Sunday, January 02, 2005
Sharon's "Disengagement" from Gaza
Tuesday, March 30th, 2004
Tanya Reinhart, a professor in Tel Aviv University and the author of "Israel/Palestine: How to End the 1948 War" and "Detruire la palestine" (French), is a regular contributor to Media Monitors Network (MMN).
A Pacifier for the Majority
At the start of the Oslo process, the majority believed that Israel was withdrawing first from the Gaza Strip. But Rabin gave the concept of withdrawal a new meaning: he left all of the settlements intact, increased their territory, and built a heavy fence around the areas left for the Palestinians. With the Gaza strip imprisoned and isolated, there began a process of eternal negotiations with the Palestinian leadership over the details of further stages that would, perhaps, materialize at some future point. The majority believed at the time not only that we had already left Gaza altogether, but also that we were just about to get out of the rest of the occupied territories and end the occupation. This continued until the explosion that Barak created reminded us that, in fact, we have not yet gotten out of anything.
In February of 2002, Ami Ayalon and the council for Peace and Security called for a break from the route of eternal negotiations. It is both possible and necessary, they said, to withdraw unilaterally from the territories that the majority agrees we will get out of at the end of the process: all of the Gaza strip and all of the West Bank, excluding 6%-10% of the big settlement blocks. This means evacuating unilaterally and immediately all of the settlements in these areas, even before the final agreement. At the polls, 60% supported this idea, but what came out of it at the end was an extensive campaign to 'let us first build a fence' (kodem gader ve-az nedaber). In the elections of 2003, Mitzna stepped into the spotlight with a more modest version of the idea of unilateral withdrawal - Let us evacuate the settlements of the Gaza strip immediately. But during his election campaign, "immediately" has turned into "in a year or two after the elections", and in the meanwhile, let us strengthen the fence.
But now, so the papers say, we have finally reached a historical turn. The majority is asked to believe that of all Israeli leaders, it is Sharon who will get us out of Gaza. Sharon, who shaped the map of the settlements in the Gaza strip in the seventies, and explained persistently the supreme strategic importance of the Netzarim settlement in cutting the strip into halves, Sharon of the Lebanon war, Sharon of Jenin - he is the one who will now dismantle the Gaza settlements and end the occupation there.
For those who doubt, ample evidence is provided by the world of politics. Intensive negotiations of the plan take place, with the U.S. and with Egypt. Low and behold, the right wing is already protesting, the settlers are furious, the chief of staff Ya'alon has reservations, and Sharon may be about to loose his coalition - a strong indication of how serious he is. Those who still doubt remember that there have already been many plans in the past, and road maps and diplomatic convoys, and still it turned out at the end that Sharon did not really mean what he said. To restore their faith, the political discourse is filled with explanations on why this time it is different. Some say that Sharon has changed, or that he has had to yield to the will of his voters, to whom he has promised peace. Others explain that what drives Sharon is the need to distract attention away from the various scandals and allegations of corruption in which he is involved, or that perhaps he is willing to give up on the Gaza settlements in order to gain international support for his fence plan in the West Bank.
The point is that in order to achieve the goals assumed in these explanations, one does not need to dismantle a single settlement. It is sufficient to declare intentions, and start a new process of negotiations. This is precisely what all Israeli governments have done successfully since 1993, and what Sharon has done for the last three years. The only innovation is that now negotiations take place with everyone except the Palestinians. All that is needed is to throw a pacifier at the majority and to convince them that this time Sharon really means it. This way, the majority will continue to sit silently another year, and let Sharon apply the Gaza model also in the West Bank.
The American historian Howard Zinn formulated a simple rule: Governments lie. It appears that this generalization is one of the most difficult for people to internalize and digest in a democratic society. Until this changes, the majority is doomed to believe again and again the same lie.
Narrowing the prison cells
Sharon's "disengagement" plan was introduced in early February 2004, at the peak of international criticism of Sharon's project of the wall, with the Hague hearing scheduled to begin just a few weeks later, on February 23.
In an interview with Ha'aretz, Sharon announced that "this vacuum for which the Palestinians are to blame, cannot go on forever. So as part of the disengagement plan I ordered an evacuation - sorry, a relocation - of 17 settlements with their 7,500 residents, from the Gaza Strip to Israeli territoryThe aim is to move settlements from places where they cause us problems or places where we won't remain in a permanent arrangement. Not only settlements in Gaza, but also three problematic settlements in Samaria." (Yoel Marcus, Ha'aretz, Feb 3, 2004). Although the headlines presented this as a plan for an immediate unilateral Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza strip, modeling Israel's withdrawal from Southern Lebanon, Sharon, in fact, clarified already in this interview that "the process will take one to two years". He explained that a long process of negotiations lies ahead, not with the Palestinians, who will be excluded from any negotiations about the plan, but with the U.S., with whom, "agreement is needed on both the evacuation and the matter of the fence" (ibid).
