An avid enthusiast of Ariel Sharon and his unilateral disengagement plan recently opined that the plan “has one inborn defect: it has no vision, has no diplomatic horizon and is devoid of any ideological dimension.” [1] This view of the Israeli prime minister — tactically brilliant but lacking as a strategic thinker — is common but mistaken. Sharon clearly belongs in the pantheon of master tacticians in modern politics, but he does indeed have a long-term strategy — and disengagement fits right in.

His vision is no longer the creation of limited Palestinian state on some 50 percent of the West Bank, as many have long assumed. Instead, Sharon envisions a Palestinian state on a significant portion of the West Bank, possibly as much as 80 percent. Sharon is all too aware that such an entity is not “viable.” He assumes, in fact, that a two-state arrangement cannot be sustained and will not bring an end to Palestinian-Israeli strife.

In the long term, the Israeli premier hopes that the Palestinian state will meld with Jordan. His assumption is that unilateral disengagement from Gaza and parts of the West Bank, his plan for a carefully managed transition away from direct Israeli rule over the majority of the Palestinians, will set this process in motion. Over time, Sharon calculates, contiguity between “Palestine” and its neighbor to the east, as well as increased trade, cultural ties and the “democratization” championed by the Bush administration, will induce Palestinians on both the West and East Banks of the Jordan to agitate for Palestinian-Jordanian federation themselves. If one assumes that Sharon has quietly held on to his once openly expressed belief that “Jordan is Palestine,” his break with his old supporters among the settler movements and the right becomes easier to understand.

Sharon’s Intentions

Politicians are far more forthright than we believe. They very often mean what they say. If one, for example, reads former South African President F. W. de Klerk’s speeches from 1989 until well into the negotiations process that eventually ended apartheid, one is struck by how candidly he set out his agenda. De Klerk sought to impose a limited democracy, blunting universal democracy with significant guarantees for the white minority. He hoped to do so by controlling the pace and scope of the transition. He also believed that he could outsmart the African National Congress, which he assumed to be significantly weakened by the collapse of its patron, the Soviet Union. In a similar way, Mikhail Gorbachev sought to engineer a process that ensured the perpetuation of Soviet-style communism, albeit reformed. That perestroika and Pretoria-stroika failed to secure their objectives is, of course, another matter entirely.

Major speeches of political leaders and statements by their aides are a vital guide for those not privy to the leaders’ inner thoughts. Ariel Sharon has been less than charitable in indicating where he is ultimately headed, but he has been clear about his immediate objectives. In statements since December 2003, when he announced his disengagement plan, Sharon has repeatedly noted that he wishes to buy Israel more time to fashion a Palestinian statelet amidst the settlement blocs, bypass roads and military bases in the West Bank. He has been coy, however, about what might follow.

Sharon has not changed his fundamental views on the Arab-Israeli conflict. Like many Israelis, he deeply mistrusts Arabs. As Dov Weisglass, the prime minister’s trusted policy adviser, explains, he “believes that the Arab world views Israel as an imposition, and won’t come to terms with its existence.” [2] Hence Sharon rejects the very premise of a comprehensive, negotiated two-state deal that would lead to peace and reconciliation — the sort of deal that his erstwhile rivals in the Labor Party hoped would usher in “a new Middle East.” The guiding assumption of all major official and unofficial peace initiatives to date — whether the Oslo accords of 1993 and 1994, the Saudi initiative of March 2002 or the Geneva accords of December 2003 — has been that a comprehensive deal will remove the Palestinian-Israeli conflict from the list of regional irritants, paving the way for harmony, cooperation and integration. The most noted and sanguine exponent of this vision, of course, has been Labor Party leader Shimon Peres. For Ariel Sharon, however, there is no new Middle East at the end of the tunnel. Instead, he seeks to use unilateral measures to manage the conflict so as to favor Israel. This conflict management paradigm is, in essence, a modern variation upon the traditional Revisionist Zionist notion of the “iron wall,” as espoused by Ze’ev Jabotinsky. [3] Prior to Israel’s declaration of independence, Revisionists dismissed the idea of negotiated compromise with Palestinian nationalism. Instead, they called for building a figurative “iron wall” between Israel and Arab interlocutors until a “moderate” Arab leadership emerged that was no longer intent on destroying the Jewish state-in-the-making. The second intifada convinced Israelis that an iron wall is still necessary.

