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Sharon's disastrous legacy leaves Israel under annihilation threat from Iran with a terrorist state in Gaza

Dr. Daniel Pipes predicts reversion to political realism after demise of Sharon
January 10, 2006

After Sharon:] Israeli Politics Will Revert to Its Past

by Daniel Pipes
National Post
January 5, 2006

Israel's prime minister, Ariel Sharon, has suffered a massive brain hemorrhage; at the very least, his long political career appears to be over. What does that mean for Israeli politics and for Arab-Israeli relations?

Basically, it signals a return to business as usual.

Since the State of Israel came into existence in 1948, two points of view on relations with the Arabs have dominated its political life, represented by (as they are presently called) Labour on the left and Likud on the right.

Labour argued for greater flexibility and accommodation with the Arabs, Likud called for a tougher stance. Every one of Israel's 11 prime ministers came from the two of them, not a single one came from the plethora of others. The two parties together suffered a long-term decline in popularity but they jointly remained the pivots and kingmakers of Israel electoral life.

Or so they did until six weeks ago. On Nov. 21, Sharon left Likud and formed his own party, called Kadima. He took this radical step in part because his views vis--vis the Palestinians had evolved so far from Likud's nationalist policies, as shown by his withdrawal of Israeli forces and civilians from Gaza during mid-2005, that he no longer fit there. Also, he had attained such personal popularity that he attained the stature to found a party in his own image.

His move was exquisitely timed and enormously successful. Instantly, the polls showed Kadima effectively replacing Labour and Likud. The latest survey, conducted by "Dialogue" on Monday and published yesterday, showed Kadima winning 42 seats of the 120 seats in the Knesset, Israel's parliament. Labour followed with 19 seats and Likud trailing behind with a dismal 14.

Kadima's stunning success turned Israeli politics upside-down. The historic warhorses had been so sidelined, one could speculate about Sharon forming a government without even bothering to ally with one or other of them.

Even more astonishing was Sharon's personal authority in Kadima; never had Israel witnessed the emergence of such a strongman. (And rarely do other mature democracies; Pim Fortuyn in the Netherlands comes to mind as another exception.) Sharon quickly lured to Kadima prominent Labour, Likud and other politicians who shared little in common other than a willingness to follow his lead.

It was a daredevil, high-flying, net-less, bravura, acrobatic feat, one that would last only so long as Sharon retained his magic touch. Or his health.

I was skeptical of Kadima from the very start, dismissing it just one week after it came into existence as an escapist venture that "will (1) fall about as abruptly as it has arisen and (2) leave behind a meager legacy." If Sharon's career is now over, so is Kadima's. He created it, he ran it, he decided its policies, and none else can now control its fissiparous elements. Without Sharon, Kadima's constituent elements will drift back to their old homes in Labour, Likud, and elsewhere. With a thud, Israeli politics return to normal.

Likud, expected to slip into a dismal third place in the March voting, stands the most to gain from Sharon's exit. Kadima's members came disproportionately from its ranks and now Likud conceivably could, under the forceful leadership of Benjamin Netanyahu, do well enough to remain in power. Likud's prospects look all the brighter given that Labour has just elected a radical and untried new leader, Amir Peretz.

More broadly, the sudden leftward turn of Israeli politics in the wake of Sharon's personal turn to the left will stop and perhaps even be reversed.

Turning to Israeli relations with the Palestinians, Sharon made monumental mistakes in recent months. In particular, the withdrawal of all Israelis from Gaza confirmed for Palestinians that violence works, prompting a barrage of rockets on Israeli territory and an inflammation of the political temperature.

As Israel settles back to a more normal state, with no politician enjoying Sharon's outsized popularity, governmental actions will again come under closer scrutiny. The result is likely to be a less escapist and more realist set of policies toward the Palestinians and perhaps even some forward movement toward a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian war.


Sharon's place in history

By Frank J. Gaffney Jr.

Sharon and Abbas | Historians know a departed leader's legacy cannot be assessed accurately until many years have passed, let alone before he is technically even gone. Yet, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon may be the exception that proves the rule.

