Tags: Exclusive: | Sharansky | Says | 'Israel | Battlefield'

Exclusive: Sharansky Says 'Israel Is a Battlefield'

Monday, 22 August 2005 12:00 AM

This is because, among other things, he is seen as the informal architect of President Bush's foreign policy that seeks to spread freedom and democracy in the Middle East as the best tool for lasting peace.

Secure in his role as the world's most consistent advocate of democratization as a basis for foreign policy, the long-time gulag prisoner was in the news in November 2004 when he was invited to the White House to discuss his freshly published "The Case for Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror."

Sharansky was viewed as a hero in Israel because of his activism for free Soviet emigration, founding Yisrael B'Aliyah in 1995, a moderate right wing party that advocates Zionism. He became a member of Israel's parliament, the Knesset, in 1996 and has remained one of Israel's most well-known politicians.

Sharansky is also chairman of OneJerusalem.org, a group dedicated to preserving a unified Jerusalem.

NewsMax caught up with the former minister of Jerusalem and Diaspora at his cottage home in the suburbs of Jerusalem.

His comfortable refuge may seem insolated from the turmoil in Gaza and the northern Western Bank, but Sharansky is quick to remind NewsMax that he, like his countrymen, is never free from the feeling of siege.

"I can walk just one hundred meters in any direction from my home and come upon the scene of a suicide bomber attack," he recounts in his rapid-fire speech. "It's a battlefield."

The local media, he says, is rife each morning with fresh stories of tragedy issuing forth from the Gaza Strip, where Jews are being ripped from their homes and their livelihoods.

He describes the plight of his friends in the various Gaza settlements; particularly painful is all the hard work that over some 35 years had resulted in the Strip becoming a "model of modern agriculture."

"It's being taken over; the jobs are going," he laments. Worse is the nagging feeling that they may be making the painful sacrifice for nothing.

Sharansky professes great skepticism about Sharon's worn mantra that the turnover will make it "easier for us to defend our borders."

Like so many others, he sees a dangerous scenario unfolding where Hamas and other extremists will simply be provided a staging area.

He has his own mantra that he has repeated over and over: "If a Palestinian democracy developed, then a Palestinian state would not be dangerous. As I said many years ago, it is very important that the depth of our concessions match the depth of democracy on the other side. If disengagement were linked to democratic reforms, I would be all for this plan. But I object to any plan that leaves territory for terror."

When NewsMax suggested that some U.S. pundits had likened the turnover to the American government ceding Texas back to Mexico, he felt that the example was not dramatic enough. For the analogy to be correct, he felt, one would have to add the further fictional dimension that Mexico had perpetrated the horrors of 9/11 and then made the unilateral demand for the Lone Star State.

The man who faced up to Soviet tyranny and kept his sanity by playing chess with his fellow prisoners mocks the flimsy theory that the Gaza and West Bank concessions "hopefully will paint us as the good guys." "I fear the hopes are in vain," Sharansky says. Land concessions aside, there still looms the specter of "hundreds of thousands of Palestinians wanting to enter Israel."

The veteran dissident fumes that Sharon's preoccupation with providing ease to defending borders begs the real burning issue of, as he states it, "Where is the border of fear?"

Conceding that Israel has no business "controlling the lives of 3 million Palestinians," he says that he has always been more than willing to grant the Palestinians not only land but "all the rights of the road" - however, only in return for the surcease of the crippling fear that haunts every man, woman and child in his adopted homeland.

But is bringing democracy to the Palestinians the answer; does this erase the irrational hatred, for instance?

Sharansky has obviously fielded this question before and runs staccato through another of his reasoned principles: "All people prefer to live without fear that they will go to prison for their views. It is possible to encourage these types of societies in every place, where people will live without fear of going to prison. It means that we should be interested not in what are the relations between the leaders of different countries, but what are the relations of the leaders of this countries with their own people.

"[Do] they treat their people in fear and control them through fear, or [are] they democratically elected, and are they dependent on the well-being of their people? As I always say, it's better to have a democracy which hates you than a dictatorship which loves you.

"If you have the societies of the countries where the leaders maybe are not big friends but they all depend on their own people, they all treat their people in a way that these people live without fear, then they will be of no danger to people."

Sharansky paused in his polemics.

"You wrote the book on democracy. Do you really believe democracy has a chance with the Palestinian Authority?" interjected NewsMax.

"Yes, I believe it can be the first free democratic Arab nation," Sharansky responded without hesitation.

Sharansky clearly clings to such hope as he clung to the diversion of playing chess to survive the tortures of confinement. "It saved my life," he told NewsMax. But hope aside, Sharanky is utterly convinced that Sharon is moving the wrong chess pieces at the wrong time.

In his resignation letter to Sharon, Sharansky wrote that he opposed the disengagement plan from the outset based on the belief that "every concession in the peace process on the part of Israel must be conditioned on democratic reforms on the Palestinian side. The disengagement plan does not meet this basic condition. The opposite is true: it will lower the chances for the establishment of a free Palestinian society and would provide terrorist elements with a backwind."

Sharansky concedes that resigning was a painful step but concluded that, as a minister, he must assume responsibility for all government moves. He could not continue serving in a government whose only focus is the advancement of a plan he so utterly rejects.

And this is not the first time he has made such a protest. He resigned in 2000 from Ehud Barak's government over the Labor prime minister's plan to attend a peace summit in Washington.

Sharansky is as steadfast in his ideals as his personal hero, Ronald Reagan, was when he dubbed the former Soviet Union an Evil Empire, sending ripples of cheer and hope through the gulag where he and his fellow political prisoners languished. (In 1986, President Reagan won Sharansky's release as part of an East-West prisoner exchange.)

Sharansky's own roadmap to peace: no concessions, no funds, no legitimacy for the Palestinians unless they adopt democracy. On the other hand, however, hold forth a lush "Marshall Plan" for the Palestinians if they choose the path to true freedom and democracy.

It's a hard line, but Sharansky recalls that it worked like a charm for Ronald Reagan against the Soviet Union - and it would work for Israel against the Palestinians.

"I am convinced that all people desire to be free," Sharansky writes in his latest book. "I am convinced that freedom anywhere will make the world safer everywhere. And I am convinced that democratic nations, led by the United States, have a critical role to play in expanding freedom around the globe."

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This is because, among other things, he is seen as the informal architect of President Bush's foreign policy that seeks to spread freedom and democracy in the Middle East as the best tool for lasting peace. Secure in his role as the world's most consistent advocate of...
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