Because he couldn’t pull it off


The Jerusalem Post asks, in an opinion piece, Why not Mitzna?

Why, when during the last Israeli election campaign, former Labor party leader Amram Mitzna proposed essentially the same “pull out and fence off” plan that Ariel Sharon’s government is pursuing now, was he so readily dismissed?

As Prime Minister Ariel Sharon reviewed his year in office in a Knesset speech last night, it was hard not to ask the question, have we not come full circle? In the last election, the now-forgotten Amram Mitzna proposed negotiating with the Palestinians, and if that did not work, unilaterally withdrawing behind the fence.

During the election campaign, the Labor party ran an advertisement accusing Sharon of not building the fence fast enough. The Likud responded with an ad featuring Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, who explained the dangers of Mitzna’s plan to withdraw unilaterally from much of the West Bank.

The article claims that it’s because Sharon’s vision is pragmatic while Mitzna’s was idealistic:

Plan B, however, is preferable to the status quo. And we would rather have Sharon implement it than Mitzna.

The reason is that what Israel needs most is consensus on its own red lines. Mitzna could never have redrawn the map the way Sharon is doing while maintaining a consensus, in part because the Left cannot quite shake its ideology that concessions will bring peace, in part because Mitzna would never have been able to gain the trust of the Right. Sharon is doing what Mitzna said he would do but for the opposite reason: drawing the most defensible (politically, demographically and militarily) lines because there is no Palestinian partner. The public will back a pragmatic withdrawal/retrenchment over a utopian one any day, and that consensus is itself critical to maintaining Israel’s strategic credibility.

I think that’s true. But I think it goes further than that.

The thing is, a leader distrusted by the majority of a population can’t sell the tough concessions. There’s a reason it was Menachem Begin – with his hardliner background and right-wing affiliation – who signed the peace treaty with Anwar El-Sadat. It’s the same reason that Ariel Sharon might be able to sell a Gaza pullout, while Mitzna would never have been able to do so.

Israelis are concerned first and foremost about their security. They won’t trust a leadership that they perceive as selling out their security for a worthless piece of paper. They may trust a leader who they perceive as taking steps in the interest of security.

That doesn’t make me any more enthusiastic about Sharon’s plan. But it does go a long way towards explaining why the Israelis have been voting for people like Sharon over people like Mitzna in these past few years.

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