back to life now rests on the world community, and particularly on the Middle
East quartet which meets today in New York.
The UN secretary-general Kofi Annan suggested last week that the UN
should preside over settlement withdrawals.
There is a danger that by doing that it would endorse Mr. Sharon’s plan
for unilateral action. Somehow, though,
the quartet must find a way to reassert an international role and find a
negotiated route out of this terrible impasse."
FRANCE: ““Bush’s Strategic
Philippe Gelie wrote in right-of-center Le Figaro
(5/4): “This is not President Bush’s
first miscalculation on the Middle East. But, added to his problems in Iraq,
the failure of ‘Sharon’s plan’ leaves him only bad side effects that need to be
dealt with.... The fact that President
Bush was the only one to support Sharon’s plan shows his lack of experience
with the Middle East. While he will be able to reap some benefits on the
domestic front, his support of Sharon will complicate his efforts in the region
just when the image of the U.S. is at its worst.”
Jean-Christophe Ploquin held in Catholic La Croix
(5/4): “The affront which the Likud has
inflicted on Sharon will force the American sponsor to show more caution in the
future.... For all those in the
international community who believe that peace between the Israelis and the
Palestinians requires negotiation and mutual concessions, Sharon’s plans are a
source of concern. But the international community is standing by, apathetic,
looking on these events as if paralyzed by the Bush administration’s options.”
“The Loser Wins”
Charles Lambroschini noted in right-of-center Le Figaro
(5/3): “Every poll predicted that the
‘No’ would lead in Sharon’s party referendum. In spite of this, Sharon is
playing his usual game where the loser wins....
Sharon has the support of a majority of the Israeli population and has
nothing to fear from his only competitor, Netanyahu.... His West Bank strategy appears risky only on
the surface since the U.S. no longer considers the settlements to be
illegal.... Sharon is putting Gaza in
the hands of the extremists.... Arafat,
who has been increasingly marginalized since his forced exile to Ramallah, will
find renewed authority only if he supports an escalation.... And in Gaza, Hamas will cry victory, as it
did in Southern Lebanon, when Israel withdrew, thus playing the hand of the extremists.
As an objective ally of Sharon, Hamas will provide the Israeli Prime Minister
with every possible pretext to disengage from the roadmap, the peace plan
imposed by his American friend. For the past fifty years the Palestinians have
never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity. As for Sharon, he has
always known how to turn tactical defeats into strategic successes.”
Bernard Guetta said on state-run France Inter radio (5/3): “Should we be happy or regret the results of
the referendum.... The answer is not an
easy one.... What we can all expect now
is that Sharon will revert to a national referendum. If his plans are indeed to
annex part of the West Bank and to unilaterally determine the boundaries
between Israel and a partitioned Palestine, then we can expect disaster. The
Palestinians will then find an excuse to pursue their terrorist campaign. The
worst part is that Sharon’s withdrawal will not be accompanied by something in
return for Israel. Worse even, Hamas will be able to say that it was its armed
rebellion that led to Israel’s withdrawal. Sharon knows all this. But he
believes that in time, he will be able to annihilate Hamas and that the
Palestinians will have no option other than to accept the existence of Israel.... It is indeed too early to say whether the
referendum’s failure will benefit the side of peace or the side of war.”
Defeat--Failure Or Victory?"
Wolfgang Guenter Lerch commented in center-right Frankfurter
Allgemeine (5/4): "Likud's
rejection of the plan can be seen as a relief for Sharon. Didn't he really know what most of his party
members thought? Unlikely. He can now tell his critics and American ally
that he tried everything, but it would be too problematic to act against the
vote of his own supporters. Sharon did
not lose a lot in the West Bank, because Americans have already and without any
need welcomed his idea of integrating (or annexing) six large settlements
before the decision. As a result,
Sharon's weakening is relative: He does
not need to withdraw from Gaza, but has still the option to annex
settlements. He does not even have to
fear early elections, because a majority of Israelis supports the
internationally condemned killing of Hamas and other radical Palestinian
leaders as well as the installation of the so-called security fence."
"The Ghosts He Called"
Clemens Wergin observed in centrist Der Tagesspiegel of
Berlin (5/4): "U.S. President Bush
would not be amused if Sharon were to renounce his initiative now. Only two weeks ago he fitted in with the
Prime Minister's plan to support a positive result of the referendum. He ran the risk that the U.S. government
could stand there as a one-sided supporter of Israel. Therefore, the Likud referendum is not only a
defeat for Sharon but also for Bush.
Sharon must now do something that makes Bush look better, and those who
want peace must now back Sharon against his party. A partial Israeli retreat is certainly not
sufficient, but it is necessary. The
likes of Rabin, Peres and Barak negotiated with Palestinians in the 1990s, but
the did not change the tough realities on the ground. On the contrary, settlements were
enlarged. Sharon's initiative is going
the opposite way: He doesn't want to
negotiate but end settlements. This
might be too little for a true peace, but one thing is clear: A settlement once removed from the Gaza Strip
will hardly be rebuilt again. And that
"Rescue Of An Illusion"
Left-of-center Frankfurter Rundschau stated (5/4): "U.S. President Bush is among those who
were duped, given all the conceivable concessions he made to Sharon. And the Palestinian autonomy leadership sees
its view confirmed, which is politically shortsighted, because peace
negotiations have never been further away. The dilemma is that the situation
remains deadlocked--at least until the presidential election in the U.S."
Pierre Heumann maintained in business-oriented Handelsblatt
of Duesseldorf (5/4): "After this
referendum Sharon is a leader without a party.... The result strengthens the far right of
Sharon's coalition for the time being.
Even the smallest concessions of the Likud Party to Palestinians will
now be impossible, because Israel's left, which is committed to peace, is not a
relevant force Sharon must fear. Neither
has it a competent leadership nor an important platform. But if Sharon really wants to stick to his
plan he will need the support of the Labor Party.... If Sharon and Peres agree to form a
coalition, it could give new momentum to the withdrawal plan. But if the government leader sticks to his
current team of notorious opponents, he would certainly have to abolish his
plan. Beyond that, political initiatives
could no longer be expected. It would
damage Sharon's credibility so that he could not govern for very long."
"The General In An Expanse Of Rubble"
Peter Muench opined in center-left Sueddeutsche Zeitung of
Munich (5/4): "Ariel Sharon has
come under friendly fire. His party
friends inflicted a painful defeat on the old general in the vote on the plans
to withdraw from the Gaza Strip. The
Likud Party passed a vote of no confidence in its own leader--that will weaken
him, but won't knock him out. Sharon
managed that everybody lost--Israelis, Palestinians, the U.S. government and
even settlers, although they believe to be the winners--because the rejection
of the Gaza plan means that the Mideast conflict could now turn from a
destructive into an even more dangerous, aimless phase.... Fearing compromises with Palestinians, Sharon
did not want to negotiate, but create facts unilaterally and force Palestinians
to accept what he was willing to give.
