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News media and politicians from many countries, including Palestine, are concerned that without Sharon there can be no peace process. The reasoning is that only he can persuade Israelis to give up more land.
My own perception is that there has been no peace process at least since the year 2000. What Sharon did in his disengagement was to signal frustration at the lack of a Palestinian partner, and to leave some territory in order to simplify Israel's problems of security.
Since then, Palestinians have been a long way from anything that looks like a peace process. Chaos does not provide the setting from which a government can negotiate. In recent weeks there have been kidnappings of foreigners in Gaza, including people affiliated with humanitarian organizations who came to help. One group seized the parents of Rachel Corrie, an activist from Evergreen State College who was killed in 2003 by an Israeli army bulldozer when she entered an active battlefield and tried to scream peace above the noise and commotion. When the kidnappers realized that they had taken the parents of a Palestinian martyr, they gave a pass.
There have been assaults on Palestine Authority offices by armed gangs wanting to be hired as security personnel by the Authority, or demanding that their friends be put on the list of candidates for the upcoming election. The Palestine Electoral Commission submitted its resignation, due to the way leading members of the Authority were issuing orders about the election.
One of the most popular candidates of the ruling Fatah Party is Marwan Barghouti, serving five consecutive life terms in an Israeli prison for involvement in the killing of civilians. If there is an election and he is chosen for the Palestinian parliament, Barghouti may have to ask a replacement to serve until sometime late in the 21st century.
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has said time and again that rocket attacks from Gaza to Israeli settlements do not advance the national cause, but they keep coming. Palestinian security forces, said to number 30,000 in Gaza, have not made serious efforts to stop them. In response, the IDF has made a wasteland of northern Gaza. Should one of those rockets kill an Israeli, the damage to Gaza is likely to be more extensive.
Has there ever been a serious Palestinian offer for peace with Israel? My own memory is that there has been one Palestinian demand after another for Israel to be forthcoming. Joining the chorus have been numerous Europeans, some Americans, and not a few Israelis. Now with what seems to be Ariel Sharon's exit from politics, we are hearing another version of that refrain. To me the problem is still the lack of Palestinian realism, currently reinforced by chaos within Palestine.
The next Israeli leader may make additional withdrawals, similar to Sharon's disengagement in being done when there is no sign of a Palestinian partner. If that occurs, it should be called strengthening Israel's defenses, and not a peace process.
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