Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has presented a new political option - unilateral measures that "might include moving settlements." These declarations might give the impression that Sharon is aware of the prevailing political situation and the public feeling it has generated, and that he realizes the limitations of his policies so far. A naive observer could be led to believe that Sharon is prepared to roll up his sleeves and lead Israel into a new reality.
These would be glad tidings if Sharon were to outline his plan and clarify the substance of his conditions for promoting the plan. However, from the prime minister's vague declarations, it is difficult to comprehend what his true intentions are. At one time, he says a unilateral solution should be considered only if it is clear the Palestinians are tripping up the road map.
Another time, he talks of possible unilateral steps even before it becomes obvious the road map is not going to be implemented. What Sharon does not explain is what exact conditions will lead him to conclude that the Palestinians are "bringing about the failure" of the road map, how long he would like to study the success of the road map, and what Israel's "contribution" might be to the failure of the road map.
Unilateral steps do not necessarily augur well - for example, the separation fence, which is a unilateral measure that has created new complications because of the problematic route chosen for its construction. The prime minister has not clarified what these unilateral steps are that he is threatening - or promising - to take. If indeed he is talking about a substantial withdrawal from the territories, dismantling settlements and not merely make-believe gestures, unmanned outposts, and extending Palestinian control in the territories from which the army will withdraw, then why not arrive at understanding and agreement on these points with the Palestinian government? After all, these steps would in any case be a partial implementation of the principles of the road map.
A declaration of intention to take unilateral steps, even if sincere, would not leave those who are trying to promote a political solution to the conflict without concern. In a situation where there is no recognized or authorized body on the other side of the unilateral border - which would grant recognition to the move - the unilateral step could become devoid of significance. In the face of lack of recognition, Israel could lose the full benefits which appear to be part of a unilateral move.
It is also possible that international pressure would not let up if there are unilateral moves where benefits are not apparent. From Sharon's statements, one has the impression that he plans to compensate for "painful concessions" by acts of unilateral annexation, in order to appease the extremists in his party, the ultra-right parties and the settlers. Unilateral annexations would merely fan the flames of conflict.