Sharon’s deep wariness of the Arabs explains why he long opposed the creation of an independent Palestinian state. His traditional view was that Israel needs to settle beyond the coastal plain if it is not to be a “mass of concrete from Ashkelon to Nehariya — all within the range of Arab guns and having to rely on friendly powers for protection.” [4] Unlike his former allies in the religious right wing of the settler movement, however, Sharon is willing to amend his tactics to serve his strategic objectives. It is not incidental that he recently accused the settlers of having a “messianic complex.”

Sharon initially opposed the separation barrier that Israel is building in the West Bank, only relenting when he realized that he could not defy growing public support for the project. Then he swiftly appropriated the barrier in service of his agenda. Similarly, Sharon realized that he cannot fight the increasingly hegemonic idea of partition of the territory between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River. As he is acutely anxious not to confront the United States, the turning point for him was President George W. Bush’s embrace of the “two-state solution” in a Rose Garden speech on June 24, 2002. But Sharon has a very different notion of a two-state solution than the one envisioned by the Palestinian Authority and the international community. One might describe his vision as the “one and a three quarter-state solution.”

Since coming to power in February 2001, Sharon has astutely harnessed concepts like statehood, the barrier and unilateral disengagement to maximize Israeli territorial gains and deflect demographic pressure from Israel toward the east. In recent weeks, the indefatigable Shimon Peres, now deputy prime minister in Sharon’s disengagement government, has proclaimed that while the Likud Party has secured the spoils of political power, his party has won the battle of ideas. In one sense, Labor Zionism’s thesis of the need for territorial partition to achieve peace has indeed emerged ascendant. Sharon has also embraced the Zionist left’s idea of unilateral separation, suggesting an impressive tally of victories for Labor Zionism. The ascendance of the unilateralist paradigm as Sharon understands it is, however, a great victory for Revisionist Zionism. The notion of an iron wall, as well as the belief that there is no solution to the conflict, has gained wider currency in Israel. In dialectical fashion, Sharon has synthesized key ideas promoted by the Zionist left, in order to further his vision of what a secure Israel would be.

Sharon’s Logic of Unilateralism

The Israeli premier and his aides have been most transparent in stating the objectives behind the unilateral disengagement plan. As noted above, it is first and foremost an articulation of Sharon’s dismissal of the conflict resolution paradigm, whereby the “final status issues” in the conflict — chiefly borders, settlements, Palestinian refugees and Jerusalem — can be resolved at once. A leading architect of the disengagement plan, Eyval Giladi, argues that it is impossible “to reach a final status agreement in one step.” Giladi rejects the notion that peace will bring security. Instead, he posits that security brings peace. [5] Moreover, the plan seeks to free Israel from the “road map” to a negotiated two-state solution, sponsored by the Quartet of the US, UN, Russia and the European Union and promulgated in May 2003. Sharply contradicting his undertakings to the international community and his later comments at the February 8, 2005 Sharm al-Sheikh summit, Sharon made it clear to a group of Israeli ambassadors that “there will not be a direct transition from the disengagement plan to the road map.” [6]

A successful flight from the road map ensures that Israel reasserts control over the diplomatic process and manages it on Israeli terms. Speaking in the West Bank settlement of Ariel, prior to his summit with George Bush in April 2004, Sharon noted, “Only an Israeli initiative will keep us from being dragged into dangerous initiatives like the Geneva and Saudi initiatives.” [7] Sharon’s failure to take any diplomatic initiative in his first term created a diplomatic vacuum that others filled. His plan was partly a response to such efforts. Dov Weisglass concedes that the plan “compels the world to deal with our idea, with the scenario we wrote.” [8] By reasserting control, Sharon intends to avert the final status negotiations with the Palestinians that are stipulated in phase three of the road map. In such an exchange, Palestinian concessions on the question of the right of return would need to be matched by Israeli flexibility on Jerusalem, settlements and borders. Tellingly, Weisglass likened his scheme to “formaldehyde” applied to ensure that “there will not be a political process with the Palestinians.”