Gaza served as bait that got him the support of the U.S.
government. That worked - and therefore
Washington is among the losers.
President Bush is paying a high price for his close bond with
Sharon: First, he gambled away America's
rest of credibility in the Arab world as a broker in finding a resolution to
the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And
now a few thousand right-wing Likud supporters duped him.... The failed vote opens up vistas on a
political expanse of rubble. Sharon
seems to be willing to work this expanse of rubble. But hardly anything will grow on it."
Jacques Schuster argued in right-of-center Die Welt of
Berlin (5/4): "The Israeli Prime
Minister suffered a devastating defeat for the first time in three years of
government. It could herald the
beginning of his end; Sharon's image as tactical genius and brilliant man of
action was damaged. Beyond that, his
entire concept for dealing with Palestinians was binned like so many before,
and some Likud members refuted convincing arguments from the Likud block on a
single evening.... Ariel Sharon has lost
the support of his party. He might be
right that only Likud can make painful compromises, but what can he do against
the will of his party? This remains to
be seen. If Sharon has not changed he
will look for an act of release. It's
not clear what it will look like, but one thing is no longer possible: a unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza
"Worse Than One-Sided"
Clemens Wergin held in centrist Der Tagesspiegel of Berlin
(5/2): "We will be excited to see
the commentaries of authors if the referendum on the withdrawal plan in
Sharon's Likud Party fails. All
indications are that it will fall. If it
is really rejected and Sharon gives in to the vote in his party, the critics
will be able to witness something that is even worse than a one-sided
withdrawal that has not been coordinated with the Palestinians. No withdrawal, neither a one-sided nor a
negotiated one. A return to the roadmap
would mean nothing but the return to the standstill of the past months. As long as Palestinian President Arafat
blocks all his prime ministers and prevents the establishment of efficient
security forces, the peace plan will not make any progress. Sharon shot himself in the foot when he
presented his plan not to all Israelis but only to his own party members. We can only hope that Sharon will ignore a
negative vote and present his plan to all Israelis, since most of them are in
favor of it."
ITALY: “No No-Confidence,
Alberto Stabile contended in left-leaning, influential La
Repubblica (5/4): “Sharon has been
left alone, like a general with no troops or to put it like some Israeli
commentators, like a ‘leader without a party.’ Alone, with a piercing
realization of having committed a fatal error for not having presented his plan
to the government and to the Knesset, when, following his victory in
Washington, he could have easily found the strength to overcome the test. Who
would have dared oppose the Sharon-Bush tandem with all the benefits provided
by the U.S. as a reward for the ‘courageous initiative?’ It’s no coincidence
that Sharon, during his short speech to the Likud parliamentarians, chose to
thank Bush once again for his support. The failure of the Israeli premier could
in fact embarrass the U.S. president, who had praised the Gaza withdrawal plan
and talked about it as an historical opportunity and who had rewarded Sharon’s
intentions with a series of concessions that had spurred the protests of the
Palestinians and of Arab countries.”
“Sharon’s Three Paradoxes”
Leading business-oriented Il Sole-24 Ore observed
(5/4): "President Bush was caught
unprepared only a few days after putting himself out on the line with important
concessions for Sharon, as he thought that the Premier would have been able to
implement his plan to withdraw from Gaza....
Sharon is on a knife-edge, but Bush has made another mistake in the
Middle East.... The climate of uncertainty
that currently reigns in Israel is not the ideal one to return to the negotiating
table. A weak or non-credible government will have many problems trying to
carry out a unilateral withdrawal from Gaza as well as in re-examining the
‘road map’ for which the Quartet--U.S., UN, Russia and EU--is meeting today. In
this situation, in which there is an endless massacre of innocents, the only
thing left to hope for is Israeli democracy and in a rapid return to the voting
stations in order to pave the way for a stronger executive branch which is
convinced of undertaking new prospects for peace.”
“Sharon: I’ll Present An Alternative Plan”
Aldo Baquis commented in centrist, influential La Stampa
(5/4): “Among those that would like to
know Sharon’s intentions is President Bush, who last month approved the plans
of the Israeli premier convinced that the Likud would have given its go ahead.
Bush had also given Sharon a letter in which he showed great understanding for
Israel’s security needs, causing angry reactions among the Palestinians as well
as among friendly nations like Jordan and Egypt. Aware of the embarrassment
created for the U.S., Sharon reiterated that he would in no way allow the
suspension of political initiatives in the area.”
“Blood Punctual As Usual”
Fiamma Nirenstein commented in centrist La Stampa
(5/3): “Once again the terrorists have
mixed up the cards with blood: it’s their specialty. They
did so at the time of the Oslo accords by killing 200 people on
Jerusalem buses in two months’ time; they did it again with Camp David, by
killing one thousand people in three years, and they are trying again now with
the scheduled withdrawal from Gaza and part of the West Bank. But, as we said, Sharon is a tough guy, and
he will not recede from his plan.”
Mia Doornaert asserted in independent
Christian-Democrat De Standaard (5/4):
"More than ever it is clear that peace in the Middle East needs
pressure and force from the outside world.
Naturally, everybody is focusing on the U.S. However, the rest of the world should not
restrict itself to reproaching the Americans that they are playing both too
little and too much the role of 'policeman of the world.' Geographically, the EU expanded last weekend,
but where is its role in the Middle East--except that it sends an envoy now and
then to support Yasser Arafat's corrupt regime?.... What is the Arab world doing to bring peace
closer? The constant wave of
anti-Semitism in the Arab media will not make the peace camp in Israel
stronger. Part of the Palestinian
people's tragedy is the result of the fact that most Arab regimes only render
lip service to 'the Palestinian brothers.'
They do not want war with Israel.
But, they don't want peace either because, in that event, they would no
longer be able to divert the frustration of their own people over the lack of
employment, freedom and progress to the Israeli scapegoat.... Nevertheless, the outside world cannot remain
idle. Stronger pressure is required to force
Israel and the Palestinians to make crucial, painful concessions. In this, America has an extremely
important--although not the single--role to play. That is why it is incomprehensible that
President George W. Bush recently expressed his support for Ariel Sharon's'
plan--which has nothing to do with a viable Palestinian state. Indeed, (Bush) could not have invented
anything better to alienate the Arab world and to make it impossible for the
Palestinian leaders to negotiate with Israel.
With that (decision) he not only made the U.S. position in Iraq more
difficult, but he also didn't show himself to be a real friend of Israel."
Foreign editor Paul De Bruyn declared in
conservative Christian-Democrat Gazet van Antwerpen (5/4): "U.S. President George Bush expressed
his full support to Sharon. That was
more than the latter had expected and it strengthened his position on the
international scene. Who is capable of
imposing a different plan when the Americans are in line with Sharon? Sharon's expectation was that Bush's support
would also convince his own rank and file.
