Thursday, January 12, 2006

Israel after Sharon

Geoffrey Kemp, director of regional strategic programs at The Nixon Center, organized a panel discussion today on the question of "Israel after Sharon." A few of the predictions:

--General Shlomo Brom (Jaffe Center for Strategic Studies): The new party that Ariel Sharon created, Kadima, is not solely dependent on Sharon's personal leadership and popularity to survive and grow. Israelis have grown tired of the ongoing conflict with the Palestinians and want new ideas and solutions. There is a strong desire for a new centrist party that breaks out of the Labor/Likud dynamic and thus his prediction that Kadima will not fall apart after Sharon leaves the political arena.

--Sam Lewis (American Academy of Diplomacy, former U.S. Ambassador to Israel): Sharon leaves a number of legacies to his successors, including the fact that the taboo on settlement removal has been broken; it is now acceptable to talk about a two-state solution; Israel may indeed move to a three-party system (with three stable blocs instead of two poles and a lot of smaller "kingmaker" parties); and the Sharon method of dealing with terror (targeting leaders for focused attacks) which is likely to be continued since Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz is expected to retain his position. But Ehud Olmert still faces real challenges: how to lead a cabinet bisected by rivalries and populated by ambitious politicians who each can envision himself as prime minister; and whether the task of removing settlement outposts in the West Bank will prove to be so difficult that Olmert, who has less political capital than Sharon, will not be able to tackle removing some of the hard-core settlers from other places in the territories.

--Edward "Ned" Walker (Middle East Institute, former U.S. ambassador both to Israel and to Egypt): Sharon was not as revolutionary as he has been depicted; back in the early 1980s he had never believed Gaza to be intrinsic to Israel's security and had always focused on settlements in the West Bank that he felt were of strategic importance to Israel.

Sharon's "unilateralism" was linked to his position that there was no current Palestinian leadership that could deliver on peace with Israel and therefore the best strategy was to create breathing room for Israel (10-15 years) until a Palestinian leadership emerges that recognizes the reality of Israel's existence.

Sharon has bequeathed to his sucessor his own "roadmap" for peace:

--Israeli-defined borders for the West Bank
--consolidation of the Israeli hold on Jerusalem
--extension of Israeli sovereignty over the large settlement blocs on the West Bank while withdrawing from exposed outposts and isolated settlements

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