The unilateral approach, then, allows Sharon to address the issues of settlements and borders without negotiations and on terms that greatly favor Israel. Sharon assumes that “painful” measures, like the removal of small settlements, will allow Israel to control the scope of the withdrawal. In private conversation and in numerous media interviews, the prime minister has noted that his plan “constitutes a mortal blow to the Palestinians” and their quest for statehood, and will make it impossible to return to the 1949 armistice lines. [9] His pet journalist Uri Dan explains that Sharon’s “cruel separation” plan is premised on making tactical sacrifices in exchange for strategic gains in the West Bank. [10]

It is striking that Sharon continues to be reluctant to return to a bilateral process, even though his arch-nemesis Yasser Arafat is no longer the Palestinian leader. The disengagement scheme was after all presented as a means to bypass a recalcitrant and ruthless Arafat. Though Arafat’s successor, Mahmoud Abbas, may be emphatic in eschewing violence as a means of struggle, he is no less committed to the bottom lines from which Arafat refused to budge at Camp David in July 2000. These are positions that Sharon could never agree to.
Withdrawing to What?

Given that Sharon is keen to avoid a withdrawal on the scale of the Geneva blueprint, the critical — and still unanswered — question is what his red lines for a withdrawal are. His spokesperson Raanan Gissin notes that his plan “will remove the issue of other major evacuations, major withdrawals in Judea and Samaria, particularly the major clusters of settlements.” The plan, as Gissin notes, leaves Israel “the most vital percentages that we need.” Sharon has long held that Israel requires greater “strategic depth” and can attain it through establishing “security zones” — swathes of occupied territory from which Israel would not withdraw. Clarifying the nature of the zones, Gissin suggests that “there will be an eastern security zone and a western security zone: the eastern 10-15 kilometers and the western 3-5 kilometers from the 1967 borders.” Pressed to quantify the percentage of the West Bank left to the Palestinians, Gissin confirms that it would be 58 percent. [11] Sharon’s former national security adviser, Ephraim Halevy, corroborates this percentage, [12] as does journalist Ben Kaspit, who detailed Sharon’s strategy days before the December 2003 Herzliya speech in which he first laid it out. [13] In the widely cited Haaretz interview in which he used the term “formaldehyde,” Weisglass intimated that disengagement will ensure that 190,000 [of 240,000] settlers “will not be moved from their place.” Relocating 50,000 settlers living in the West Bank and Gaza (the figure of 240,000 excludes settlers residing in East Jerusalem and its surroundings) will leave Israel still controlling a significant portion of the West Bank. Such a withdrawal would roughly conform to the plan proposed in July 1967 by Gen. Yigal Allon, who was then deputy prime minister in a Labor government. The aforementioned interviews would, therefore, confirm what many critics have long assumed about Sharon’s intentions.

Eyval Giladi, on the other hand, speculated further that the final figure for “West Bank territory on the western side of the barrier will be a fraction below 10 percent.” [14] That percentage was corroborated by Ehud Olmert, then deputy prime minister and now serving in the new position of vice prime minister. [15] The trajectory of the separation barrier adopted by the Israeli cabinet on February 20, 2005 also points in this direction.

These assessments suggest that Sharon entertains a set of possible withdrawal scenarios, ranging from a case in which Israel would evacuate 60 percent of the West Bank to one in which Israel would leave just below 90 percent. Many presume that Sharon will determine the Palestinian entity’s final borders with the separation barrier, and that, accordingly, the barrier’s ever changing route through the West Bank and East Jerusalem tracks with Sharon’s evolving thinking on the proportions of the Palestinian entity that he will countenance. The rulings by the International Court of Justice and the Israeli Supreme Court on the barrier have constrained Sharon’s ability to impose a scenario at the lower end of those he envisages. But a further incentive for a larger-scale withdrawal is that such a pullout would abet Sharon’s long-term efforts to maximize territorial gains.