Three days later, full details were given on what Sharon asks of the U.S. in return for his generous concessions - "shifting the separation fence to the east, with U.S approval, to a temporary security line that will surround more settlements than the present path of the fence The new security line will be maintained until the full application of the road map. After negotiations [with the Palestinians] resume and an agreement reached, [Israel] will move the fence to the border that will be determined." (Aluf Ben, Ha'aretz, Hebrew edition, Feb 6, 2004). Sharon also seeks U.S. permission "to expand the big settlement blocks in the West Bank, which are to be annexed to Israel in the permanent agreement" (ibid).
Indeed, the fence-route has been at the center of intense Israeli negotiations with the U.S. Nachum Barnea, one of the most well briefed Israeli journalists, reports that "Israel does not ask for money to finance the evacuation, although it will be glad to get it. It mainly seeks support of the fence-route." (Yediot Aharonot Saturday supplement, Feb 20, 2004).
Apart from the negotiations with the U.S., there is no sign on the ground of any intention to evacuate from Gaza. A committee was formed to make plans about how to compensate the settlers there, but so far there are no reports of any interviews or contacts made by the committee with any of the settlers, nor of any concrete plans it has come up with. There isn't even a list of the settlements that supposedly will be evacuated from Gaza. Shortly after Sharon's ceremonial announcement to Yoel Marcus in Ha'aretz, we heard that "sources in Sharon's office have said that the planned evacuation of Gaza will include less than the 17 settlements that Sharon mentioned in the interview with Yoel Marcus. According to a diplomatic source in Jerusalem, Sharon may propose to evacuate in the first stage only the isolated settlements and postpone the evacuation of the Katif block [the largest settlements block in the Gaza strip] to a second stage" (Aluf Ben and Arnon Regular, Ha'aretz, Hebrew edition, Feb 9, 2004).
One could infer that at least isolated settlements such as Netzarim are being prepared for evacuation in the near future. This, in fact, would be a significant step forward. As Sharon has repeatedly explained, the Netzarim settlement was not erected arbitrarily. It lies close to the seashore in the middle of the strip. In order to reach it from the mainland, Israel built a special road dotted with Israeli army posts.. This road, with its constantly widening "security strip" separates the northern area of Gaza city from the rest of the strip. Transit between the northern part of the strip and its southern part is completely at the mercy of the Israeli army, which means that, in reality, it is not possible for Palestinians. Evacuating at least this settlement with its road and army posts would enable some territorial continuity in the crowded Gaza strip. But on the ground, work on fortifying this settlement has only intensified in recent weeks. "The IDF is currently building, at the cost of millions of shekels, a new electronic fence for Netzarim The new fence will prevent penetration under foggy weather conditions The chief of staff approved the plan and the region commander issued the orders, including the appropriation of land from Palestinians" (Nachum Barnea, Yeddiot Aharonot Saturday Supplement, March 12, 2004).
But since both Israelis and the world are so eager to believe that Sharon intends to evacuate the Gaza settlements soon, who would notice the daily horrors? At least the fence project in the West Bank is a focus of some world attention. In the Gaza strip, the fence was already completed during the first stages of the Oslo process. The strip has become a huge prison, further divided internally into smaller prison units. But the present project of the military is narrowing the prison cells even further. This is done through a steady erasure of houses and orchards along the "security strips". Alex Fishman, the senior military analyst of Yediot Aharonot, describes one of the projects that continues as Israel "prepares to withdraw". "In the Gaza battalion, they keep executing gradually but systematically the old dream: to widen the "Philadelphia" road [along the border with Egypt] to at least one kilometer in width The realization of this dream has been happening for two years already. Every time the IDF spokesman announces that our forces are operating in the area of Rafa to expose tunnels, a few rows of houses are erased in the refugee camp. In some of the segments of the road, the width is already a few hundred meters, and their hands are still outstretched." (Yediot Aharonot Saturday Supplement, March 19, 2004).
