Despite the dramatic and unprecedented uprising in Israel, of the settler community, the national religious youths and a part of secular right wingers; despite Voodoo ceremonies, the huge money invested in an anti-disengagement campaign and emotional extortion of the Jewish public; despite all this, the dismantling of Gaza settlements can be considered an established fact. However, a fascinating puzzle lingers. Why has Sharon, who is considered a vehement enemy of the Palestinian people and the major engine behind the settlement process of the occupied territories, made such a considerable unilateral concession? Did Sharon indeed undergo a deep metamorphosis to become the big peacemaker and play the role of an Israeli De Gaulle or De Klerk? A careful examination of Sharon’s steps, lead to completely contradictory conclusions.
One basic premise must be comprehended, Sharon’s vision of the “solution” to the Israeli/Palestinian problem is more compatible in principle (even if not with specific details) with the pragmatic historical Labor Zionist approach which are his roots. It is certainly incompatible with the secular rightwing (Revisions movement) and even less with the religious messianic wishful thinking of an exclusively Jewish Greater Israel.
Sharon’s reasoning is that in exchange for dismantling all of the Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip and the four isolated small settlements in the West Bank, he will retain all of the major settlement blocs in the West Bank. These contain approximately 300,000 settlers and 700 kilometers of roads for the exclusive use of settlers. More importantly, Sharon will gain the political and moral ability to impose such an exchange presenting himself as a peacemaker. .
Additionally, Sharon has expressed a clear “vision” for the management of the conflict. According to his interpretation and implementation of the roadmap, Israel would create a Palestinian state on a contiguous area of territory in the West Bank, which would allow Palestinians to travel from Jenin to Hebron without passing through any Israeli roadblocks or checkpoints, but would be separated by the walls and fences from Israel and the Jewish settlement blocs.
He envisages that the wall (presented today as a security necessity) will determine the final borders of Israel and would result in the de facto annexation of about 20 percent of the West Bank. Sharon’s “generous offer” will be made within the framework of the road map but in conformity with Sharon’s interpretation of Bush’s plan and as a “take it or leave it” proposition.
Unfortunately for Sharon, nothing has changed for the Palestinians unless they were to completely capitulate.
The death of Arafat, on November 11, 2004 and the election on January 10, 2005 of Mahmoud Abbas as his successor, does not alter any basic Middle Eastern demands. Abbas cannot give up the principles framed by Arafat, the Palestinian National Council and consensus that demanded a Palestinian state within the borders prior to the 1967 war. This constitutes 22 percent of the initial demand of historic Palestine with its capital in east Jerusalem, release of all the prisoners from the Israeli jails and detention camps, and the right of return, at least in principle, for Palestinian refugees who fled or were uprooted from the territories under Israeli sovereignty since 1948.
Right now, the completely exhausted Palestinian society (including the militant Islamic factions) agrees with Abbas’ conclusion that that the Palestinians cannot win an armed struggle with Israel because Israel is too well armed by the US. However, they can grind the Israeli society using Qassam rockets and suicide bombers.
Still, being a good politician, Abbas re-assured the second term elected Bush administration, the Palestinian commitment to the implementation of roadmap’s terms.
Many who are oriented toward compromise from both sides are presumably aware of Sharon’s real intentions but support his policy anyway -- for two main reasons. First, the Israeli casualties suffered from protecting the few settlers of the Gaza Strip were disproportionate to their limited geopolitical importance, the military and economic resources invested and the political price paid for direct control of the Gaza Strip. Second, dismantling these settlements might become a precedent for dismantling other settlements, an idea that Sharon never expressed and probably never intended.
The pullout from chaotic Gaza is a far reaching step from Israeli point of view, but provides very little tangible gains for the Palestinians. If it is not followed by real advancement toward a peaceful solution of the Mideast conflict, then the cycle of violence will resume and escalate. No doubt Sharon will then claim “final proof” that Israel has no partner for peace.
Baruch Kimmerling is a professor of sociology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Among his recent books are Politicide: Ariel Sharon's War Against the Palestinians (Verso, 2003), Immigrants, Settlers and Natives (Alma and Am Oved, Hebrew, 2003), and The Palestinian People (Harvard University Press, 2003) with Joel S. Migdal.
Articles by Baruch Kimmerling
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