Reframing the Conflict

Sharon’s first objective is to create a subservient Palestinian state with provisional borders and then seek to limit subsequent territorial concessions to that state. A Palestinian state with provisional borders is promised by phase two of the road map. In contrast to the Palestinians, however, Sharon seeks to avoid phase three of the road map for as long as possible. Weisglass conceded that Sharon embraced unilateral disengagement only when it became apparent that there was no Palestinian partner for an interim arrangement that postpones phase three. Arafat’s refusal to accept this idea underpinned Israel’s efforts to marginalize him. In Sharon’s eyes, a limited Palestinian state, where the maximum number of Palestinians lives on the minimum amount of land, is a strategic asset. Such a statelet improves Israel’s hand in final status negotiations, because the conflict can be more easily portrayed as a disagreement between two sovereign states. Israel will no longer have to deal with the PLO, which represents the refugees. As Azmi Bishara explains,

There is a vast difference between negotiating a final settlement with a state and with a national liberation movement. Dozens of states have borders disputes; there is nothing particularly urgent or unsettling about them, unlike national liberation causes. Sharon has no intention of broaching the latter, and the Palestinians will forfeit the opportunity to broach them too if they accept the creation of a state outside the framework of a just, comprehensive and permanent solution, a state amputated at its inception and that Sharon intends to make the permanent solution. [16]

Disengagement also allows Israel to stake the moral high ground in the conflict. For this reason, Sharon will go beyond the avaricious 60 percent that many assume he plans to return. At the same time, he has made a determined effort to lower the expectations of the Palestinians, Israelis and the international community regarding the extent of the eventual withdrawal. Sharon assumes that nurturing a pessimistic outlook among others will serve him when he makes overtures that, ultimately, fall below former Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s “generous offer” at Camp David. The more territory he agrees to evacuate, the stronger his case will be for demanding annexation of the rest. When the Palestinians, as he expects, spurn these overtures, Israel will yet again be able to hold Palestinian dogma responsible for unilateral Israeli annexation.

Disengagement has two additional advantages. One is that limited withdrawal will allow Sharon to demonstrate to Israelis and the international community the trauma associated with territorial “concessions.” In doing so, he can undermine a comprehensive peace deal in a Machiavellian manner. As a prominent settler leader, Rabbi Yoel Bin Nun, explains, “He needs national trauma to impress upon the Israeli public and the international community that it is impossible to do this again.” [17] A second advantage is that the plan relieves the domestic pressure that demographic concerns place on Sharon. Israelis are obsessed with demography — the relative percentages of Jews and non-Jews in the population of Israel-Palestine. Their fear of a declining Jewish majority has led to a dramatic paradigm shift, in which an independent Palestinian state and “the potential military threat from such a state” are viewed as the lesser evil. [18] In giving up Gaza, Sharon readjusts the demographic balance and reduces domestic pressure for a comprehensive deal. Moreover, by removing Gaza from the equation he weakens the Palestinian hand in a later bargain.

Above all, the plan will allow Ariel Sharon to fight for the territorial assets he deems vital. In contrast to his predecessors, Sharon does not expend valuable political capital fighting symbolic battles. This trait is also what distinguishes him from religious hawks. The letter he obtained from Bush in April 2004 is testament to his strategic focus. Time gained as his unilateral game plays out is time to deepen Israel’s hold on key settlement blocs and create yet more facts on the ground. As Sharon declared to a settler audience, “Ma’aleh Adumim will grow stronger, Ariel, the Etzion bloc, Giv’at Zeev will remain in Israeli hands and will continue to develop. Hebron and Kiryat Arba will be strong.” [19] Even the most liberal of Likud leaders, Ehud Olmert, has made clear that these communities will not be conceded. Beyond creating more facts on the ground, the decision to let Gaza go makes it easier to build an internal Israeli coalition to fight to keep these blocs.

Sharon and his key Likud allies recognize that alternative “solutions,” like transferring major Arab-Israeli communities to the Palestinian entity or carving the West Bank into totally disconnected cantons, are not feasible. The former option, which is explicitly supported by Avigdor Lieberman of the far-right Yisrael Beiteinu party and implicitly endorsed by Benjamin Netanyahu, Sharon’s major rival within the Likud, can only become possible if the Zionist left also champions it. To date, only Ephraim Sneh, who was defense minister under Barak, has briefly courted the idea. Public support for the idea from the political center may increase over time as concerns over demography are fueled. As journalist Aluf Benn notes, “The solution of withdrawal from the territories is no longer enough for the angry prophets of demography, Professors Arnon Sofer and Sergio Della Pergola.” [20] But a critical mass of support is not yet close to being formed.