Now that Sharon "intends to withdraw", this project can continue undisturbed. Since the announcement of the new initiative, there have already been three murderous Israeli attacks on Palestinians in Gaza (reported on February 12, March 8, and March 17-21). At the same time, new prospects are opened for the future maintenance of the prison, e.g. who should be responsible for feeding the prisoners. National Security Advisor Giora Eiland, who is in charge of composing the full details of the disengagement plan, explained in a meeting of the security establishment with Sharon that as Israel withdraws from the Gaza strip "it would no longer be responsible for what happened there. 'Let the world worry about them,' he said. 'I will no longer be the occupier in Gaza, so it will be as much the Egyptians' and Europeans' business as mine' " (Aluf Benn, Ha'aretz, March 18, 2004).
Here is how Amira Hass describes the daily reality of the Gaza strip:
This is an admission of failure. The written word is a failure at making tangible to Israeli readers the true horror of the occupation in the Gaza Strip. This admission of the failure of the written word is not meant to enhance the role of photography. A picture may indeed be worth a thousand words, but for the Israeli occupation to approach some level of comprehension, Israelis need to see tens of thousands of photographs, one after the other, or watch documentaries that are at least eight hours long each, so they could grasp in real time the fear in the eyes of the school children when some whistling above turns into twisted crushed metal with charcoaled bodies inside.
Another movie should show the viewers the vineyards of Sheikh Ajalin, the ripe grapefruits, the peasants who for years nurtured the fruit with great love only to see it all turned to scorched earth left behind by Israeli tanks and bulldozers. No movie has yet been produced that would enable Israelis to taste the wonderful grapes of Sheikh Ajalin. The vineyards are gone so the military positions can protect Netzarim.
How would photographs illustrate the following facts - from September 29th up to Monday this week, 94 Israelis have been killed - 27 civilians and 67 soldiers, according to the IDF. From that same date up to February 18th this year 1,231 Palestinians have been killed - all of them were terrorists? Lacking a central Palestinian agency, there are differences between the data provided by Palestinian groups and none claim to be 100 percent accurate.
The failure to bring all this home to readers is not because of the weakness of words or a lack pictures. It is because Israeli society has learned to live in peace with the following facts. There are 8,000 Jews and 1.4 million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. The total area of the Strip is 365 square kilometers. The settlements occupy 54 square kilometers. Along with the areas held by the IDF, according to the Oslo accords, 20 percent of the Strip is under Israeli control. That's 20 percent of the territory for half of one percent of the population.
The proximity of every expansive settlement to the densely populated, suffocating crowded Palestinian community is what causes the large number of Palestinian casualties in the Gaza Strip, including many civilians. It is what determines the flexible rules of engagement, the type of bombs that break into fragments, the unmanned aircrafts that fire missiles.
- Amira Hass, "Words have failed us," Ha'aretz, March 3, 2004.
What Kind of State Deserves to Exist?
Yediot Aharonot, Tuesday, April 20, 2004;
Translated from Hebrew by Netta Van Vliet
Amidst the political storm in Israel regarding the "Gaza disengagement" plan, only one really meaningful fact emerges: Sharon received Bush's approval to proceed with his plan for the wall in the West Bank.
With regard to the Gaza strip, the disengagement plan published in the Israeli papers on Friday, April 16th specifies that within a year and a half, the Israeli occupation there should be declared to be over. In every other aspect, the situation will remain as is. The Palestinians will be imprisoned from all sides, with no connection to the world, except through Israel. Israel also reserves for itself the right to act militarily inside the Gaza strip. (1) But since the strip will no longer be defined as an occupied territory, Israel will not be subject to the fourth Geneva Convention. Clause f of section I in the published plan states that "the disengagement move will obviate the claims about Israel with regard to its responsibility for the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip". In other words, what Israel does today in violation of international law will become legal: It would presumably become formally permissible to starve people and to kill whoever Israel determines - from a child throwing stones, to the successor of a spiritual leader, himself executed a month before.
The text of the plan also declares that Israel will evacuate the settlements and the army posts inside the strip. It is not clear how this could be accomplished given that the declared intention is to keep the strip under full Israeli "security control". After all, the isolated settlement of Netzarim (like the others) was founded precisely in order to divide the strip into separate parts, thus enabling control of it from the inside. Those who want to, may believe that Sharon will eventually dismantle Netzarim. In the meanwhile, however, Israel invests in its fortification. On channel 1 TV news on April 15, there was an interview with a pretty relaxed settler from Netzarim. "If the defense minister is building right now a new security fence for us" - he said - "then surely no one intends to evacuate us". In any case, the position agreed upon by Sharon and Netanyahu, and which was confirmed in the cabinet meeting of April 18, is that no settlement in the Gaza strip is to be evacuated before the wall in the West Bank is completed.