Last Sunday, however, what everybody knew became clear: that a major
part of his rank and file does not want to hear about concessions.... Sharon has lost influence and prestige. His position vis-à-vis his main
rival...Benjamin Netanyahu has become weaker.... Sharon may not be counted out, but what
happened on Sunday will certainly not do him any good."
"No Tears For Sharon"
Independent Dagbladet commented (5/5): "Sharon's plan for withdrawal makes the
visions of an Israeli West Bank set in stone.... In this context a withdrawal or not from an
over-populated Gaza doesn't mean much, except that Sharon will put President
George W. Bush in a well deserved squeeze."
"Israeli PM's Plan"
Iulian Anghel opined in financial Ziarul
Financiar (5/5): "This is not Bush’s first miscalculation regarding
the Middle East. But because of the many
hardships with which he is confronted in Iraq, the fact that Likud (PM Ariel
Sharon’s party) rejected unilateral Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza strip
seems not to bother him too much.... The
American president has been warned that his policies in the Middle East, and
especially the unconditional support granted to Ariel Sharon, are destroying
U.S. prestige and are detrimental not only to America, but also to the EU and
"Israeli PM’s Plan To Withdraw from Gaza
Independent Cronica Romana editorialized (5/4): “Israeli PM Ariel Sharon was defeated by his
own right-wing party, Likud, with almost 60 percent of its members rejecting,
in an internal referendum, his plan to unilaterally pull away from the
Palestinians, known as 'the withdrawal from the Gaza strip'.... The failure of Sharon is implicitly a defeat
for the American President, George W. Bush, who, on April 14, had upheld,
without any reservation, the Israeli PM’s plan.”
SPAIN: "Sharon Does
Not Give Up"
Centrist La Vanguardia judged (5/4): "Colonizing Gaza was a tremendous
tactical mistake made by the Israelis, encouraged especially by Sharon. Withdrawing from there is without a price,
but with it the current Zionist Prime Minister justifies the construction of
the shameful wall of isolation, which seizes more territories in the West Bank
and imposes a policy of accomplished facts that the weakness of the Palestinian
National Authority and its president, Yasser Arafat, is not able to prevent,
above all when the international community continues feeding the permissive
tolerance shown by the U.S."
"Sharon, Strategy and Vehemence"
Conservative ABC held (5/4): "The dismantling of the settlements of
farmers in Gaza is in principle good news for peace, for the Palestinians and
for the Israelis. But there is no
guarantee whatsoever that this maneuver will be part of a withdrawal little by
little from all the occupied territories.
On the contrary, the suspicion
prevails that the next and undeclared stage of Sharon's plan would be the
annexation of part of the West Bank, ignoring once again UN resolutions. A hypothesis that makes predictable the worst
scenario for peace and stability in the region."
"Likud Leaves Sharon Alone"
Independent El Mundo editorialized (5/3): "The voting yesterday proves the
complete failure of Sharon and his policy of segregation and selective killings
to achieve peace without dialogue with the Palestinians. The fact that the only support he has left is
President Bush proves even more, if that were possible, his stubborn
ISRAEL: "U.S. Expects
Sharon To Deliver"
Janine Zacharia commented in the conservative, independent Jerusalem
Post (5/5): "The Bush
administration is counting on Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to figure out how to
push forward with his unilateral disengagement plan--which U.S. President
George W. Bush warmly endorsed last month--despite Sunday's rejection of the
initiative in a Likud Party referendum.
For now, U.S. officials say they remain confident in Sharon's commitment
to with draw settlers from the Gaza Strip and four West Bank settlements,
despite his internal political woes. In
the past few days, they have repeatedly pledged to continue to support the
plan.... U.S. officials have privately
expressed dismay that Sharon did not lobby harder for the plan's passage after
Bush, on April 14, extended tremendous political capital by articulating some
of Sharon's key demands--implicitly endorsing the idea of Israel holding on to
some settlements as part of a final peace deal, and disavowing a right of
return for Palestinian refugees to Israel--in order to prop up the Israeli
"The Danger at Home"
Independent, left-leaning Ha'aretz editorialized
(5/5): "The results of the Likud's
referendum on the disengagement plan sent shock waves throughout broad segments
of the public. Once again it became
evident that the settlers set Israel's agenda.... Nothing stands up against them. There is no parliamentary or
extra-parliamentary movement that forms a counter-balance to the
settlers.... And all this happened when
a majority of the public actually favors a withdrawal from Gaza and supports
reaching a peace agreement with the Palestinians, even if it means far-reaching
concessions.... When Prime Minister Ariel
Sharon reached the proper conclusion and presented the public with a
disengagement plan, it may not have been perfect but it could have served as
the start of a reconciliation process -- the beginning of a political
horizon--and even advanced the settlement cause in the West Bank. The settlers understood the danger quite
clearly and rose up as one to oppose the Sharon plan--and they won. Now they are in the grip of euphoria with a
feeling that they have managed to reconquer the hearts of the Jewish nation. After the Oslo agreement, the settlers said
that while they managed to settle the land, they did not succeed in winning
over the hearts of the people. Now,
after the results of the Likud referendum, it turns out that they managed to
win over some of those hearts."
"Anything--Except Talks With The PA"
Aluf Benn stated in independent, left-leaning Ha'aretz
(5/5): "Their defeat in the Likud
referendum has left Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his men bewildered and
flustered. Sharon is now looking for a
new way out of the political thicket to justify his remaining in
office.... Tuesday, Sharon's people
rejected all the reports of a 'mini plan' consisting of a symbolic evacuation
of a few isolated settlements in Gaza and Samaria [the northern West Bank].... It is also doubtful whether the U.S.
Administration, which agreed to give guarantees and undertakings in exchange
for an extensive evacuation, would now agree to only part of the payment from
Sharon. If there is a point to a small
evacuation it is to 'set the principle' of settlement evacuations. But it would be hard to get the Likud
members' support for this and Labor has already announced that a mini-plan
won't be enough for it to support.
Foreign Ministry professionals predicted that if the plan was rejected
in the referendum, it would be embraced by the international community, which
previously criticized it. That is
exactly what happened yesterday in the statement of the international Quartet,
which totally ignored the Likud's decision and called to implement Sharon's
plan as a' rare opportunity' to promote peace.... Sharon has no plans--at this stage--of
resuming talks with the Palestinians. He
has no intention of contacting Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei.
Government sources say the chances of a meeting between Sharon and Qurei are
nonexistent. Sharon bluntly rejected the
proposal by Shinui Chairman Yosef Lapid Tuesday to resume the peace
negotiations, telling Lapid that there is no point in talking to the PA,
because it is not even pretending to fight terrorism."
