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May 10, 2004
Sharon Tries Again

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon refuses to give up on his plan to withdraw from Gaza, again announcing plans to submit a modified version which has yet to be seen. John Ward Anderson reports in today's Washington Post that Sharon's cabinet reacted strongly -- in both directions -- once the subject aired itself in his weekly cabinet meeting:

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told cabinet ministers Sunday that he was devising a new plan to withdraw Israeli troops and Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip and expected to present it to the government in about three weeks, the officials and their aides said.

Sharon's announcement reportedly set off fireworks in the weekly cabinet session between ministers who threatened to leave the government if the Gaza settlements were not evacuated and those who have vowed to quit if they are. Either scenario could lead to the collapse of Sharon's four-party coalition government or force him to dramatically revamp it.

Sharon announced his intentions on the heels of a disastrous vote in his own Likud party on the first version of the Gaza withdrawal plan. Originally favored to win approval, Sharon's plan instead lost, trounced by 20 points in the final polling. Another politician might have resigned at that point, and some observers thought that Sharon's political career had been mortally wounded. If so, he's willing to push the plan straight through to his career's demise.

All depends on the revisions Sharon will offer in Gaza 2.0. Opponents mainly objected to the unilateral withdrawal without any guarantees from the Palestinians, and the Palestinians objected to Sharon's trade-offs of West Bank settlements, as well as suspecting him of using the Gaza withdrawal as a feint for a West Bank land grab. It will be difficult to come up with a solution that satisfies Sharon's opponents without having the Palestinians involved, and they have yet to negotiate in good faith anyway.

No one really expects the Gaza settlements to survive any final negotiations with the Palestinians anyway, and their presence makes the tactical situation for the Israelis more complicated. I understand Sharon's plan, at least to the point of extricating the Israelis from a situation that provides daily provocation and makes security for Israel proper more complicated. However, it seems to me that in negotiation, you don't toss away important bargaining chips, even if the table understands they wouldn't be yours at the end anyway. No matter what, Sharon will have a tough sell on his hands, and I suspect that he understands it now, too.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at May 10, 2004 6:41 AM

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