In a recent article in this section, "A convenient partner", Dov Weisglass, Ariel Sharon's former bureau chief and senior adviser, provided a very upbeat assessment of the upcoming November conference near Washington on the Israeli-Palestinian issue. It is an article that should give the citizens of this country cause for grave concern regarding either the integrity or the intellect of those charged – past and present – with molding the future of the country.
It is extremely difficult to follow the logic Weisglass presents for his wildly optimistic analysis – and virtually impossible to reconcile it with a prudent regard for Israel's national interest and the physical security of its citizens. Moreover, the fact that Weisglass endorsed the disastrous disengagement debacle with similar enthusiasm is hardly reassuring.
In order to understand the basis of such a severe indictment of an individual, who until recently held a position of tremendous influence, and even today has ample access to senior policy-makers, two things should be kept in mind: One is the significance of the substantive measures Israel will be undoubtedly called to make in the forthcoming conference devoted to promoting implementation of the Road Map. The other is the reasoning that Weisglass expounds for his recommendation that Israel seriously considers undertaking these measures.
With regard to the former, in any conceivable variation of the "two-state-solution" envisaged in the Road Map, Israel will be called upon to make territorial withdrawals that will:
• Create a new international frontier running a few thousand meters from the national parliament and nearly all government ministries
• Leave the only international airport in the country exposed to bombardment from primitive short-range weaponry already in use against Israel.
• Make the major transport routes (road and rail) vulnerable to attack, disruption and even closure, thus paralyzing the movement of traffic across the nation
• Abandon major water sources – almost one-third of the available supply today - to Arab control, not only seriously imperiling the ability to supply Israel's urban population with drinking water, but also creating the risk of irrevocable ecological damage inside the 1967 Green Line.
• Bring not only major infrastructure installations into range of weapons already in use by "militants" - but also 80% of Israel's population and 80% of its economic activity.
It should be underscored that these potential dangers inherent in the Road Map are neither subjective assessments nor derivatives of any particular political proclivity. Any one armed with a map of the country, a ruler, and modicum of general knowledge can verify them with ease.
Clearly then, the terms of the Road Map entail Israel taking enormous risks upon itself. The only possible justification for willingly placing the country in such a potentially perilous position would to place equally enormous trust in the Palestinian side – not only in whoever is party to any agreement, but also in any probable successor in the foreseeable future.
Otherwise, even if all the concessions are made to a genuinely "moderate" regime, what reason is there to believe that a more radical group will not come to power and end up controlling territory that can cripple Israeli roads, railways, airport, power and water supplies as well the routine of daily life in the coastal plain?
Yet without providing any compelling proof that such an eventuality can be avoided or dealt with, Weisglass blithely encourages Israel to venture exposing itself to it – for the most astoundingly flimsy, even self-contradictory, reasons.
Instead of providing elements of permanence as a basis for his recommendations, he offers only the epitome of transience; instead of a promise of durability, only an admission of fragility. Indeed, he bases his buoyant appraisal of the prospects on three elements that are manifestly impermanent and/or ineffectual: Salam Fayyad, Mahmoud Abbas, and the Bush administration.
With regard to Fayyad, Weisglass tells us: " I know Palestinian Prime Minister Dr Salam Fayyad well …He is an intelligent and honest man who is well aware of the need to re-organize the Palestinian administration." Even if we accept Weisglass's glowing assessment of the man, it should be given little weight in Israel's strategic decision-making process. No one, including Weisglass himself, can predict with any degree of certainty whether Fayyad will be able to implement his professed good intentions - or even sustain his term in power.
What we should remember about Fayyad's standing in the Palestinian public is that his party (The Third Way) that he headed together with the high-profile Hanan Ashrawi won a grand total of two (!) seats out of 132 in the last elections - compared to the 75 won by the Hamas, which like Fayyad's party, highlighted anti-corruption reforms in their platform, apparently with far greater effect.
Indeed, Weisglass himself admits that his position is tenuous to say the least, conceding that "the level of support he will receive from Mahmoud Abbas, his superior, and the backing he will receive from the Palestinian public will determine whether he will succeed in implementing his good intentions."
Weisglass's prognosis regarding Fayyad's source of authority, Abbas is hardly more encouraging: "With regards to the chairman, Mahmoud Abbas…his weaknesses are also well known: He is not a charismatic leader and his ability to lead the Palestinian people through controversial issues is doubtful". A frail foundation indeed on which to take so large a gamble with Israel's security!
His reasoning on the question of terror is scarcely more consistent. On the one hand he observes that, "terror from Judea and Samaria has decreased, primarily due to Israeli security operations" admitting that in spite of some improvement of late "efforts on the part of the Palestinians …are far from satisfactory." On the other hand he urges negotiating the far-reaching withdrawals set out in the Road Map, which will necessarily reduce the IDF's ability to curtail terror and leave far more to the "far from satisfactory efforts" of the Palestinians.
Weisglass' fervor for complying with the alleged wishes of the Bush administration "for progress on the Israeli-Palestinian track" as its term draws to a close is puzzling to say the least. For if this administration really has such "great friendship" for Israel, why would it press Israel into the very same perilous position that far less friendly administrations have tried to foist on it before? And why should Israel subordinate its vital security interests for the sake of an outgoing foreign government – however friendly?
Moreover, if Israel were to commit to the kind of the territorial concessions implicit in the Road Map, how would it cope with possible future pressure for further concessions (on, say, refugees/right of return) by administrations who may not be so friendly…especially from its new position of strategic vulnerability,?
Weisglass also grossly underestimates the strategic significance of the Palestinian issue, blithely stating that it "does not pose an existential threat to Israel." Even if this were true, the security challenges that the Road Map withdrawals will necessarily create are likely to siphon off huge resources that could otherwise be devoted to other "existential threats."
And given the results of last year's war on the northern border, it seems a little flippant to dismiss as a "non-existential threat" the specter of regular Arab (or Iranian) troops deploying along an eastern frontier less than 10 miles from Tel Aviv, at the invitation of a future, more radical, Palestinian regime.
In light of the above it is difficult to avoid posing the following question: Can someone of Weisglass's stature really be unmindful of the glaring flaws in his proposal?
If he is not, there is even greater cause for concern. For then it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Weisglass's proposal is a reckless recommendation, reflecting distressing disregard for the nation's security.
Either way the Israeli public has cause for grave concern regarding the integrity and/or the intellect of those charged with shaping their future.