"The New, Improved Disengagement"
Shimon Shiffer, Nehama Dueck and Itamar Eichner wrote in
mass-circulation, pluralist Yediot Aharonot (5/4): "On the day after the defeat in the
disengagement referendum, the Prime Minister's bureau was swamped with calls by
registered Likud members who 'beat their breast,' and wanted to give Sharon
their support in his difficult moment....
But Sharon was hard at work drafting a new plan: mini-disengagement.... The idea is to put together a
disengagement-lite plan, as Sharon's new plan already has been nicknamed in
political circles. The new plan will call for Israel to unilaterally remove
isolated settlements in the Gaza Strip [and three settlements in the northern
West Bank] so as to facilitate improved IDF deployment.... The proposals for a more restricted
disengagement plan were presented to the Prime Minister already in the past,
but he rejected them. In any event,
Sharon will continue to say in his conversations with the Americans that he has
no intention of changing his general conception, which calls for the evacuation
of all Israeli settlers from the Gaza Strip, but that he will work to achieve
that in stages, while securing the support of his political partners."
"An Unnecessary Crisis"
Independent, left-leaning Ha'aretz editorialized
(5/4): "The Likud referendum defeat
of the disengagement plan has created a crisis for the Prime Minister--and not
only for him. The political system has
been shocked. In retrospect, it's an
easy analysis: Ariel Sharon made a mistake by giving the decision to a tiny
minority of the people who mostly take right or even extreme right
positions.... Now demands are rising
from various political directions that Sharon bring a similar plan to a vote in
the government. The U.S. Administration
is also expecting that. Meanwhile,
officials in the EU, whose economic advantages are eyed by Israel, have
protested about the decision being made by a tiny minority of the
population. The chances for a renewed
political initiative were damaged by the referendum. After the vote, a false sense of unity
prevailed among the victorious Likud ministers.
They won't make Sharon's work any easier when he decides to bring the
plan to the government.... The searing
failure could create for Sharon more reasons to delay [the presentation of an
amended plan]. But there is no
justification for that. The Prime
Minister cannot try to gain time while there's a deep political crisis
underway. It is his duty to make clear
as soon as possible his intentions regarding his critical political initiative,
which is the only one he can push. It may not have had a clear majority in the
Likud but it does in the public. Sharon
must fulfill that majority without delay.
If he is deterred, there won't be any more justification to his
"The Courage To Change Before The Advent Of Calamity"
Dan Margalit noted in popular, pluralist Maariv (5/4): "Condoleezza Rice's door will remain
shut in the faces of Dov Weisglass and Giora Eiland unless they come equipped
with signed authorization from the cabinet and Knesset that they are empowered
to represent Israel--the classic American test of 'being able to deliver the
goods.' They have already proven
themselves incapable of delivering anything.
Not even the minimum of Gaza.
That is because Sharon's party has abandoned him.... The Likud's decision was to choose to live by
the sword alone--an illusion of pride, and a victory for the Palestinian
extremists. The Likud has become the zealots' poodle."
"If I Were A Settler"
Rafi Mann commented in popular, pluralist Maariv
(5/4): "If I were a settler from
Neve Dekalim [in the Gaza Strip], I would not celebrate this week, and not only
because of the horrific murder of Tali Hatuel and her four daughters. On the
contrary: I would begin to worry. If I
were a settler from Kfar Darom, I would not sleep at night. Ariel Sharon, the founder of the Likud and
the father of the settlements, the man who linked the existence of Netzarim to
the fate of Tel Aviv, is still convinced that the removal of all the
settlements from Gaza, as well as the elimination of the four isolated
settlements in the northern West Bank, is vital for national security.... While Sharon failed in the current initiative,
he took a significant step forward in 'preparing the hearts' for a meaningful
withdrawal from territories and massive settlement removal."
"Plans For Sale"
Akiva Eldar opined in independent, left-leaning Ha'aretz
(5/4): "The latest spin from the
Prime Minister's Office is that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon will go to
Washington for the annual AIPAC [Jewish lobby] conference with a new plan under
his arm.... But it is doubtful that the
story of the new plan will last even the two weeks to the AIPAC conference,
where Sharon at least could bask in the applause of the American Jews. It also will be very difficult for U.S.
President George W. Bush, who has also been invited to speak to the AIPAC
conference to try to sell in less than a month another plan meant to save the
lives of Israeli children and soldiers.
Even a president under pressure from the Christian as well as Jewish
right will find it difficult to attach his letter of promises to Sharon to
another Israeli plan.... Sharon will
keep Bush's political constraints in mind, and Bush will show understanding for
"Selling The Ideology, Too"
Nadav Shragai wrote in independent, left-leaning Ha'aretz
(5/4): "Sharon...made the need for
prior coordination with the U.S. almost sacred. After his meeting with President George W.
Bush, Sharon's detractors actually proved that Bush's statements regarding the
Arabs' right of return and the settlement blocs were not precedent-setting, and
that furthermore they were quite vague, but the discourse was totally lacking
the principal question of the United States' proper place in the formulation of
Israel's national priorities. Sharon's
behavior in this matter was portrayed as total, bordering on absolute. The late prime minister Menachem Begin once
told then-U.S. ambassador to Israel Samuel Lewis that Israel is not a banana
republic and that the Jewish people can make do with bread and margarine. That
was during the Lebanon War, but one does not have to be Begin. It is enough to recall the words of former
absorption minister Yuli Tamir, who is not suspected of being 'right-wing,' but
who a few weeks ago made a point (at a conference in Jerusalem) about the
problematic nature of the absolute subjection of Israeli policy to the
considerations of America's interests. Tamir was under the impression that U.S.
National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice was running the Israeli
"The Tail And The Dog"
Nahum Barnea wrote in mass-circulation, pluralist Yediot
Aharonot (5/3): "Only a few
weeks ago, when Sharon walked into the trap laid for him by [Likud Agriculture
Minister] Yisrael Katz and agreed to a party referendum, he was crowned by all,
here and abroad, as a political genius.
Now he has become a laughingstock.
Sharon's truly stinging failure is in the area of leadership. He reached the conclusion that he must
present a plan, but was dragged gradually and unwillingly into the
disengagement plan. When the time came
to battle for the plan, he did so halfheartedly and late. Carried by the momentum of his great victory
in the elections and the sweeping support of the U.S. Administration, he could
have obtained a majority for the plan in the cabinet and Knesset. But he was dragged into the referendum. Don't feel sorry for Sharon: He brought most
of his troubles upon himself. The
results of the Likud referendum should arouse concern mainly due to their
implications for the country's chances of rehabilitation. Sharon and his advisers raised a series of
reasons for short-term panic on the eve of the vote: a rift with the U.S.
