WASHINGTON -- The stroke suffered by Israel's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon could prove to be one of the great disasters in the country's near-60-year history. As I write this, Sharon's condition remains uncertain, but the severity of his stroke makes it unlikely that he will survive, let alone return to power. That could be disastrous because Sharon represented, indeed embodied, the emergence of a rational, farsighted national idea that seemed poised in the coming elections to create a stable governing political center for the first time in decades.
For a generation, Israeli politics have offered two alternatives. The left said: We have to negotiate peace with the Palestinians. The right said: There's no one to talk to because they don't want to make peace; they want to destroy us, so we stay in the occupied territories and try to integrate them into Israel.
The left was given its chance with the 1993 Oslo peace accords. They proved a fraud and a deception. The PLO used Israeli concessions to create an armed and militant Palestinian terror apparatus right in the heart of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Israel's offer of an extremely generous peace at Camp David in the summer of 2000 was met with a savage terror campaign, the second intifada, that killed a thousand Jews. (Given Israel's tiny size, the American equivalent would be 50,000 dead.)
With the left then discredited, Israel turned to the right, electing Sharon in 2001. But the right's idea of hanging onto the territories indefinitely was untenable. Ruling a young, radicalized, growing Arab population committed to Palestinian independence was not only too costly but ultimately futile.
Sharon's genius was to seize upon and begin implementing a third way. With a negotiated peace illusory and a Greater Israel untenable, he argued that the only way to security was a unilateral redrawing of Israel's boundaries by building a fence around a new Israel and withdrawing Israeli soldiers and settlers from the other side. The other side would become independent Palestine.
Accordingly, Sharon withdrew Israel entirely from Gaza. On the other front, the West Bank, the separation fence now under construction will give the new Palestine about 93 percent of the West Bank. Israel's 7 percent share will encompass a sizable majority of Israelis who live on the West Bank. The rest, everyone understands, will have to evacuate back to Israel.
Charles Krauthammer is a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner, 1984 National Magazine Award winner, and a columnist for The Washington Post since 1985.
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