Failure to back away from the settlements now would be a self-inflicted wound far more painful and damaging in the long run than all of Arafat's attacks put together...
The New York Times > Opinion > Editorial: Mr. Sharon and the Settlers: "Mr. Sharon and the Settlers
Published: February 16, 2005
While the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, is having to take on extremist groups like Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Al Aksa Martyrs Brigades in the struggle for peace, the Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, faces challenges of his own.
The parliamentary debate that started yesterday on Mr. Sharon's plan to withdraw from Gaza came with all the overwrought melodrama that usually accompanies any discussion of what most sensible Israelis know is a necessary first step on the road to peace. One legislator from the far-right National Union began reading out loud the name of every settler scheduled for 'deportation,' adding the phrase 'Jew, designated for expulsion.'
Meanwhile, extremists have issued death threats against the transport minister, who is steering the bill through Parliament. West Bank settlers protested in Jerusalem and beyond, demonstrators assaulted the police, and some of those arrested tore up their jail cells.
In addition, the housing minister, Isaac Herzog, told Reuters yesterday that the Jewish settlers to be evacuated from Gaza could move to yet another new West Bank settlement. It's no surprise that the Palestinian Authority objected. The so-called road map to peace calls for Israel to stop building settlements on land it captured in 1967.
With so much at stake, now is hardly the time for Mr. Sharon to reward Mr. Abbas's efforts for accommodation with this slap in the face. So far, Mr. Sharon has been pragmatic and bold: pragmatic in recognizing that a vast majority of Israelis don't think that hanging on to Gaza is worth the bloodshed; bold in standing up to the extremists who view Gaza as their birthright, despite the Palestinian majority living there now.
It appears that Mr. Sharon must be bolder still. Members of his Likud Party often describe the West Bank settlers as "human shields," Israel's first line of defense against Palestinian suicide bombers and terrorists. But those settlements are also one of the largest barriers to any possibility of peace.
On the radio yesterday, Israel's vice prime minister, Ehud Olmert, put the choice facing Israel starkly. "One cannot help but see that we are dealing with a Palestinian leadership which speaks differently, and, it would appear, also acts differently," he said, referring to Mr. Abbas. "We shall never forgive ourselves if we don't give a chance to a leadership which says it is opposed to terrorism."