Sharon supported the canton option when he first entered politics. [21] But the intensified international scrutiny of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the years of the second intifada has taken this option off the table for Israel’s image-conscious hawks. Ehud Olmert notes, “The canton program will create a situation that the world will not be prepared to live with, and rightly so, because it will not allow for territorial contiguity and does not give the Palestinians the minimal basis to enjoy independent life under self rule and sovereignty. The plan effectively turns them into something, pardon me for the infuriating comparison, similar to the old South Africa. The world will not live with this.” [22]

Living with a Limited Palestinian State

Sharon appreciates that something the White House will call “a Palestinian state” is a given. He is now trying to create greater domestic and international consensus for a limited Palestinian state — though one much larger than Sharon’s detractors are prepared to admit. He will even acquiesce in greater sovereignty for the Palestinian entity than his predecessors may have been willing to do. One might call his current project “the 20 percent (of the West Bank for Israel) coalition.” In other words, he seeks to realign Israeli positions on the Palestinian issue around borders he considers vital to Israel. His unilateral measures, therefore, are a way of repackaging the notion of the two-state solution. Seen from his perspective, such an approach is rational. Sharon, after all, believes that a negotiated peace like the one spelled out in the Geneva accord will not resolve the conflict.

The Israeli premier can already count several successes in his endeavor. For starters, his plan is viewed as the only game in town. Secondly, his letter from Bush recognizes Israeli “facts on the ground.” Domestically, Sharon’s gelding of the Labor Party represents a triumph in efforts to realign the Israeli political topography. At present, the biggest threat to his agenda comes from the religious right and ideologues and disaffected legislators in the Likud.

The creation of a limited Palestinian state is fraught with risks for Israel, which could find itself with a highly unstable neighbor. As Gideon Levy notes, there can “be no independent Palestinian state between Ofra and Etzion. There can be no just solution with Ariel and Ma’aleh Adumim.” [23] Not all Israelis seem bothered by a Palestinian state that lacks territorial contiguity and may, as a result, be unviable. One right-wing commentator suggests that the “idea that a country requires geographical integrity is an odd one.” Instead, he posits that a “country’s viability” is “chiefly a function of the quality of governance.” [24] Without denigrating the importance of governance, a cramped, non-contiguous entity inhabited by poor and aggrieved people would likely continue to generate attacks on Israeli civilians. Some cynics in Israel might silently approve of such an outcome, which could reinforce their thesis that the Palestinians do not want peace.

Another issue is sovereignty. The democratic transition literature suggests that sovereignty is a precondition for democracy — an association conveniently overlooked by Israel and the international community in placing so much emphasis on Palestinian “reform.” Yet there is every reason to assume that even a negotiated Israeli territorial retreat might lead to a Palestinian state whose sovereignty is diluted. Israel may well insist on controlling the external border crossings, in order to prevent weapons smuggling, or on mastering Palestinian airspace. Israel will probably insist that the new state be demilitarized. Israel will also violate the Palestinian entity’s sovereignty in cases where it perceives itself to be under military threat. Furthermore, Israel may also insist that it has the right to veto diplomatic relations between the Palestinian state and entities deemed hostile to Israel — Iran, for example. Such demands will limit both the internal and external aspects of sovereignty. Internal sovereignty implies that a government enjoys decisive and unrestricted sanction, while external sovereignty entitles a community to set policy free of the meddling of other agents. “Sovereignty,” as David Held notes, “by its very nature implies a degree of independence from external powers and dominance or ultimate authority over internal groups.” [25]

Israel’s instinct will be to limit Palestinian sovereignty as is universally understood. Even if Israel were to secure the support of certain Palestinian elites, willing to collaborate for their personal interests, for such a limited entity, Israel would face the possibility that ordinary Palestinians would not accept the entity as a state. “A state exists chiefly in the hearts and minds of its people; if they do not believe it is there, no logical exercise will bring it to life.” [26] An outcome in which Israel limits the scope and substance of Palestinian sovereignty will serve to ensconce the binational reality in which Palestinians and Israelis find themselves. If the Palestinian state is not recognized by the Palestinians as a state it will be akin to the South African bantustans of yore. It is hard to imagine that Ariel Sharon is not aware of the risks implicit in a state whose sovereignty and contiguity is limited — which leads us to the tacit part of his disengagement plan.

The Jordan Option?