Few statesmen have worked harder or more self-consciously at defining their "place in history." In recent years, particularly as he and his family became embroiled in a corruption scandal, he strove to ensure he would not be remembered for his controversial role in the 1982 massacres in Lebanon's Sabra and Shatilla Palestinian refugee camps.

Instead, Ariel Sharon curried favor with his critics by recasting himself as a peacemaker. Though he justified his unilateral "disengagement" from the Gaza Strip as a security measure, its true character was evident in the fact he was suddenly lionized by those on the left who reviled him for decades. Overnight, he joined the peculiar pantheon reserved by the world for Israeli leaders who surrender territory to Israel's enemies in hopes the Jewish State would thereby, somehow be left alone in peace.

Second, Mr. Sharon's Gaza withdrawal legacy was a distinctly personal accomplishment. It seems unlikely any other Israeli politician could have pulled it off. But Mr. Sharon did, thanks to his reputation as a brilliant military general, his credentials as a lifelong "hawk" on security and the famed tenacity that enabled him to "bulldoze" first his opponents, and then the Israeli communities in Gaza.

Third, after only four months, the repercussions of the Sharon surrender of Gaza are becoming frighteningly clear. As my brilliant colleague, Caroline Glick, put it in her column last week:

"Today, as the Palestinian Authority has ceased to operate in any coherent manner; as the Egyptian border with Gaza has been open for terror traffic for three months; and as Hamas has emerged as the most prevalent force in Palestinian politics and society, it is impossible to deny that Sharon's decision to withdraw Israeli forces from Gaza and northern Samaria has vastly empowered Palestinian terrorists. Today, the Gaza Strip has become one of the most active and dangerous bases for jihadi terrorism in the world."

Moreover, had Ariel Sharon not been struck down by ill-health at this juncture, his ultimate legacy would likely have been even more damning. He was determined to effect a similar, unilateral withdrawal from parts of the West Bank.

There, too, Israeli forces' departure would have been marked by claims of victory over the Jews by those determined to destroy them. There, too, the assertion terror works would justify more of it. There, too, the upshot would likely have been anarchy, at best; at worst, an incipient state-sponsor of terror under a Taliban-style Islamofascist Hamas.

The danger posed by such an enclave on one or both sides of Israel will not be confined to the Jewish State. As we saw in Afghanistan prior to September 11, 2001, safe havens for al Qaeda and its Islamist friends are a threat to the entire Free World, including its leader, the United States.

For this reason, much as the passing politically, if not physically of Ariel Sharon might be seen as a tragedy for his loved ones and for many Israelis, it may prove providential for his country, and ours. It affords an opportunity for sober reflection about the wisdom of Mr. Sharon's policies and their repercussions. No longer will Israel be driven headlong by a man who clearly felt he was nearly out of time and was determined to carry out his vision, with little regard for the consequences.

Now, Israel and other freedom-loving nations have an opportunity to reckon with the effects of the Gaza withdrawal, before compounding them with further "disengagements" in the West Bank. The Israelis must find ways to deal with the Kassam rockets increasingly fired by Palestinian terrorists, mocking the idea separation alone will secure the Jewish State.

The same goes for the border with Egypt now traversed with impunity by smugglers of ever-more-dangerous arms including, it appears, surface-to-air missiles capable of downing airliners flying into and out of Israeli airports. Allowing such weapons and those who would wield them free rein in much of the West Bank could cripple Israel's critically important tourist industry, its economy and in time the country as a whole.

The interlude due to Mr. Sharon's departure should allow Israel and the rest of the Free World to focus on another, far more pressing problem: the mortal threat of an Islamofascist Iran armed with nuclear weapons. Unfortunately, the old general's absence may make decision making and action more difficult.

But, as the saying goes, "the prospect of hanging concentrates the mind wondrously." An Iranian regime bent on "wiping Israel off the map" and "a world without America" represents such an existential threat that the leadership and will must be found to deny Tehran the means to act on these ambitions.

If we fail to do so, historians may see Ariel Sharon's weakening of his country in the face of its enemies as the precursor to a devastating new phase in the War for the Free World.

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