During his long career, Ariel Sharon built a lot of roads. As housing minister in the early 1990s and as national infrastructures minister in the late 1990s, Sharon played a key role in building everything from the Trans-Israel Highway to access roads to isolated communities.
Since he passed away on Saturday, his role in building Israel’s national infrastructures has been widely noted. But no mention has been made of the final and most important road that he paved.
That is the road to Israeli sovereignty over Judea and Samaria.
Sharon’s most controversial – and damaging – act was his decision in late 2003 to surrender the Gaza Strip to Palestinian terrorist organizations. The action, which involved not only withdrawing Israeli military personnel and transferring control over the international border with Egypt to the Palestinian Authority, but also forcibly removing 8,000 law-abiding, patriotic Israelis from their homes and farms and the bulldozing of their flourishing communities, was carried out in August 2005.
Just before Sharon was felled by a stroke in January 2006, he was running for reelection on a platform calling for reenacting the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in large swathes of Judea and Samaria.
Sharon decided to surrender the Gaza Strip due to massive pressure from abroad and at home. The Bush administration, which launched the so-called Middle East Quartet’s road map for peace, was quickly losing patience with Sharon, who rightly noted that the PLO had no intention of making peace with the Jewish state.
At home, the leftist-dominated media and legal system were applying heavy pressure on Sharon, intimating that due to bribery allegations, Sharon would likely end his career behind bars – and that his two sons would share his cell.
There are only three options for dealing with the dispute over Palestinian-majority territory now administered by Israel. The first option is to negotiate a settlement with the PLO . Israel adopted that policy in 1993. Sharon owed his rise to power to the abject failure of the negotiated settlement policy at Camp David in July 2000.
The PLO ’s refusal to accept statehood and peaceful coexistence, and its subsequent turn to terrorist warfare in September 2000, demonstrated beyond a reasonable doubt to the vast majority of Israelis that the negotiated settlement policy was a dead end.
As US Secretary of State John Kerry’s flailing attempt to resuscitate the peace process makes clear, 14 years later, the PLO has not changed. Like Arafat before him, Mahmoud Abbas continues to reject coexistence and statehood. The PLO remains far more interested in destroying Israel than in establishing a Palestinian state.
The second possibility for contending with the disputed territory is for Israel to pick up its marbles and go home; to simply disengage, and depart with the Jews and the IDF in tow. This is the policy Sharon adopted in Gaza, and hoped to implement in Judea and Samaria after the 2006 elections.
Whereas it took seven years for the full dimensions of the failure of the negotiated solution to become evident to most Israelis, it took less than six months for the failure of the unilateral withdrawal policy to become obvious. Hamas’s January 2006 victory in the Palestinian elections demonstrated that the critics of the unilateral withdrawal policy had been right.
In the months and years following Israel’s withdrawal, Gaza was transformed. Hamas terrorists, controlling territory within striking distance of Israel’s population centers, turned what had been a tactical nuisance into a strategic threat.
In less than a year, the number of Israelis within range of rockets, missiles and mortars from Gaza rose from 25,000 to a million. By 2012, the number of Israelis living within range of Gaza’s missiles topped 3.5 million.
With control over the border with Egypt, Hamas turned Gaza into a hub for global jihadists. And according to Egyptian prosecutors, Hamas played a key role in elevating the Muslim Brotherhood to power in Egypt and effectively remilitarizing the Sinai, thus undermining the key component of Israel’s peace deal with Egypt. It was only the swift action of the Egyptian military in toppling the Brotherhood government that stemmed – for now – the seemingly inevitable demise of the peace between the two countries.
By the time Hezbollah launched its attack on Israel in July 2006, Sharon’s policy of unilateral withdrawal was dead in the water.
And so we are left with one last option: for Israel to remain in Judea and Samaria indefinitely, and end its self-destructive embrace of the PLO .
There are two ways to pursue this last option. Israel can openly assert authority and apply its laws, as it has done in formerly Jordanian-occupied parts of Jerusalem.
Or it can maintain the status quo of partial PLO rule and partial Israeli military administration.
The past 20 years of shared rule with the PLO have shown that the so-called status quo weakens Israel, to the PLO ’s benefit. With each passing year, Israel’s failure to assert its legal right to sovereignty over the areas causes the false Palestinian narrative of indigenous rights to the cradle of Jewish civilization to become more and more ingrained in the international psyche.
The price for Israel of asserting its sovereign rights and applying its laws to Judea and Samaria is a change of 13 to 14 percent in the proportion of Palestinian Arabs entitled to the legal status of permanent residents – citizens and otherwise – in Israel. In particular, the Muslim population of Israel would rise from about 18% today to roughly 32% if all the Palestinians in Judea and Samaria are accorded permanent residency status with the right to apply for Israeli citizenship.
My colleague at The Jerusalem Post, Martin Sherman, argues that if Israel grants permanent residency status to the Palestinians of Judea and Samaria, we will be overwhelmed by ungovernable Muslims who will transform the Jewish state into an incoherent morass of crime and unsustainable welfare, along the lines of Sweden and Norway.
That could happen. But it is far from clear why it would happen.
Were Israel to grant permanent residency status to the Palestinians of Judea and Samaria – and offer them the right to apply for citizenship – it would not increase the Muslim population west of the Jordan. Israel would only change their legal status. And along the way, Israel would safeguard its Jewish majority by preventing the immigration of millions of foreign- born Muslims to a future Palestinian state.
In the past, Sherman rightly noted that if Israel applies its laws to Area C only, as Economy Minister Naftali Bennett recommends, significant numbers of Palestinians will move to Area C to live under Israeli jurisdiction, just as thousands of Palestinians have moved to Jerusalem over the years.
But if everyone in Judea and Samaria enjoys permanent residency rights, far fewer people will feel motivated to move west. They can stay at home and enjoy the same status.
Until Sharon adopted the unilateral withdrawal policy, he always said that two things protect Israel – Jewish settlement and the IDF. The failures of both the negotiated settlement policy and the unilateral withdrawal policy proved him right.
Sharon’s true legacy is that he left only the path of Israeli sovereignty untried. And so, his last act on the public stage was to pave the way for Israeli sovereignty over Judea and Samaria.
Caroline B. Glick is the senior Middle East fellow at the Center for Security Policy in Washington, D.C., and the deputy managing editor of The Jerusalem Post, where this article first appeared.
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