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Ariel Sharon’s unintended legacy: the one-state creed

    This week marked a month since former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon died, and the end of the intense 30-day mourning period observed by his family.

    During these weeks after his death, it has become clear that some of the biggest beneficiaries of his latter-day policies, ironically, have been those who were the most critical of them.

    The bill brought last week by Likud MK Miri Regev, a heroine of the pro-settler right, amounted to an attempt to annex much of the West Bank.

    The connection between this and Sharon is not obvious, but it is strong.

    Calls for annexation of the territories have increased significantly in the past few years, and especially the past few months. Last year, a conference promoting annexation attracted big names in politics, including Yuli Edelstein, a cabinet minister, and Ze’ev Elkin, chairman of Likud’s Knesset coalition. Hawks in Likud and the Jewish Home party have given it unprecedented emphasis in the political arena.

    A central argument of the pro-annexation lobby is that the demographics are not as worrying as people claim — Jews would not be outnumbered by Arabs if the West Bank where annexed to Israel.

    It is not clear that they are right, but one thing is certain — they can only make this argument because of Sharon’s decision in 2005 to leave that most densely populated of Palestinian areas, the Gaza Strip.

    If there were still settlements in Gaza, calls for annexation would amount to calls for the creation of a political space in which Jews would be outnumbered by Arabs.

    Without Gaza in the picture, there is now a debate among annexationists about how sovereignty could work. One rare strength of the annexation argument is that is leverages Israel’s growing isolation: some advocates say that since Israel is already out on a limb, it may as well go the full distance.

    The annexation argument is unlikely to translate to political reality, but it is emboldening the right and giving it a seemingly coherent political creed. Sharon carried out the disengagement to avert a one-state solution, but it has boosted arguments for precisely this path. And while the right decried the disengagement, it has actually given new life to its dream of expanding Israeli sovereignty.

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