What the adviser said

Ari Shavit

Haaretz

Tishrei 23, 5765

The segments of an interview granted by Dov Weisglass, the senior adviser to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and former director of the Prime Minister's Office, to Ari Shavit, in Wednesday's paper, and appearing in full in today's Haaretz Magazine, has stirred up stormy political reactions. Weisglass is quoted as saying that "the meaning of the disengagement plan is a freeze to the diplomatic process [with the Palestinians]," and "when you freeze the political process, you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state and you prevent a discussion on the subject of refugees, borders and Jerusalem. This whole package called `the Palestinian state' has been removed from the daily agenda for an unlimited period of time."

The publication of the interview has led the U.S. administration to demand clarifications from the government, and has resulted in a wave of political criticism. On the left there have been arguments that the adviser has exposed the true intentions of the prime minister, but these notwithstanding, disengagement from the Gaza Strip and northern Samaria will result in a major withdrawal also from the West Bank and in the establishment of a Palestinian state. On the right they claimed that the statements prove Sharon's lack of credibility, and asserted that they were made for political reasons.

The prime minister issued a clarification, in which he expressed his commitment to the road map (the international plan for the establishment of a Palestinian state), and blamed the failure to advance on the diplomatic level on the Palestinians, who he said do not comply with their commitment to combat terrorism. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powel reiterated to Sharon that he, the prime minister, has made a commitment to the road map.

Weisglass's statements should not divert attention from the main issue: the significance of implementing the disengagement plan and the evacuation of the settlers from the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank. The evacuation of settlements deep inside areas densely populated by Palestinians is of supreme national interest, and the perpetuation of their existence is too costly for Israel, in diplomatic, security and moral terms.

With all due respect to the prime minister's adviser, he has no control on the future, and his analysis of the disengagement is no better than that of other politicians and pundits. Weisglass is talking about a freeze in the diplomatic process? Better a stall in the diplomatic process without settlements in the Gaza Strip, that no diplomatic movement under the existing positions in the territories.

Sharon's disengagement plan is far from perfect. It will not bring an end to the conflict and it is doubtful whether it will put a stop to terrorism and fighting. The prime minister initiated the plan and altered his stance on the settlements because of domestic and external pressure, and did so without adopting the ideology or the proposed solution of the left. His unilateral approach is flawed, and it is best to hold negotiations with a Palestinian side that is known and responsible, that will take responsibility for security in the Gaza Strip after the withdrawal. The violence of the past week in the Gaza Strip highlights the danger inherent in a "security vacuum" there, and showed that even on the way to the disengagement the IDF was forced to penetrate deep into Palestinian territory.

Still, under the current political conditions, the prime minister's plan is the only one offering to change the bloody diplomatic and security status quo, and it has a realistic chance to be carried out. Sharon's "real" intentions, and his problematic record, are a lot less important than his actions: the implementation of a unilateral disengagement is better than a fruitless diplomatic process leading to a dead end. Therefore, Sharon must be supported with his actions being the test of his intent.