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SHARON STEERS ISRAEL & PALESTINIANS TO HISTORIC CROSSROADS

PM Sharon: 'Both Sides Will Have To Make Painful Compromises For Peace'

'UN Must Act To Prevent (Iran) From Acquiring Nuclear Weapons'

PM Ariel Sharon

While Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was making his speech to the U.N. General Assembly in New York, anarchy ruled in the Gaza Strip and in the Philadelfi Corridor between Gaza And Egypt which is now manned by Egyptian soldiers after IDF troops pulled out. The Israeli leader has also made clear that if Hamas runs in the Palestinian elections this January, Israel will not cooperate. Hamas has a declared goal of wiping Israel off the map. Following Sharon's address at the U.N., the new Iranian President Ahmed Ahmadinejad again defied the international body by declaring that Tehran will continue its enrichment of uranium required for producing nuclear weapons. Iran has also threatened to exterminate the Jewish state.

Ariel Sharon's U.N. address has steered the state of Israel and the virtual reality state of Palestine to the crossroads of ideology versus political pragmatism. Both Israelis and Palestinians must now determine how they wish to proceed in this last stage of the Arab-Israeli conflict. (Iran is Muslim but not Arabic.) The Prime Minister has presented his no frills approach; the only solution to peaceful co-existence is through compromise and painful concession. Sharon stepped away from the U.N. podium to the applause of the international community. It recalled the heady days of another renowned Israeli military commander who on turning political leader realized that peace like war comes with a price-tag.

It was ironic that Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian leadership have long sought to internationalize the conflict by having the U.N. play a greater role in imposing a solution, molded in their favor, by the pro-Arab 'automatic majority'. Yet, Sharon appeared to have turned the tables with his moderate tone and balanced approach. Yes, the Palestinians were entitled to a state today but not at the expense of the Jewish state that existed more than three-thousand years ago. Nor, Sharon implied, could the Jewish state be swamped by the return of Palestinian refugees. That would be the price the Palestinians would have to pay for their state; Israelis would have to give up more settlements.In presenting his case, Sharon was non-confrontational speaking with the confidence of a leader who had nothing to prove; his audience knew he had already done so by carrying out the unilateral Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and four West Bank settlements. Sharon has alienated his own Likud party and may have risked his own political career by evicting settlers and demolishing the very same settlements, he more than anyone had built. His credentials, at this stage, are a matter of record.Sharon's U.N. speech has articulated for Israelis and Palestinians the historic crossroads they now face. The fact it has been done by the 'hard-line bulldozer' of the Likud party, bound by its Land of Israel ideology, makes all the difference. It was another almost subliminal message to Likudniks who may soon decide Sharon's political fate. Never before has Sharon spelled out in such a comprehensive fashion where he has come from and where he plans on going. Sharon has jettisoned the Land of Israel ideology and adopted a course of political pragmatism and, in so doing he has captured the center stage of Israeli politics. It is where mainstream Israel is and has been for more than a decade.

Yitzhak Rabin

By throwing its overwhelming support behind the late Yitzhak Rabin of Labor, mainstream Israel signaled at Oslo in 1993 that it was ready to withdraw from settlements and accept a peaceful Palestinian state. That was the implied meaning of Oslo and it also swept Ehud Barak into office in 1999, even after the wave of Palestinian suicide bombings in 1996. Clearly, the Palestinians could have had their state years ago if they had only agreed to halt the terrorism. Again in his seminal speech of June 24th 2002, U.S. President George W. Bush made the same offer. Sharon has agreed, the Palestinian jury is still out. Its spokesman Mahmoud Abbas keeps saying yes, but Abbas has yet to prove he is the guy in charge and the Palestinian verdict is still unknown.At present, things don't look all that promising. After the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza anarchy, the Palestinian 'fauda' governs the Palestinian Street. Moussa Arafat, an Abbas aid was dragged from his home, shot dead gangland style and his body then thrown into a garbage dump. Chairman Abbas now says he hopes his Palestinian security forces will impose law and order by the end of the year. Other Palestinian officials blame Israel for the burning of the synagogues and looting because Sharon carried out the evacuation without coordinating with them. Hamas and the other terror organizations vow never to give up their weapons - that is, their freedom to attack Israel when they deem fit. Nor do they even accept the Palestinian line of a bi-national democratic state of Israel, including the return of the refugees, where Arabs and Jews would live happily ever after. Islamic Jihad and Hamas have declared a bitter war to the end against Israelis when the time comes. Even the soft-spoken Abbas demands that the refugees must be allowed to return to Israel.

Back in the Likud, Bibi Netanyahu charges that Sharon's speech proves the Prime Minister has bolted the party to become a bone fide left-winger who has sold out the 'Land of Israel' ideology. But is the former Finance Minister not missing the point? If it's simply a matter of a readiness to make massive concessions to the Palestinians why is the Labor party doing so poorly in public opinion polls in the match-up with Sharon? It is fair to say that a majority of Israelis suspect that Labor would again 'give away the store' if it took power. Arik may be trailing Bibi in the Likud race, but he is far more popular with the public at large. This is because the Prime Minister has succeeded in merging two attributes of a national leader-personality and platform. Sharon views Israel as being vulnerable in the geo-political reality of today unless it accepts a policy of compromise. At the same time, he has the confidence of most Israelis when it comes to a no nonsense approach to terrorism and security. By appealing to the far right and talking in terms of Likud dogma, Netanyahu has distanced himself from mainstream Israel. After Sharon's U.N. address, the next public opinion polls may show the Prime Minister has widened his lead over Netanyahu with Israeli voters. If so, this may also impact on how Likud central committee members vote at their party convention on September 26th.

David Essing

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