Sharon’s “Third Way”—Sowing the Wind

Ariel Sharon’s policies garnered support among Israelis and in the Western press—so much so that his new party could fare well without him. But they come with high costs.

Genius. That’s what a January 6 column in the Washington Post, “A Calamity for Israel,” called Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s third way policy.

Before Sharon was elected in 2001, there were two main alternatives to dealing with the Palestinian equation. First was the idea that Israel should compromise with the Palestinians; the alternative was to stiffen Israeli resolve and refuse to give in to a “peace partner” bent on Israel’s destruction. For a generation, Israeli politics see-sawed between these opposing views.

Then Ariel Sharon introduced a third way.

“Sharonism … consists of the following principles. First, ongoing warfare, particularly the intifada that have been waged by the Palestinians, is unbearable to Israel. Second, the prevention of intifada—and particularly of suicide bombings—must consist of two parts: The use of decisive force against the commanders of the rising, and the creation of some sort of settlement that would remove the Palestinians’ motivation for waging the war. Third, since no one speaks authoritatively for the Palestinians—the Palestinian National Authority (pna) cannot control Hamas, for example—a traditional path of negotiation is impossible. And thus, fourth, Israel should impose a settlement on the Palestinians—one that includes the creation of a Palestinian state and the withdrawal by Israeli forces from the bulk of territories occupied in 1967” (Stratfor, January 9; emphasis ours throughout).

Sharon’s strategy uses unilateral withdrawals. By vacating specific territories, Sharon envisioned the move bolstering Israel’s security. With improved security, Israel could focus on improving its citizens’ quality of life.

The Washington Post column was effusive in its praise of this strategy: “The success of [the security] fence-plus-unilateral-withdrawal strategy is easily seen in the collapse of the intifada. Palestinian terrorist attacks are down 90 percent. Israel’s economy has revived. In 2005, it grew at the fastest rate of the developed countries. Tourists are back, and the country has regained its confidence” (op. cit.).

This is simple arithmetic, they say. Take one piece of occupied land, minus Israel’s occupation and you arrive at the answer: peace, security and economic prosperity.

Even American President George Bush hoisted himself on the bandwagon. “I can understand why people think this decision is one that will create a vacuum into which terrorism will flow,” he said in an interview with Israeli television. “I happen to disagree. I think this will create an opportunity for democracy to emerge” (Chicago Tribune, Aug. 17, 2005).

Clearly, some read the facts to suggest that Sharon’s strategy was working. Polls anticipating Israeli elections in March show a sizeable percentage of Israelis backing Sharon’s new party, Kadima, despite the general having suffered a debilitating stroke, and party leadership being turned over to lesser-known individuals. Plenty of people appear to believe that this “third way” held promise.

The reality on the ground, however, is quite opposite that painted by the Washington Post and President Bush. Consider what has happened since Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.

First, the third way has emboldened Israel’s enemies.

Israel’s retreat from the Gaza Strip was viewed as a momentous victory for terrorism by the Palestinians. A joint Israeli-Palestinian public opinion poll last June found that 71 percent of Palestinians saw the turnover of Gaza as a triumph for the Palestinian armed struggle against Israel. Leaders of terrorist groups boldly claimed credit for the withdrawal, and their popularity among Palestinians swelled. To the Palestinians, 400 attacks in Gaza over the previous five years had paid great dividends. And how could they not view it this way? Does anyone believe Israel would have given up conquered territory to its enemy if 1,200 of its people hadn’t been killed in the previous four years?

In the end, the message from Israel to the Palestinians using unilateral withdrawal is clear: violence works. So, why should the Palestinians quit while they are ahead? They will not. Rather, they will continue to use violence to shake up Israel’s psychological mind-frame with the goal of extracting as much land from Israel as possible.

Second, terror used as a political tool has not abated to any large degree.

According to the Israel Security Agency’s 2005 terrorism report, last year was marked by the tahdia (“calm”) declared by Palestinian groups “committed” to refraining from perpetrating acts of violence against Israeli citizens. However, the depth of that commitment was demonstrated by the fact that during that same year, 2,990 terrorist attacks against Israeli targets were catalogued, with no abatement in frequency after the Gaza disengagement.

