March 25, 2005

What's Sharon Thinking?

Admittedly, I don't write about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict a whole lot, not for lack of interest or even for fear of inviting a shitstorm. It's just that trying to make predictions or analyze what's going to happen next, or whatever else pundits are supposed to do, really requires following Israeli (and Palestinian) politics fairly obsessively. And there's no time for that, at least in these quarters. So the only other option is: "Well, they've been fighting for so long, you know, and these latest developments sure look promising but gosh, who knows..." and I'd rather not run that sort of blog.

But it's fair and semi-banal to say that the key question over the next few months, as the peace process supposedly unfolds, will be: What does Ariel Sharon want? (Indeed, even though far more profiles of Mahmoud Abbas have been written lately, he seems like the less enigmatic figure here.) Some say Sharon has no interest in giving the Palestinians any more than 50 percent of the West Bank, and that his unilateral withdrawal from Gaza was an obvious ploy toward this end. Others think he's a pragmatist who isn't all that keen on the big Zionist dream. And still others think he's just a flunkey for George W. Bush and will do whatever the U.S. wants him to do, really. All of these theories sound plausible to me, just like a lot of theories about George Bush might sound plausible to a German who doesn't really pick through the Washington Post each and every day, but, um, who knows...

Anyway, that was all a longer-than-necessary preface for linking to this new MERIP essay on Israel-Palestine by Gary Sussman that's worth a peek. Sussman thinks Sharon is trying to get to stage two of the "road map"—creating a provisional Palestinian state that includes up to 80 percent of the West Bank—but will then try to avoid going any further. The devious hope here is that reaching step two will essentially reduce the conflict to a humdrum dispute over borders (there are, after all, dozens of such disputes all over the world) rather than the national liberation issue it is today. So, Sharon wins. Okay, we've heard this before, but then Sussman goes the extra step, suggesting that Sharon is also actively trying to create a situation wherein Palestine merges with Jordan. My understanding is that Sharon's vision on this isn't entirely implausible, especially if Jordan ever hops on the Bush-doctrine bandwagon, and opens the gates of democracy to its Palestinian majority. Then we'll see what's up.

Er, so read the piece.
-- Brad Plumer 3:36 AM || ||