It is worth recalling that the “Jordan option” — whereby a Palestinian entity federates with Jordan — was the endgame that Sharon espoused when he entered politics in 1974. For many years, he vocally supported the removal of the “artificial kingdom” in Jordan. [27] At least one prominent Jordanian believes that the Israeli premier’s tactical maneuvering should be evaluated in the light of his past predilections. When he was still foreign minister, current Deputy Prime Minister Marwan Muasher noted, “We are afraid that the day might come when Israeli leaders might argue ‘Jordan is Palestine.’ Why are we worried? The wall will effectively divide the West Bank into three parts. It will make life impossible for Palestinians: dividing them from their work, their schools, their lands. If that happens, what options do Palestinians have? They will leave, voluntarily or by force, for Jordan.” [28]

Indeed, a variant of the idea, euphemistically labeled as the “regional solution,” enjoys support in the Israeli security establishment. Press reports intimate that Giora Eiland, head of the National Security Council, has presented the “regional” option to Sharon. Besides receiving a favorable response from the premier, Eiland has a mandate to present the plan to the international community. [29] The salient difference between the current Israel Defense Forces command and the ex-general Sharon is that the former fancy that such an accommodation can be negotiated. The more prudent Sharon appreciates that neither the Palestinians nor Israel’s neighbors will agree to the idea.

How might Sharon succeed in effecting this binational outcome to the conflict? He and his spokespersons often note that the disengagement plan buys Israel time. If Sharon has in mind a two-state outcome that will usher in peace, then why play for time? The reason is not only that time gained allows Israel to strengthen its hold upon crucial settlement blocs. More importantly, the time that Sharon will purchase through his plan allows another demographic trend to progress, namely, a change in the internal Jordanian demographic balance between Palestinians and Transjordanians. Palestinian refugees residing in Jordan already constitute a majority, but gerrymandering by the Hashemite regime has ensured that they are vastly under-represented in the legislature. Moreover, Transjordanians continue to dominate the kingdom’s key institutions, most importantly the security apparatus. This balance could shift, especially if Jordan is pressed into majority-rule democracy as some might think Bush’s rhetoric of “transforming” the Middle East implies. In such a scenario, the region could be home to two “Palestinian entities” — a limited state on the remnants of the West Bank and Jordan. Cut off from Israel by the separation barrier, the Palestinians would look to Jordan as their cultural and economic hub. In such a sequence, Sharon probably envisages the collapse of the two states into one entity. The merger would not necessarily require force or direct Israeli involvement. One development Sharon could anticipate is the rise of irredentist movements in both polities, calling for voluntary association based on the will of the two peoples. Heightened Jordanian sensitivities and current US interests prevent Sharon from discussing this broader objective with the candor he uses to discuss West Bank settlements.

In order for Amman to become the “new Jerusalem,” Israel would need to connect the two territories by giving up the Jordan River Valley. What was once seen as a vital threat to Israel — continuity between Jordan and the West Bank — could be seen by Sharon as an Israeli interest. No Iraqi army is going to be marching through Jordan any time soon. To boot, leaving the Jordan River Valley will aid Israeli efforts to secure the moral high ground and alleviate Israeli demographic fears by giving West Bank Palestinians room to the east for population expansion. In the context of his disengagement scheme, Sharon has also made it clear that Palestinians should seek their economic prospects in Jordan and Egypt. The fact that there is unlikely to be an eastern separation barrier between the valley and the hilly areas of the central West Bank adds weight to the idea that Sharon will give up parts of the Jordan River Valley.

In essence, Ariel Sharon proposes an undeclared waiting game with Jordan. He assumes that Israeli withdrawals will put Israel in pole position for such a game, in which Jordan’s dependence on the international community for economic aid makes it vulnerable. He further assumes that the national resolve of Palestinians and Jordanians is weaker than that of the Jewish people. This last assumption may be somewhat naïve; Jordanian nationalists are determined to preserve a distinct entity and have actively been doing so since 1988. [30] Similarly, Palestinians continue to be committed to the two-state outcome and a Palestinian state. Misguided assumptions about one’s opponents are an inherent flaw of unilateral games — as F. W. de Klerk can testify. A managed transition might take on a life of its own. Writing before the current uprising, however, Palestinian intellectual Salim Tamari perceptively suggested that the “conditions that will arise from a truncated state will also compel Palestinians to rethink the pan-Arab component of their culture” and make the binational idea “increasingly of greater relevance to Palestine’s relationship with Jordan, than its relationship with Israel.” [31]

