by Tanya Reinhart
To judge by the polls, the political system in Israel is very far from representing the positions of the majority in Israeli society. For several months the polls have shown a 60% majority or more in favor of dismantling settlements, even in the framework of a “unilateral separation.” The questions in the polls are not always unequivocal, but in a Da"haf poll, on May 6th, which was solicited by Peace Now, the questions were clear, and so were the answers: 59% of the Jewish Israelis support a unilateral withdrawal of the Israeli army from most of the occupied territories, and dismantling most of the settlements. They believe that this will renew the peace process, and this solution gives them hope (1). The tens-of-thousands of Israelis, who showed up at the “peace coalition” demonstration on May 11th, responded to this call.
But what precisely was the call? Since it was introduced in February of this year, the call has been wrapped in words about massive fences and “isolation areas,” but at its start, it was clear and sharp. Its prominent proponent is Ami Ayalon, who comes from the heart of the security system (as former head of the General Security Services). In an interview with Le Monde Diplomatique he said: “I favor unconditional withdrawal from the Territories. What needs to be done, urgently, is to withdraw from the Territories. And a true withdrawal, which gives the Palestinians territorial continuity in a Transjordan linked to Gaza, open to Egypt and Jordan.” (December 22, 2001).
In February, Ayalon was joined by one of the most mainstream bodies in Israel: “After four months of intense discussion, the Council for Peace and Security, a group of 1,000 top-level reserve generals, colonels, Shin Bet and Mossad officials, are to mount a public campaign for a unilateral Israeli withdrawal from all of Gaza and much of the West Bank. About 80 percent of the full membership has signed on to the campaign. Unlike some of the other unilateral withdrawal plans, ‘Life Fence, for example, the council's plan involves evacuating some 40-50 settlements...” (Lily Galili, Ha'aretz, February 18, 2002).
Underlying this plan is the understanding that the route of eternal negotiations, as Israel stays in the territories, has failed. The solution should go the other way: first an immediate unilateral withdrawal, as in Lebanon, and then real negotiations would start. The evacuation will include all of Gaza, and 90-95% of the West Bank, excluding the Jerusalem and central settlement blocks, whose 150,000 settlers cannot be evacuated over night.
I add from what I wrote in this page (of Yediot Aharonot) on July 8, 2001. "This withdrawal will leave under debate the large settlement blocks, as well as the problems of Jerusalem and the interpretation of the right of return. For these, negotiations will be needed. However, during the negotiations the Palestinian society will be able to begin to recover, settle in the lands that will be evacuated, construct democratic institutions, and develop its economy based on free contacts with whomever they want. Under these circumstances, it should be possible to carry the negotiations out in mutual respect, and to also reach the core issue: What is the right way for two peoples which share the same land to build, jointly, their future.”
I believe that if we follow this plan, no fences will be needed. In other “unilateral separation” plans, such as that which Barak's circles have been promoting, a fence will be built around the Palestinian enclaves to “separate” them from their neighboring Israeli settlements, and from each other, following the model of what Israel has done already in the Gaza Strip. According to this plan, indeed, massive fences will be needed, as well as reserve services forever. But an unconditional (unilateral) evacuation, immediately, is a route towards peace.
An amazing and encouraging fact is that, contrary to the prevailing impression in Israel, support for a just peace and reconciliation is still strong in the Palestinian society. A survey by the Development Studies Program at Bir Zeit University in the West Bank, which was conducted in February 2002, found that “77% believe that both Palestinians and Israelis have the right to live in peace and security. 73% find it necessary for Palestinians and Israelis to work together to achieve peaceful coexistence once a Palestinian state is established.”(2) This poll was conducted before the destruction and hatred we sowed there in the last invasion, but the conclusion is that we should get out immediately, before we destroy even more.
Although the majority in the Israeli polls supports the immediate withdrawal solution, this majority does not yet have a voice. Instead of calling for immediate withdrawal (“latzet myiad mehashtachim”), the spokesmen of the “peace camp” are talking about separation and fences. “I do not like the word separation, it reminds me of South Africa,” said Ami Ayalon in the interview mentioned above. Why didn't they let Ayalon speak in the mass demonstration of the peace coalition?
The political side of the Israeli “peace camp” has, on its record, years of experience in diverting the majority of the opponents of the settlements to the route of preserving the situation as is. Barak's people are pushing towards separation and fences, Peres and Beilin’s people are pushing to “resume negotiations,” while continuing to remain in the territories. (Amos Oz spoke in that demonstration about resuming the dead end of Camp-David and Taba.) Peace Now is dragging behind them. If the majority does not stay on guard, they will succeed again.
A fuller analysis of the immediate withdrawal solution, as well as the obstacles posed by the leadership of the Israeli “peace camp” can be found in the final chapter of Tanya Reinhart's book: Detruire La Palestine, ou comment terminer la guerre de 1948 (France: La Fabrique, 2002). The book will appear in English in June, as Israel/Palestine: How to End the War of 1948, published by the Open-Media series of Seven Stories Press, US. For the full chapter: www.indymedia.org.il/imc/israel/webcast/display.php3?article_id=28502
This article originally appeared in the Israeli daily Yediot Aharanot (May 21, 2002), under the title: “Who needs a fence or eternal negotiations.” Quotes and references added in the English translation.
(1) Ha'aretz online, May 10, 2002 ( “Poll: 59% say W. Bank, Gaza exit would renew peace process,” by The Associated Press). Full results: www.peace-now.org/Campaign2002/PollMay2002.rtf
(2) The survey of 1,198 respondents was held on February 7-9 in 75 Palestinian communities in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem. Its report, “Palestinian Public Opinion Poll # 6,” can be found at: http://home.birzeit.edu/dsp/polls/p6/. A summary was given also by Amira Hass, Ha'aretz, February 19, 2002.
Tanya Reinhart is a Professor of Linguistics at Tel Aviv University