Administration, a collapsing economy, and loss of power. We should hope that they were
exaggerating. The long term is much more
worrying. Under the rule of the
Settlers' Council, Israel will sooner or later reach South Africa's situation:
first an isolated, ostracized country, hated around the world and abhorred by a
large part of its younger generation, and then a binational state. Despite the failure in the referendum, Sharon
is currently the only Israeli politician who can stop this process. If he still has the appetite to lead, now is
"There is Nobody But Him"
Ben Caspit declared in popular, pluralist Maariv
(5/3): "Ariel Sharon knows it. His hour of leadership has come. If he can
summon up sufficient courage tonight...then tomorrow...he will say the
following: 'Ladies and gentlemen, I am the prime minister of everybody.... I have no intention of changing my mind. There is no alternative to this plan. I believe that a majority of the nation
supports it. Therefore I am proceeding
with it'.... Sharon has no better
alternatives. He is stuck halfway up the
mountain with a reinforced concrete wall in front of him. If he takes his foot off the gas pedal he
will roll back into the abyss. He has to
continue full steam, to bang his head on the wall and smash it. He has to cross this canal. He knows it and his followers know it. All he needs now is the guts to do
it.... Nobody else can do it, but the
question is whether Sharon can. In
Washington, the [U.S.] Administration is waiting to hear what Sharon has to say
today. The Americans expect him to
deliver the goods. In Israel, most of
the nation expects him to keep his promise.
Sharon's hour of trial has come.
He cooked this rancid mix and now he has to swallow it in one gulp, wipe
his mouth, smile and move on."
"A Dramatic Defeat"
Conservative, independent Jerusalem Post opined (5/3): "Yesterday we urged Likud voters to vote
yes on the party referendum on Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's disengagement
plan. Judging from initial exit polls,
the referendum has gone down to a dramatic defeat. Given this result, Sharon's gamble that he
could poll his own party as a surrogate for the national will was singularly
misplaced.... The plan, after all, is
difficult to distinguish from that put forward by Sharon's rival in the 2003
elections, Labor Party leader Amram Mitzna.
Sharon won handily opposing that plan, and his own Likud voters deeply
opposed any unilateral concessions, let alone the unilateral dismantling of
settlements. What has changed is
Sharon's acquiescence to U.S. opposition to forcibly removing Yasser Arafat,
combined with a U.S. willingness to proffer significant diplomatic dividends in
exchange for an Israeli withdrawal. Just because these changes were sufficient
to change Sharon's mind does not mean that he could persuade the core of the
natural opposition to his move to go along....
At this point, given the rejection of his party and the extent to which
he strayed from his election mandate, Sharon should seek approval through some
form of national vote. Assuming that
Sharon moves forward in this vein, the U.S. and Europe should understand that,
if they want Israel to unilaterally evacuate settlements, they need to
reinforce the understandings reached between him and George W. Bush. If these diplomatic gains are allowed to
dissipate, the plan will be seen by Israelis and Palestinians as a clear
victory for terrorism, will quickly lose its support in Israel, and will never
Dan Margalit maintained in popular, pluralist Maariv
(5/3): "Were Israel a properly run
country, Ariel Sharon would resign from office.... Just as Sharon understood from the pinnacle
of his office as prime minister what the people truly needed, there is some
chance that his successor will walk in his footsteps too. Alternatively, were Israel a properly run
country, Sharon would not resign, but would introduce his disengagement plan to
the cabinet despite his frivolously made commitment to his party members that
he would do as they ordered.... Were
Israel a properly run and life-loving country, the responsible minority would
assure him a safety net, and not only on foreign policy matters, irrespective
of whether the Labor Party is part of the coalition or not.... But that is the way things would be only were
Israel a properly run country. None of
the above scenarios will play out. Those
politicians are enervated, weary, 'can these bones live?' [Ezekiel 39:3] As such, Sunday the Likud members sentenced
Israelis--with their complacency, by their decision to abstain en mass from
voting--to the continued existence of a coalition government headed by a lame
duck. What will he offer in the next
round to George W. Bush? And what to
Tony Blair? And to Yasser Arafat or his
successor? Nothing. We will have a
frightened, initiative-less, defensive, cringing government that will only
focus on its own survival."
"Maybe Likud Can, But Doesn't Want To"
Akiva Eldar stated left-leaning, independent Ha'aretz
(5/3): "The following lines can be
written even before we know whether a little more than half the Likud members
supported the disengagement plan, or whether a little more than half dropped an
against vote into the ballot box. It is already possible to state that the idea
that 'only the Likud can' is dead. Likud
members and their leaders have refuted the 'peace camp's' assumption that only
the Right can evacuate settlements and bring peace.... The disengagement referendum enables the
parties left of Likud to go to the broad public that supports a compromise and
prove to it that compromise and the Right are mutually exclusive.... The disengagement referendum ought to
disengage the peace camp once and for all from its delusion that 'only the
Likud can.' Perhaps the Likud can, but
the Likud surely does not want to."
"Democracy Beat The Sharonos"
Editor-in-Chief Gonen Ginat remarked in nationalist, Orthodox Hatzofe
(5/3): "The Likud has a....clear
platform: it rejects conceding settlements and is strenuously opposed to a
Palestinian state. What Ariel Sharon did
was an attempt to steal a party....
Sharon actually accused [the Likud right-wingers] of stealing the
party. In fact, those had remained
faithful to [the party's] platform and voters.
This was the victory of honest people....over the Sharons' Mafia
practices. Behind their back, at the
Prime Minister's Office, the latter are called the 'Sharonos' (rhyming with
'The Sopranos'). A fistful of youth from
the territories has proved that it can defeat Sharonian aggressiveness: this
inspires hope; we have a future.... In
the next few days, we'll find out that a least some of [Sharon's] threats were
empty....starting with the claim that the U.S. had agreed to the annexation of
blocs of settlements and ending with keeping Sharon's agreement to freeze
construction in the territories secret. Together with disengagement, we are likely
to succeed in getting rid of bizarre commitments Sharon took upon himself,
including providing aerial photographs of the settlements in the
WEST BANK: "Sharon's
Defeat Before His Party"
Ahmed Majdalani noted in independent Al-Ayyam (5/5): "President Bush, who offered Sharon
complete political support with the hope that he might get financial, media and
electoral support from Zionist lobbying groups, has lost the deal...and will be
facing a difficult choice as to whether to continue to back a non-existent
political plan, rejected by the other side in the struggle, or to change his
position and retract his letter of assurances to Sharon.... In light of recent developments, the PA
leadership should take a firm position calling for transferring the case from
the hands of the U.S., which lost credibility as a key and honest mediator in
the peace process...to the UN, and the convening of an international peace
conference in the Middle East."
"Voices The White House Must Listen To"
Independent Al-Quds editorialized (5/5): "The American diplomats who sent
President Bush a letter criticizing his absolute support for the policy of
settlement expansion and use of excessive military force against
Palestinians...have put their finger on the real problem and the source of the
dangerousness of American policy to the region.
