Monday, January 09, 2006
As I write, it is Monday in the United States, Tuesday in Israel, and the vigil for Ariel Sharon goes on. He continues to fight for his life, and doctors unconnected to his case continue to give conflicting predictions. No one yet knows if he will regain consciousness; even if he does, no one knows what degree of brain damage we can expect.
In the meantime, people across the world are attempting to show what they're made of with their reactions. Sharon is getting good press even across the Arab world, which has vilified him for decades. Egypt's Hosni Mubarak calls him "a man of peace", for instance; perhaps he forgets that, when Sharon was first elected Prime Minister, Mubarak refused to meet with him. As I said earlier, this is a natural reaction; Sharon's political enemies in Israel have been praising him too. (For contrast, Honest Reporting has some samples of what people used to say about him.)
From Amir Taheri, we see an interesting analysis of what he calls "Sharonism". (hat tip: Roger L. Simon)
As a professional soldier, Sharon saw that Israel had won all its wars with the Arabs in military terms but failed to translate those victories into lasting political gains. At some point he must have wondered why.I agree with this analysis, although, to be fair, it was not always the UN solely at fault. It was the United States, for example, that saw Israel capture the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt in 1956... and demanded that it be given back. It was the United States (as personified by Henry Kissinger) that saw Israel make not-insignificant territorial gains, after being brutally attacked, in 1973 -- and demanded, again, that they be returned. (Much more detail can be found here.)
For a war to be won it is not enough for one side to claim victory, although that is essential. It is also necessary for one side to admit defeat. The problem in the case of the Arab-Israeli wars, however, was that the side that had won every time was not allowed to claim victory while the side that had lost was prevented from admitting defeat.
This was a novel situation in history, throughout which the victor and the vanquished had always acknowledged their respective positions and moved beyond it in accordance with a peace imposed by the victor.
In the Israeli-Arab case this had not been done because each time the UN had intervened to put the victor and the vanquished on an equal basis and lock them into a problematic situation in the name of a mythical quest for an impossible peace.
(Don't misunderstand me -- I'm all too willing to blame the UN for much of the chaos in the Middle East, and much of the needless misery suffered by Israel, her Arab neighbors, and the Palestinians. From the execrable UNRWA, to the ridiculous bookkeeping nightmare of the numbers of Palestinian refugees, to the charade of the many toothless UN "peacekeeping forces", the UN has richly earned the mistrust of Israelis -- and seems determined to go on earning it. But much as I despise the messes the UN has made, I don't want to criticize them for the wrong things.)
Mr. Taheri continues:
There is, however, not a single instance in history in which the winner of a war has given the loser any land in exchange for peace. Nor is there a single instance in which justice and peace have gone together as Siamese twins. In every case the winner wins the land and gives the loser peace. In every case the peace that is imposed is unjust to the loser and just to the winner.(emphasis added)
Without going far back into history, it is sufficient to glance at some of the dozens of wars in Europe, Asia and Africa in recent decades to see that they all ended with a peace designed, if not dictated, by the winner. Thus for more than 50 years Israel and the Arabs have been asked to achieve what no other warring parties have ever achieved.
Israel-Palestine became the only conflict to defy a resolution. Successive Israeli governments preferred to wait until there was a Palestinian partner that would accept the kind of peace Israel could offer. This was mirrored by the Palestinians, who were asked by their Arab brothers and others in the UN to wait until Israel offered a peace they would like.
Sharon understood that if such a formula remained in force there would never be peace between Israel and the Palestinians. It was necessary for the victor to claim victory, regardless of what anyone else said. It was also necessary for the victor to take unilateral action by imposing the peace it could live with.
Mr. Taheri claims (convincingly, in my opinion) that this is precisely what Sharon has done -- what he calls "Sharonism" -- by insisting that Israel dictate her own terms to the peace she has so desperately sought for the past sixty years. This is why Sharon's Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza, argues Mr. Taheri, and why work has continued unabated on the Security Fence in the West Bank, in spite of almost universal worldwide condemnation. Sharon repeatedly insisted that the path of the Security Fence was not necessarily the final border -- but we can expect that, if the Palestinians refuse to accept it, then it will become the final border, for it will define the boundary of Israel's choosing.
Israel must live, and must plan for her own future; she cannot wait forever for the losers of her various wars to decide what peace they'd like to accept. "Sharonism" takes back the initiative for Israel, the initiative she ought to have had all along.
Can Sharonism survive its architect? One hopes that it can; it offers the best hope for a lasting peace that the region has seen in decades. Mr. Taheri thinks that it will; I hope that he's right.
If Israel dictates her own borders, announcing that she will live peacefully within them unless her neighbors make that impossible, the Palestinians will certainly be upset. (No final borders will be acceptable to all Palestinians, so long as Israel remains on the map at all.) But Israel will have enforced her will without killing anybody, which is a heck of a lot more than the Palestinians can say.
Israel will also have given the Palestinians a stake of land -- not all the land they wanted, by any means, but land nonetheless -- on which to root, hog, or die. That's more than most new nations have been given. (It's also more than the Palestinians were ever given by their own Arab brethren.) Time will tell, if we get that far, if the Palestinians are mature enough to understand that, and build their nation on what they have.
Sooner or later, the Palestinians will need to choose: do they prefer raising their children, or killing their children? Sharonism forces them to make that choice.