Uri Avnery's Column 

Paved with Bad Intentions

Last week, the mainstream peace organizations held a demonstration in support of Ariel Sharon’s disengagement plan. I agonized for days about whether to take part or not. The question continues to bother me, and the discussions on this subject are still going on – with crucial votes due in the Knesset this week.

Perhaps the best way to find an answer is to set out the pros and cons.

Let’s start with the cons

I don’t trust Sharon. David Ben-Gurion, who liked him very much, considered him a compulsive liar. “If Sharon would get rid of his faults, such as not telling the truth… he would be an exemplary military leader,” Ben-Gurion wrote in his diary on January 29, 1960.

For a year now he has been talking about the disengagement, working for the disengagement, moving heaven and earth for the disengagement. But up to this very moment, apart from some administrative moves, he has not done anything at all to implement the plan. On the contrary: these days, millions are being invested in strengthening the defense of houses in Gush Katif, the inhabitants of which are supposed to be evacuated in a matter of weeks. Why give him credit and lend him support now, before implementation has even started?

Does this mean that he will not implement the plan?

I believe that he cannot retreat anymore. His huge ego is now identified with this operation. He has already split his party, become an enemy of the settlers and turned the whole political system upside down. Retreating from the plan now would shatter his self-esteem and public image.

Withdrawal from the withdrawal could arouse the anger of President Bush. Sharon has only contempt for the Goyim and thinks that cheating them is a national duty, but he knows where Israel would be without the unlimited support of the United States.

Only an earth-shattering event could allow him now to get out of the mess, such as an American invasion of Syria or Iran or the collapse of his government.

So, if it is probable that Sharon will implement the disengagement, why not support him?

Because I think about the day after.

I have no illusions about Sharon’s intentions as far as the West Bank is concerned. He plans to annex 58% of it and leave the Palestinians in isolated enclaves, cut off from each other by settlements and military installations. At most, in order to satisfy Bush’s demand for “contiguity”, the enclaves will be connected by bridges and tunnels.

Apart from his son Omri, Advocate Dov Weissglas is the person closest to him. When this man declared that after the disengagement, Sharon would put the peace process “in formaldehyde”, he was – exceptionally – telling the truth.

Supporting Sharon at this time means supporting this plan, too.

But that concerns the future. At present, what counts is the disengagement operation. Why not support Sharon now, and start the fight for the future the day after?

Because this is not at all a matter of the future! While this is being written, Sharon continues building the Separation Wall, which has annexed 7% of the West Bank so far. He is filling the area between the Wall and the Green Line with new settlements. Last week, it was announced that he is going to build 3500 housing units in Ma’aleh Adumim. This is the most dangerous settlement in the West Bank, which it effectively cuts into two.

The enlargement of the settlements and the outposts is racing ahead even now all over the West Bank.

Last week, advocate Talia Sasson published her report about the methods used in setting up the West Bank outposts. The task was given her by Sharon himself. It will be remembered that Sharon promised Bush to remove all settlements and outposts set up after he came to power in 2001.

Sasson’s report states that all these outposts (as well as the earlier ones) were set up illegally, and that all government ministries and Zionist Organization departments cooperated, breaking the law with a wink. So what happened? Nothing. Nobody was indicted, everything goes on as before. The report was buried the day it was born.

These are the reasons for not supporting Sharon. Let’s move to the reasons for supporting him.

It has been said that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. But the opposite is also true: the road to heaven is paved with bad intentions.

It is possible that Sharon’s bad intentions will produce positive results that he did not dream about when he came up with his plan. It was conceived almost incidentally, in order to solve some problems of the moment, without thinking about the next steps.

Sharon could not have imagined that his plan would lead him into a head-on confrontation with the settlers.

He is a general, and his logic is military. The disengagement plan involves giving up a secondary effort in order to reinforce the main effort. This means giving up some small, unimportant settlements in a remote corner of the country, in order to consolidate and strengthen the important settlements in the West Bank. Giving up a piece of the desert that constitutes 6% of the occupied territories, and which is inhabited by one and a quarter million Palestinians, in order to annex 58% of the West Bank. In these areas, such as the Jordan valley and the Judean desert, the Palestinian population is sparse.

He was amazed when the settlers did not understand this logic. They have a different approach. They believe that the dismantling of even one single settlement, small and remote as it may be, will provide a dangerous precedent and start a process that they would be unable to stop. They are acutely aware of the fact that the great majority of the Israeli public opposes them, and that many consider them a pest.

The settlers are Sharon’s proteges. Not only did he himself plan the settlements and play a central role in establishing them, but their leaders are also his personal friends and regular visitors to his home. That’s why they consider him a traitor, while he feels betrayed by them.

All this has an impact on my decision, because the determined opposition of the settlers and their allies gives the disengagement a meaning that it did not possess to start with.

We are now at the beginning of a civil war. We cannot know whether or not blood will be spilled. But even if there are no killed and wounded, this war will determine the future of Israel.

This will be a struggle between the majority, which is mostly secular, mostly liberal and mostly democratic, against a fanatical minority that is mostly very nationalistic, driven by a messianic religiosity and, basically, anti-democratic, paying more respect to the decrees of their rabbis than to the laws of the Knesset. The results will not only decide whether we shall move towards peace with the Palestinians and the Arab world, but also determine the future character of the State of Israel itself.

Does Sharon want a secular, democratic state?

The idea is, of course, absurd. His basic outlook is confused and blurred. He resembles many Israelis: quite secular in their daily life but convinced that religion is necessary. He certainly is no great democrat, but believes that the state must be democratic. He is an extreme nationalist who strives for a homogeneous Jewish state in all of the country between the sea and the Jordan, but now he is compelled by circumstances to act against his beliefs. German philosophers call this the “cunning of reason”.

The important question is not what Sharon wants and believes in, but what will be the results of his actions. As it looks now, it seems that against his will, and without his intending to, he is leading towards a fateful decision.

It is, of course, possible that all this will not happen, that at the last moment, Sharon and the settlers will find a compromise, as usual in politics. Nothing is determined in advance. But one has to come to a decision on the basis of what can reasonably be expected.

In the end I decided to join the demonstration. Not for the sake of Sharon, but in support of the struggle against the settlers.