[The latter is embodied in] Washington's change of role from an honest
and objective mediator over the past two decades into a loyal ally to Israel,
frustrating all just Palestinian national aspirations and obstructing the peace
process.... While the State Department
regards U.S. policy in the region on the basis of American interests on the one
hand, and the potential influence of this policy on the American image in the
world on the other, the White House and Congress view American policy toward
the Middle East and the Palestinian cause as nothing more than an opportunity
to gain Jewish votes in election campaigns."
"The Vendor, The Buyer And The Goods"
Jawad Bashiti remarked in independent Al-Ayyam (5/5): "In order to satisfy Sharon and support
him in his struggle against his Likud opponents, and in order to have Sharon
satisfied about him so that he can win against his opponent Kerry, President
Bush honored Sharon by ratifying Israel’s right to annex bigger settlement
blocs in the West Bank and by rejecting any solution to the Palestinian refugee
issue allowing the right of return.... I
now reckon that Bush is worried that the defeated Sharon might play a 'dirty'
game since the Israeli PM seems confident that Bush will not dare retract the
letter of assurances even if he [Sharon] decides to 'disengage' from his
plan.... In other words, Sharon now
doesn't mind distorting his plan, which distorted the Roadmap, in order to
regain the power he lost in the Likud referendum.... President Bush has sold his letter of
assurances to Sharon, but Sharon, the buyer, is now thinking that the vendor
[Bush] dares not ask to get the 'goods' back after [Sharon] was supposed to
[and didn’t] pay a rock-bottom price for them."
"Following The Severe Defeat, Whither Sharon?"
Hani Masri opined in independent Al-Ayyam (5/4): "Sharon received a big slap when 60% of
the Likud participants in the referendum said no to the disengagement
plan.... Sharon was confident [at first]
that he would win when Bush granted him the letter of assurances by which the
American administration changed its traditional historical position of
supporting Israel to one of complete support for only one Israeli party. Destiny has mocked both Bush and his ally
Sharon; poll results showed that the U.S., being the great power, humiliated
itself and undermined its role when it struck at the foundations of the peace process,
international law, international legitimacy resolutions, Palestinian-Israeli
agreements and the Roadmap.... Following
this huge loss, what will Sharon do?"
"Getting Palestinians Past The Bush-Sharon Barriers"
Muhammad Inayah commented in independent Al-Quds
(5/4): "The U.S's position...in the
Middle East has become extremely weak due to its irregular policies, which
Sharon and his Likud party draw up for them....
Palestinians must work on achieving two goals: adhering to their
political unity and modifying their Palestinian-Arab relationship. According to the Bush-Sharon alliance,
Palestinians are politically divided into two groups, terrorist groups and
powerless ones, and that's to isolate them politically, to facilitate stealing
their land and to ignore their rights."
EGYPT: "Total Civil
Nobel Prize Laureate Nagib Mahfouz declared in leading,
pro-government Al-Ahram (5/4):
"In order to counter Israeli escalation, Palestinians could declare
a state of total civil disobedience on every inch of land internationally recognized
as theirs, or disband their national authority and ask the UN to take
charge.... By threatening to liquidate
Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, Ariel Sharon makes it clear that he wants
to eliminate all resistance figures in the Occupied Territories, deprive the
Palestinians of the one leadership they agree on and foment violence and
instability.... Sharon's actions are
those of a man interested in grabbing land, not peace.... Had Sharon detained Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and
Abdel-Aziz Rantissi, the hope for a negotiated peace would not have been so
categorically snuffed, but this is what he wanted.... The Palestinians are dying, not because they
want the violence to continue, but because they want their land.... This is what George W. Bush failed to grasp
when he absolved Sharon, with written guarantees, from commitments to the 1967
borders and the refugees.... Land is
what the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is about, the violence is a
by-product.... If Israel committed
itself to removing all settlements from the Occupied Territories
unconditionally, the violence would fade away.... Sharon's policies, and his constant threats
to Arafat, take the violence to unthinkable dimensions and push the region to
the brink of war."
"Contempt For Counsel"
The pro-government English-language Arab News
held (5/5): "Fifty-three retired US
diplomats have followed the example of their former British colleagues and
written an open letter criticizing Bush Middle East policy. But unlike the UK
diplomats, the Americans, who include a former ambassador to the Kingdom, have
focused on Bush’s unilateral tearing up of the Palestinian road map. Once again
experts on whom in normal times a US administration would be expected to rely
for sound advice have underlined that Bush White House policies are
ill-informed knee-jerk reactions which in their ignorance of the subtleties of
regional politics are only making a bad situation worse. The Likud party’s rejection of Sharon’s plan
to evacuate the Gaza Strip but annex large parts of the West Bank demonstrates
how vacuous White House planning is....
Fundamentalist Zionists within the party would throw out decisively any
attempt to give up an inch of what they see as Greater Israel.... The only winners of course are the Israelis.
There was disbelief among top Zionists when Sharon returned last month from
Washington with more than the Israeli government could ever have hoped for. If
it turns out to have been a confidence trick by Sharon, designed to alienate
the United States from the Arab world and leave it with Israel as its sole
friend in the Middle East, it will be one of the most masterful diplomatic
coups ever.... This shortsighted
president has perpetrated one serious gaffe after another. History may judge Bush
grossly incompetent. Will US voters have the same insight come November?"
"U.S. Support For Sharon’s Ambitions"
Riyadh’s moderate Al-Jazirah opined
(5/4): "Washington understands that
Sharon’s Gaza plan has killed the roadmap, which Washington supported and
designed.... By endorsing Sharon’s plan,
Washington actually agrees that Sharon by himself can determine the fate of the
Palestinian people.... Furthermore, the
U.S.' attitude encourages and nourishes the struggle and spread of
JORDAN: "A Way Out Of
The independent, English-language elite Jordan Times
declared (5/4): "Israeli Prime
Minister Ariel Sharon should have been the first to acknowledge that the
greater majority of his own Likud Party will reject his so-called unilateral
withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and the dismantling of the Jewish settlements
there. So why did he turn to his own hardline party members for endorsement of
his plan when the outcome was known or should have been known all
along?.... Had Sharon been more serious
and determined to withdraw his forces and dismantle settlements housing a few
thousand Israelis, he would have opted to go ahead with this plan without
creating obstacles along the way. Better
still, since the decision to withdraw is a national decision that all Israelis
should be allowed to voice their position on, why not go to the Israeli public
at large and hold a national referendum....
Sharon need not hold any referendum on the issue of withdrawal from
Palestinian lands. The Israeli prime minister is not seeking a green light to
secede from Israeli territory. All that he is seeking to do is to withdraw from
only part of the occupied territories....
