International Papers

Sharon’s New Zones

Israeli commentators across the political spectrum derided Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s address to the nation last Thursday. The conservative Jerusalem Post said, “If anyone was expecting inspirational words” from Sharon’s speech, “they were surely disappointed,” while the liberal Ha’aretz declared, “Last night, the true reason why Prime Minister Ariel Sharon does not make a habit of addressing the public was finally exposed: He simply has nothing to say.” An op-ed in Israel’s biggest-selling paper, Yedioth Ahronoth, sighed, “It is hard to believe that anyone emerged strengthened from the prime minister’s speech, aside from the prime minister himself.” Ma’ariv found  “the sense of ‘disappointment’ over Sharon’s speech … somewhat artificial,” because the prime minister “has never been a great speaker.” The editorial continued, “For his whole life, the man has been tested by his actions. … The test-by-actions is starting to go against him.”

The only news to come out of the speech was a vague undertaking to establish buffer zones for “security separation” between Israel and Palestinian territories. Britain’s Independent reported that the buffer zones would be “guarded by ‘obstacles’ ranging from dogs that can detect explosives, land-mines and electric sensors, to fences and ditches.” Ha’aretz noted that when he was in opposition, Sharon derided a similar proposal from his predecessor, Ehud Barak. Still, the analysis identified three benefits to separation:

It will provide Israelis with more security or at least sense of security; it meets the public’s demands that the prime minister stop “sitting on the fence” and start doing something to end the increasing terror; and it sends a message to the Palestinians that if they want to influence the outline of the border, they must stop the war and negotiate, otherwise they will find themselves locked behind buffer zones and fences.

Ha’aretz dismissed the plan as “an expensive sedative.” It said, “The buffer zones plan protects [Jewish] settlements and ensures continual confrontation and collective punishments: restrictions of movement, roadblocks, razing of homes, uprooting groves and fields.” The Age of Melbourne said the plan wouldn’t work, “any more than any other physical barrier between peoples throughout history has worked.” According toHa’aretz, the Palestinian Information Service called the plan “a step toward escalation that is meant as a tool as ethnic cleansing. … The illegal settlements will not be removed; therefore the Palestinian towns will become prisons enclosed by electric fences and minefields.”

According to the Jerusalem Post, “The bulk of the speech was aimed at an Israeli public frustrated by a year and a half of Palestinian violence, compounded by an economic downturn. Sharon asked Israelis to show strength and resilience, patience, and determination in waiting for the economic situation to improve.” However, a Post editorial responded, “[I]nspiration is not just a matter of praising steadfastness, but of giving reasons to believe there is light at the end of the tunnel. People wanted to hear not just that there will be peace and a better day, but how Sharon plans to help get us there.”