Those of us who live in Palestine-Israel find ourselves at a fateful crossroads. From Prime Minister Ariel Sharons point of view, Israel has won its conflict with the Palestinians. Surveying the landscape - physical and political alike - Sharon can feel a great deal of satisfaction. He has finally fulfilled the task with which he was charged in 1977 by Menachem Begin: to ensure permanent Israeli control over the entire Land of Israel while foreclosing the emergence of a viable Palestinian state.
With almost unlimited resources and the enthusiastic complicity of the Labor Party when his party, the Likud, was out of power, Sharon set out to establish irreversible "facts on the ground" that would pre-empt any process of negotiations. He oversaw the establishment of some 200 settlements on land expropriated from Palestinians in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza; these settlements are home today to almost half a million Israelis.
During the Oslo "peace process," Israel doubled its settler population and constructed, with the permission and financial backing of the United States, a system of 29 major highways intended to irreversibly incorporate the settlements into Israel proper. In the meantime, 96 percent of the Palestinians were locked into what Sharon calls "cantons," deprived of the right to move freely. They are now being literally imprisoned behind concrete walls and electronic fences. Although comprising half the population of the country west of the Jordan, the Palestinians - including those with Israeli citizenship - are today confined to some 70 desolate, crowded, and disconnected enclaves on a mere 15 percent of the country.