Of course, the killing of an Israeli settler and her children while
Israelis were voting on the Gaza disengagement did not help. The Palestinian
militants who did the killing and got themselves killed in the process should
have realised by now that killing women and children is not the kind of message
that they need to give the international community. There is nothing Islamic
about taking the lives of children. Nor is it going to help the process of
finding a peaceful solution to the Palestinian-Israeli problem.... Sharon should be wise to withdraw.
Palestinians should, following such withdrawal, build the infrastructure and
the civil society that will show them as a mature nation ready to take its
destiny in its own hands."
“Sharon’s Plan: For
Execution Or For International Consumption?”
Sultan Hattab asked in semi-official, influential Arabic-language Al-Rai
(5/4): “What Sharon wanted to achieve
from his plan has been achieved. Those
who believed that Sharon would withdraw from Gaza and evacuate 21 settlements
are disillusioned. The man is the father
of settlements. What he did when he
claimed that he would withdraw from Gaza unilaterally is simply establish a temporary
political stand to be sold to the U.S. administration prior to Arab leaders’
visits, and to snatch guarantees never before achieved by Israel, for these
guarantees have wiped out the basic rights of the Palestinian people,
particularly their right of return....
So everyone now returns to square one: no withdrawal, no peace projects,
and no stop to occupation measures that claim the lives of Palestinian
citizens, kill their children, demolish their homes, and assassinate their
activists.... The plan is originally a
ploy to get rid of the roadmap and international pressure and to obtain
“Sharon’s Poll, Extremism And Moderation”
Yaser Za’atreh wrote in center-left, influential Arabic-language Al-Dustour
(5/4): “When Sharon proposed his plan
for unilateral withdrawal, he was in the worst situation since his coming to
power.... For Sharon, the plan
constituted the life preserver on which he could escape the potential miserable
political ending that had haunted him for months since the American failure in
Iraq became evident and promises of bringing about Arab submission, including
that of the Palestinians, started to evaporate.
To confirm his leadership in the Likud and in Israel and to prevent being
outbid by the extremist party, Sharon initiated the poll, believing that he
could succeed, particularly in view of the exceptional American support that he
expected and actually did get. In view
of his disappointment in the poll, we could say that what happened was not so
disastrous. It may have brought Sharon
some benefit, since he now has the image of a moderate man facing extremists
from his party who do not understand his political moves, and this would bring
him even more sympathy from the outside.”
Rafiq Khoury wrote in centrist Al-Anwar (5/4): “Following Likud’s rejection of Sharon’s
unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, there is nothing but questions! Many thought that Sharon would be much more
radical than his party, however, the referendum proved that his Party is much
more radical...the question, however, is:
Should Arabs continue to wait for Israel’s decisions and choices? What are the Arab capitals planning to do? It is really pathetic for Arabs to continue
to wait for what the others might do....
President Assad put his finger on the right spot when he asked: What are the Arabs doing? What do we do between one summit and the
next? How can we expect to confront
challenges when we take decisions without coming up with a mechanism for follow
up and implementation?.... We should
always ask ourselves: What are we
Resolutions Cannot Revoked By Referendum Or Promise"
An unsigned editorial in government-owned Tishreen
said (5/5): "How could President
Bush authorizes himself to cancel three UNSC resolutions: 194, 242 and 338? How
could the Palestinian cause be linked with a Likud referendum.... Erasing international resolutions torpedoes
international norms and imposes a law of jungle.... Palestinian rights are only the Palestinian
people's property, and no one ever has the right to control them.... But this does not exempt the US of its
responsibility to defend international law and enable Palestinians to get their
UAE: "Likud Puts
Sharon In A Dilemma"
The expatriate-oriented English-language Gulf News declared
(5/4): "It would be pleasant to
think that the Likud Party vote against the withdrawal plan of Prime Minister
Ariel Sharon was due to altruism on the part of the Israelis, but that would be
wishful thinking. For it is not that which caused the collapse of Sharon's
proposal to withdraw from the Gaza Strip and some parts of the West Bank. What
motivated the voters--those who turned up anyway, since only 35 per cent of
party members did so--was a number of reasons, but altruism was not among
them. Some Likud Party members had
worried at the risk Sharon was taking in putting his plan to the vote. There
was also concern that pulling out of Gaza, albeit by the end of 2005, would
send a signal to the Palestinians that violence pays, for they have achieved
Israeli withdrawal. Equally, there were more extreme right-wing members of the
Likud Party who are strongly opposed to any withdrawal, because they prefer to
see the elimination of the Palestinians, or their removal to another Arab
country. Sharon's future is not at risk,
since the majority of the Israeli public, according to poll surveys, agree with
his proposals. Whether Sharon decides to now hold a nation-wide referendum on
the issue remains to be seen. Certainly there are fellow cabinet members and
opposition members who would prefer to have the issue discussed in the Knesset
(parliament), but that may not be the route chosen by Sharon. How saddening it is that the future of
Palestine is being decided by a minority faction in Israel: the very people who
have no right to take such decisions over the future of Palestinians. For the
way forward is through one process--the roadmap proposed by the Quartet: the
UN, the EU, Russia and the US."
"Bigger Bigot Than Thou"
The expatriate-oriented English-language Khaleej
Times held (5/4): "Where does
Ariel Sharon go from here? Although a red-faced Sharon has vowed to stay the
course (as Bush would put it), it is clear that the game is up for the Zionist
leader. By rejecting his ‘disengagement’ plan, the Likud party has dealt him a
mortal blow.... The stinging verdict of
the referendum is sure to spark a massive rebellion in his rabid, right-wing
party forcing the Israeli leader out of power. There are lessons for everyone
in this episode. Firstly, the extent of radicalisation of Israeli establishment
and Likud Party belies the West’s misplaced trust that Israel’s mainstream
parties are genuinely interested in resolving this conflict and promoting peace
in the region. Secondly, the Palestinians and Arab-Muslim world must now pressure
the United Nations and the Mid East quartet to push for a negotiated
settlement. The U.S. in particular, having backed Sharon’s outrageous proposal,
has to play the role of a just and honest broker for enduring peace. In a
blatant show of unilateralism, President Bush chose to endorse the Sharon plan
even before it was put to vote in Israel. The move ripped apart the ‘roadmap’,
which was the only point of reference between the Israelis and the
Palestinians. This referendum demonstrates that any plan that does not have a
clear popular mandate is doomed to fail. No amount of international backing and
endorsement, even from a superpower, can wish it otherwise."
"Reject Sharon Plan"
The English-language expatriate-oriented Khaleej
Times declared (5/2): "Israel's
Likud Party sets out to vote on Ariel Sharon’s so-called disengagement plan
today. The rabid Zionist party’s ‘yes’ or ‘no’ vote will determine the future
of Sharon and the Jewish state. If the party favours the plan, nothing can stop
the Israeli leader from going ahead with his pullout plan by withdrawing troops
from the Gaza Strip and evacuating the 21 Jewish settlements in Palestinian
territory. On the other hand, if the
party rejects the Sharon plan, there would be two immediate and disastrous
consequences: Firstly, the Israeli leader, having turned this referendum into a
trust vote on his leadership, will be forced to bow out. Secondly, a rejection
vote will trigger a constitutional and political crisis in the Jewish state.
