The New York Times
The Sharon Plan of Disengagement
By WILLIAM SAFIRE         April 16, 2004
WASHINGTON - 

"Back in November, so many plans were around," Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told me yesterday just before heading back to Israel, "from the Saudis, from Geneva, from the Arab League, and I saw we could not resist those pressures without a plan of our own. 

"What could I do — destroy the Palestinian Authority?  No — Israel cannot take on its shoulders the lives of three and a half million Palestinians. Sign a peace agreement?  No — terror would only begin again. Leave as is?  No — I've seen everything in Israel since the War of Independence, and it's my responsibility to deal with it now.

"I discussed this between me and myself and came up with a new initiative."  He calls it the Disengagement Plan; it will be hailed and denounced as the Sharon Plan.

Because Palestinian leaders have allowed terrorists to wage war against Israel, turning the well-intentioned "road map" into a dead letter, Sharon proposed to establish security without them.  This involved not just a security fence, but for Sharon to say "yes" to calls to withdraw from Gaza and other exposed Israeli villages in the disputed West Bank.

"I had to take this dangerous step of relocating some of our people," Sharon said.  "In Israel, the right does not like me to do it, and the left cannot do it.  But you don't wait forever."

This week, President Bush stunned Arab dictators and their acolytes in the U.N. and the E.U. by taking the Sharon "yes" for an answer.  For the first time, the U.S. government labeled as "unrealistic" the notion that Israel would be forced to "a full and complete return to the armistice lines" (rejecting the loaded word "borders") of 1949.  That new realism covers "existing major Israeli population centers," which Arabs call "settlements."

The Bush document also applied realism to the device that Yasir Arafat used to break up the deal that President Bill Clinton thought he had brokered: a "right to return" that would swamp Israel with Palestinians.  Bush made clear that refugees would return to a Palestinian state, not to take over the Jewish state.  Sharon added: "Don't create false expectations.  Our answer will be no."

America's historic, unequivocal support of what the world knows must be part of a two-state solution puts pressure for peaceful negotiation where it belongs: on Palestinians, who must take control of their destiny away from fanatics sworn to destroy Israel.  As Iraqis are also learning, free nationhood comes to those with the courage to control violent extremists.

Bush prevailed on Sharon to ease the disruption of Palestinian lives along the the security fence, which I think will encompass the Ariel salient, and to delay a Jordan Valley barrier.  Sharon will take all 7,500 Israelis out of Gaza by the end of next year, and the settlers' movement is infuriated.

But having promised "painful compromises" — code for withdrawals — before his recent elections, Arik expects to remain in office through a Likud Party vote and possible coalition defection.  "I'm not boasting" (he used the Russian word for boasting), "but I am not suspected of compromising our security."  If the far right parties desert him, he'll bring in Labor, headed by his old rival Shimon Peres.  A threatened indictment?  "A terrible libel."

He speaks highly of Colin Powell and almost reverently about Bush: "Something in his soul committed him to act with great courage against world terror.  Though under constant pressure, the man has not changed his mind."

What does he think John Kerry's reaction will be to the Sharon Plan?  "I hope to meet with him when I come back next month."  

E-mail: safire@nytimes.com