Reprinted from Ha'aretz of November 4, 1998

THE MOST HISTORIC MAPS

By Akiva Eldar

Clip and save the maps of the Israeli upcoming withdrawals. These are historical documents - and there's no need for quote marks around the word. This time, we're not talking about returning the empty desserts of Sinai, or leaving the refugee camps of the Gaza Strip, which has little of the visceral, biblical associations of the West Bank.Up to now Israel has handed over land in Areas A and B, where there's a dense Arab population. The claim could be made that all the withdrawals until now have been little more than the implementation of the autonomy idea from Camp David - something along the lines of the Menachem Begin school of thought that offered "autonomy for people" and claimed that the Palestinians have no valid claim to sovereignty in the areas of "Judea and Samaria."

But every percent of the 13 percent in Area C, even if largely empty of Palestinian villages or towns, is not only equal in area to Tel Aviv - as Benjamin Netanyahu liked to explain when a nine percent withdrawal was considered an existential threat to Israel. Each one of those 13 percents - according to his, and the Likud's ideology - is also equal to Tel Aviv in its historical and religious associations as well as the context of law and sovereignty.

It's not for nothing that the right is talking about "giving up" land, not "returning" it. As far as they are concerned this land always belongs exclusively to the Jewish people, and you don't "return" land to the Palestinians when they never owned it in the first place. The Oslo timetable tried to postpone handing over uninhabited land until the negotiations over the final settlement.

Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres could easily anticipate the reactions of the "national camp" - led by Netanyahu - to this kind of de facto recognition of Palestinian association "with parts of the homeland." Or what would have happened in the Likud if Yitzhak Shamir had brought the Wye maps to the cabinet for approval? Instead of grabbing the microphone at the Likud Center and shouting "who's against terrorism," Sharon got out of his sickbed to defend an agreement that included a six-folded expansion of the area under complete control of the Palestinian police (Area A will grow from three to 18.2 percent).

What would that famous patio overlooking Zion square in Jerusalem have look liked if Rabin had shattered the dream of the Greater Land of Israel based on a coalition that needed the support of Abdulwahab Darawshe? Arafat is right when he discourages the Arab Knesset members from working with Ehud Barak and Rehavam Ze'evi to bring down the Netanyahu government. In the 20 years since the Camp David Agreement was signed, no Israeli government has done so much for Arafat - not the Likud governments, not the national unity government with or without rotation, and not the Labor-Meretz government.

Netanyahu is also right. He's not following in Rabin's footsteps - he has already overtaken him. The Wye Plantation maps shorten the distance between the Oslo agreement and a Palestinian state. Only Bibi could unilaterally release Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin from jail and then blame Arafat for being too soft of the Hamas. Only Bibi could claim that the Oslo agreement did not have a "Jewish mandate" and keep his coalition alive by relying on the Arab Knesset members.

Only Bibi could summon the support of the ministers from the "national camp" for a recycled security agreement that forgoes the extradition of murderers, and present this as an unprecedented victory for the state's security. Only Bibi can turn Sharon from a rival into a partner. He doesn't need any favors from the left, not even the security net it offered for the Wye agreement. Bibi manages just fine without Shimon Peres in the government. Only Bibi could invent a ceremony for signing a relatively unimportant agreement in order to divert the attention from the Rabin memorial. But it's not as bad as it seems. Bibi's withdrawal maps are Yigal Amir's real sentence. Bibi is his punishment. It's just a shame that it has to be collective punishment.

copyright 1998 Ha'aretz.


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