Significantly, four opinion polls published on Friday predicted that Likud
members are set to reject the plan by a margin of between one and seven
percentage points. Whatever the referendum outcome, poor Palestinians are in
for more trouble and suffering. If Likud party gives a ‘go-ahead’ mandate,
Sharon will lose no time in pushing ahead with his plan to formally annex
Palestinian land in the West Bank further compounding Palestinians’ problems. A
rejection vote by the governing party, on the other hand, will mean more of the
current political uncertainty, chaos and bloodshed for the indigenous
population of Palestinians. The only way out of the mess is a just and
acceptable peace deal brokered by the international community. Later this week,
when UN Secretary general Kofi Annan convenes the meeting of the Middle East
peace quartet of UN, U.S., EU and Russia, he must push these key players to
reject Sharon plan and renew efforts for a negotiated, peaceful and just
resolution of this conundrum. Unilateral, bullying and backdoor tactics cannot
bring peace to Mideast."
CHINA (HONG KONG SAR):
"Roadmap's Architects Must Step Up Pressure"
The independent English-language South China Morning Post
said (5/4): "Right-wing members of
Israel's Likud Party have defeated a plan for a total withdrawal from the Gaza
Strip and limited withdrawal from the West Bank--because it was too generous to
Palestinians. Their action speaks
volumes about how much the situation has degenerated since the road map for
peace was introduced this time last year....
As much as Likud and its hardline approach are part of the problem, the
Palestinians and their leadership have not been blameless. Promises to end
support for armed militants have not been met, while the proposed Gaza
withdrawal resulted only in more aggressive attacks on Israelis. The intifada, or uprising, has done nothing
to improve life for the ordinary impoverished Palestinian, while the
Palestinian Authority has failed to elevate leaders acceptable to Israeli
negotiators.... Mr. Sharon, for his
part, has vowed to stick with his plans for withdrawing from Gaza and building
the West Bank security fence that the UN says will hurt hundreds of thousands
of Palestinians. Whether he will now
seek approval through a national referendum, a reshuffled cabinet or a new
coalition with the Labor Party, the withdrawals could be on hold for many
months. The poll defeat is a worrying
sign of the intransigence of Israel's right wing. But it could also be a chance to derail the
disengagement proposal for good. Those
who are in a position to push this cause--primarily the road map's
architects--should now step up the pressure and argue for a return to
“For Sharon Referendum Result Is Not Political Defeat”
Leading independent Kompas observed
(5/5): "The results of the
referendum...indicated that the Israelis rejected Sharon’s plan to close Jewish
settlements in the Gaza Strip. But
Sharon did not see it as a political defeat. Sharon continues to make political
maneuvers so his plan will not be cancelled, only changed. Moreover, the U.S. and Britain have supported
him.... Without heeding international
opinion and the ownership right of the Palestinians, Israel has demonstrated a
defiant attitude shown in the results of the referendum. They have no desire to hand over the West
Bank and the Gaza Strip they occupied since 1967 to the Palestinians, the
owner.... The closure of some of the settlements
will not, whatsoever, give any meaning to the struggle of the Palestinians. Even if all the settlements were closed, the
chance for the Palestinians to regain their territories remains unlikely so
long as Israel does not end its 37 year occupation.... Inevitably, the one-sidedness of the U.S. and
its allies [for the Israelis] will only add to Palestinians’ anger. Bush and Blair’s statement to support
Sharon’s plan constitutes a very sensitive issue to Palestinains.”
INDIA: "Gaza: Pullout Or Consolidation"
Praful Bidwai concluded in the centrist Hindu (5/3): "This week marks a turning point for
Israel and its settlements in the Palestinian territories it occupies--a
cardinal issue in this crisis-ridden, turbulent, unhappy land.... The referendum held on Sunday within Sharon's
Right-wing Likud Party will provide a first, tentative answer. Going by opinion
polls, the dice seem loaded against the pullout. But whatever the verdict, and
however Sharon acts on it, the Palestinian crisis will worsen.... Even if Israel evacuates the settlements and
its troops, Gaza will not be free of Israel's suzerainty.... Israel will control Gaza's airspace, seacoast
and land approaches. The Israeli plan is
to trade "disengagement" for the indefinite preservation of most of
the 120 settlements in the West Bank....
One of the main objectives of 'disengagement' is to avoid and bypass a
political process or negotiated settlement of the Palestinian question. As
Sharon himself put it, the withdrawal would severely harm Palestinians and end
their dream of a Palestinian state....
Ultra-conservative Israelis see disengagement as betrayal.... They see it as violating Mr. Sharon's
established strategy: the best response to pressure to give up occupied
territories is to further expand the settlements! By contrast, most
Palestinians are livid at the plan and its uncritical approval by Bush, itself
linked to the declaration that the Palestinian refugees displaced during
Israel's creation in 1948 cannot return to their homes.... The Sharon-Bush declaration has deeply
offended the Palestinians and strengthened far-Right forces in the
Center-right O Globo held (5/4): "The outcome of Likud’s internal
referendum...shows a divided, confused country.
Prime-Minister Sharon, like most of his countrymen, wants Israel outside
of Gaza even without an accord with the Palestinians--a plan rejected by the
Prime Minister’s coreligionists at last Sunday’s polls. What wing of the Israeli society does Sharon
represent if he disagrees with the will of Likud’s majority? And in the name of whom does he rule if his
party doesn't reflect the will of the people’s majority?”
Center-right O Estado de S. Paulo said (5/4): "Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's defeat
may have positive ramifications in the search for a solution to the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict.... The
only alternative is the renewal of the peace process through the resumption of
negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, which have been
paralyzed by violence since Sharon's election and the beginning of the second
Intifada. These negotiations, however,
should no longer follow the lines of the exhausted gradualist model of the Oslo
talks, which was also adopted for the almost-forgotten Road Map of
2003.... A more consistent starting
point is the Geneva Accord of December 2003...which incorporates many of the
proposals presented by then-President Clinton in 2000.... The accord is an auspicious one, but will not
work as long as Sharon remains in the government and as long as the U.S.
provides blind support to the Israeli right wing."
Liberal Folha de S. Paulo concluded (5/4): "Prime Minister Ariel Sharon bluffed and
lost.... One cannot discard the
possibility that other leaders may take advantage of Sharon's weakness to force
new elections.... Sharon made at least a
tactical mistake. His plan has many serious problems, but it has the merit of
dismantling the settlements in Gaza, which is a necessary, but not sufficient,
step towards peace with the Palestinians. This idea is now running the risk of