Tamari raises a provocative issue. Ironically, it might well be that the bubbling binational discourse — which focuses on Israel-Palestine, not Jordan — inadvertently serves Sharon’s agenda. On the one hand, it undermines the hegemony of the two-state solution as understood by the Zionist left, Palestinians and much of the international community. Moreover, a progressive-led debate on Israeli-Palestinian binationalism creates important space to consider the alternative binational option. It might well be easier to forge a domestic Israeli consensus around such an agenda. The Zionist left has traditionally supported this position. In March 1990, Shimon Peres lamented that the Likud’s efforts to stymie the Jordan option would “open the door to the Palestinians, the PLO and Arafat.” [32] For the likes of Peres, for whom the two-state solution is a means to an end — securing a Jewish-majority democracy in Israel — yet another political U-turn would be no problem. Perhaps this explains why Peres gleefully cooperates with Sharon in government. On the right, elements of the settler movement and the Likud support a variant of the idea. When the time comes, a limited Palestinian entity linked to Jordan could quite easily be repackaged as a natural extension of former Prime Minister Menachem Begin’s plan to grant the Palestinians wide-ranging autonomy on civil matters, yet leave Israel in control of West Bank and Gaza. The repackaged Palestinian state and a subsequent Jordanian-Palestinian union could well emerge as the common denominator for the Zionist movement.


[1] Ari Shavit, “Year of Truth,” Haaretz, December 30, 2004.
[2] Haaretz, July 21, 2004.
[3] Avi Shlaim, “Ariel Sharon’s War Against the Palestinians,” Logos 3/3 (Summer 2004).
[4] Quoted in Colin Shindler, The Land Beyond Promise: Israel, the Likud and the Zionist Dream (London: I. B. Tauris, 2002), p. 285.
[5] Haaretz, July 13, 2004.
[6] Haaretz, December 31, 2004.
[7] Haaretz, April 13, 2004.
[8] Ari Shavit, “The Big Freeze,” Haaretz, October 8, 2004.
[9] Jerusalem Post, September 9, 2004; Yediot Aharonot, April 5, 2004; Haaretz, April 5, 2004; Haaretz, April 13, 2004; Haaretz, June 7, 2004.
[10] Jerusalem Post, May 5, 2004.
[11] Jerusalem Post, January 6, 2005.
[12] Jerusalem Post, December 31, 2004.
[13] Ben Kaspit, “Sharon’s Plan,” Ma’ariv, December 5, 2003.
[14] Jerusalem Post, November 25, 2004.
[15] Makor Rishon, May 14, 2004.
[16] Azmi Bishara, “Palestinian State as Israeli Demand,” al-Ahram Weekly, December 23-29, 2004.
[17] Ari Shavit, “Apocalypse Now,” Haaretz, January 28, 2005.
[18] Jerusalem Post, June 7, 2004.
[19] Haaretz, April 13, 2004.
[20] Aluf Benn, “Demographic Politics,” Haaretz, February 2, 2004.
[21] Uzi Benziman, Sharon, An Israeli Caesar (New York: Adama Books, 1985), p. 131.
[22] Makor Rishon, May 14, 2004.
[23] Gideon Levy, “Don’t Disengage,” Haaretz, April 18, 2004.
[24] Bret Stephens, “Toilets in the Sand,” Jerusalem Post, September 3, 2004.
[25] David Held, Political Theory and the Modern State (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1989), p. 225.
[26] Joseph Strayer quoted in Ian Lustick, Unsettled States, Disputed Lands: Britain and Ireland, France and Algeria, Israel and the West Bank (Ithaca, 1993), p. 38.
[27] Benziman, pp. 191, 259.
[28] Washington Post, January 30, 2004.
[29] Haaretz, June 4, 2004.
[30] Marc Lynch, “No Jordan Option,” Middle East Report Online, June 21, 2004.
[31] Salim Tamari, “The Dubious Lure of Binationalism,” Journal of Palestine Studies 30/1 (Autumn 2000).
[32] Shindler, p. 264.

How to cite this article:

Gary Sussman "Ariel Sharon and the Jordan Option," Middle East Report Online, March 05, 2005.

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