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Dr. Charles G. Cogan

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Ariel (Sharon), We Hardly Knew Ye

Posted: 04/ 8/2012 8:47 pm

All Israeli withdrawals are unilateral; otherwise the Arabs would never agree with them. Thus it was with the unilateral withdrawal from Southern Lebanon and the subsequent unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. Despite the fears and the heartaches that Arab rockets from Gaza have since caused, few if any Israelis would like to see the Strip re-occupied.

What is not known generally outside Israel is that Ariel Sharon, who as Prime Minister in 2004-2005 orchestrated Israel's unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, was planning to follow up with a third unilateral withdrawal, this time from the Israeli-occupied West Bank. He had gone ahead with the planning and had assembled an informal team under the aegis of his chef de cabinet, Dov Weissglass, in order to implement the idea.* Unfortunately, at the end of 2005 he fell ill and in January 2006, he suffered a massive stroke that left him in a coma. The West Bank project has been in effect nullified.

It seems counter-intuitive that Sharon, Israel's quintessential hard-liner, would lend himself to the role of implementer of Israel's withdrawal from the West Bank, occupied in the war of June 1967. But the elder Sharon had undergone a sort of epiphany, reaching out for some sort of solution to this intractable conflict. Even in his earlier days, Sharon prided himself on his ability to understand and relate to Arabs. For example, he would address the late King Hussein of Jordan as "Your Majesty."

There is no denying that unilateral withdrawal from what would be most, but not all, of the West Bank, would be infinitely more complicated than Gaza, where the number of settlers was infinitesmal compared to the thousands of settlers now living in the West Bank. But it is also true that the continued occupation of the West Bank, after 45 years, is a cancer, eating away, day after day, at Israel's credibility and world status.

Perhaps Sharon's idea is a lesson for sometime in the future.

*From a talk by Prof. Asher Susser at Harvard University on April 4, 2012. Prof. Susser is the author of "Israel, Jordan, and Palestine: The Two-State Imperative" (Brandeis University Press, 2012).