Gaza black market arms dealing plays a major role in arming the intifada. Comparing the last four months against the first eight, 2005 also saw an explosion of armament smuggling into the Gaza Strip. During the first eight months, while Gaza remained under Israeli control, “approximately 200 anti-tank rocket launchers, approximately 50 anti-tank rockets, approximately 1,800 automatic weapons and a considerable amount of ammunition were smuggled in.” Compare those statistics to the four months that followed Israel’s pullout: “Since 12 Sept., 2005, over 5 tons of explosives, approximately 200 anti-tank rocket launchers, approximately 350 anti-tank rockets, approximately 5,000 automatic rifles, over 1 million rounds of ammunition and a limited number of anti-aircraft rockets have been smuggled from Egypt into the Gaza Strip. The bulk of this smuggling occurred between 12-18 Sept., 2005” (ibid.). Not exactly reassuring statistics for Israeli citizens.

Third, using demography as an excuse to cleave territory from Israel threatens the existence of the nation-state.

During a television address on Israeli television the week the Gaza pullout began, Ariel Sharon argued that rapid Palestinian population growth meant Israel would be bred out of certain areas. Sharon made this case to his people: “We cannot hold Gaza for good. More than a million Palestinians live there, doubling their numbers every generation” (Associated Press, Aug. 15, 2005).

Actually, Sharon and other prominent politicians feel that the demographic bomb is one of the greatest threats to Israel’s existence. According to Reuters figures published in a January 13 report, before the Gaza disengagement, of the 10.5 million people living under Israeli control, 49 percent were Jewish and the other 51 percent Arab. The Gaza pullout cut the Arab figure to 40 percent.

According to University of Haifa academic Arnon Soffer, who has met Sharon on a number of occasions to discuss the demographic problem, the percent of Palestinians attributable to Israel’s population would drop to 16 percent if Israel were to evacuate 85 percent of settlers and troops in the West Bank, including much of East Jerusalem.

But it should be clear that Israel cannot continue to hand over land based on fertility rates and population statistics. Ultimately, a nation—particularly one as tiny and difficult to defend as Israel—only has so much land to give. Continual whittling away of territory threatens the existence of the state itself. It is suicide.

This leads us to our concluding point: Israel’s enemies are using democratic means to further their goal of pushing Jews out of the Middle East.

Should Hamas do well in the Palestinian legislative elections this month, as they are widely expected to, Israel is staring down the barrel of a Hamas-dominated Palestinian Authority. After Hamas’s success in municipal elections last year, analysts envision the terrorist group eclipsing the ruling Fatah and controlling the Palestinian government.

Hamas is responsible for most of the Israeli deaths in terrorist attacks. And though it is poised to win a majority in the Palestinian elections, it refuses to back down from its position that Israel should cease to exist. According to a January 12 International Herald Tribune article, Mahmoud Zahar, the most prominent Hamas leader in Gaza, said “that his faction would not recognize Israel even if his party won the Palestinian elections on January 25, adding that the faction would not give up its weapons and that its resistance movement would continue.”

Any hope that Sharon’s third way is the path to long-term peace is misguided. Hamas is not giving an inch as Israel gives away its sovereignty. The unilateral withdrawal from Gaza has stiffened the resolve of Israel’s enemies to seek its eventual collapse.

The policy has emboldened Israel’s enemies. Weapons are being smuggled into Gaza at sky-high rates, and Hamas, one of Israel’s deadliest enemies, is about to become a legal fixture in the Palestinian territories. The future looks bleak.

But don’t take our word for it. Weigh the words of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. He, when campaigning for re-election in 2003, said this about the policy of unilateral withdrawals: “A unilateral withdrawal is not a recipe for peace. It is a recipe for war”—a morsel of wisdom he subsequently forgot.

Israel is about to reap a whirlwind of consequences. “For they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind …” (Hosea 8:7).

Whether or not Israel will continue to pursue this strategy remains to be seen. But the consequences of its having been pursued even to this point are already beginning to build. As these rise like hot mercury under the sweltering sun, Israel is prophesied in the Bible to get so desperate that it will turn to Germany to solve the Palestinian question.

What will follow is a whirlwind of trouble for Israel, and the world. For more understanding on this topic, see The King of the South.