As for the West Bank, the innovation in the Bush-Sharon agreement is not found at the level of declarations. In the plans of Clinton and of Beilin-Abu Mazen, as well, it was clear that Israel was not offering return to the precise line of the 1967 borders, nor a full realization of the right of return. However, these were plans for negotiation - proposals awaiting the approval of the Palestinian people. Now the Palestinians are not even asked. Now it is Israel and the U.S. who are determining the facts on the ground. Israel marks the land that it desires, and builds a wall on that route.
In the Clinton plan, the Palestinian territory to be annexed to Israel consisted of 5-7% of the West Bank. But when the present route of the plan was first approved by the previous Sharon government, Shimon Peres, then foreign minister, protested that it robbed the Palestinians of 22% of their lands. Since then, the segment of the wall which is already under construction has been extended much further onto Palestinian land. According to a UN report from November of 2003, this segment, which did not include yet the region of Jerusalem, has already appropriated 14.5% of Palestinian land. Along this route, Israel is uprooting tens of thousands of trees, dispossessing Palestinian farmers of their land, and pushing them into small enclaves between fences and walls, until, at the final stage, the wall will surround them on all sides, as in the Gaza strip.
In 1969, the Israeli philosopher Yesayahu Leibovitz anticipated that in the areas of the occupation "concentration camps would be erected by the Israeli rulers... Israel would be a state that would not deserve to exist, and it will not be worthwhile to preserve it". How far are we from Leibovitz prophecy in the fenced Gaza strip?
In the West Bank, the situation is still different. Along the route of the wall, the internal struggle of the Israeli society is now taking place - between the self-proclaimed “land redemptionists” who, no matter how much land they have, will always want more, and those who want to live in a state that deserves to exist. Along that route, there are Israelis who, alongside the Palestinians, are putting their bodies in front of the bulldozers and the Israeli army.
(1) The published plan is available at: http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/pages/ShArt.jhtmlitemNo=416024&contrassID=1&subContrassID=1&sbSubContrassID=0&listSrc=Y.
Here are some of the clauses that the summary in this paragraph is based on (Italics added):
III: Security reality after the evacuation
1. Israel will supervise and guard the external envelope on land, will maintain exclusive control in the air space of Gaza, and will continue to conduct military activities in the sea space of the Gaza Strip.
3. Israel reserves for itself the basic right of self-defense, including taking preventative steps as well as responding by using force against threats that will emerge from the Gaza Strip.
VI. The border area between the Gaza Strip and Egypt ("Philadelphi Route")
During the first stage, Israel will continue to maintain a military presence along the border line between the Gaza Strip and Egypt ("Philadelphi Route"). This presence is an essential security need, and in certain places, it is possible that there will be a need for the physical enlargement of the area in which the military activity will be carried out.
XII. The international crossing point.
1. The existing arrangements will remain in force.
The address for protest is Labor's headquarters
Yediot Aharonot, June 8, 2004. Translated from Hebrew by Edeet Ravel
How can we explain the conjurer's trick by which Sharon has turned into the darling of the Israeli peace camp?
Sharon is the worst prime minister we have ever had. No one else has managed to destroy so much in so little time. In the occupied territories, Sharon is realizing with frightening efficiency his long-standing vision of evicting the maximum number of Palestinians from their land. We have become a land of walls and fences and checkpoints in Rafah, in Jerusalem, in the West Bank. And now Israeli Arabs in Lydda are also being imprisoned behind a wall. We have an army that acts in unthinkable ways. Reading a newspaper fills one with shame; it is shameful to be an Israeli abroad.
Internally as well, devastation reigns: people whountil recently led a dignified existence are lining up at soup kitchens. They will soon be joined by municipal workers. Seniors are abandoned, foreign workers are treated like slaves, the environment is being destroyed, the universities are strangled.
Along with our society and state, the last recourse the rule of law is rapidly disintegrating. In a healthy society, a prime minister whose name has been linked to corruption and bribery scandals would resign even before the matter reached the courts.Here, the government'sAttorney General usurps the authority of the courts. Sharon’s trial has been conducted for months now in the inner recesses of AG Mazuz’s mind. In the final analysis, only if Mazuz the prosecutor can convince Mazuz the judge that there is a decisive basis for indicting Sharon, will Mazuz theAttorneyGeneral decide that there are grounds to put him on trial. Thus the prime minister remains above the law.
We have had poor leaders in the past. Netanyahu also sold off state assets, violated agreements with the Palestinians, and was accused of corruption. But no one has been as odious as Sharon. And yet, when an opportunity to bring him down presents itself at last, the Labor Party hurries to his rescue. - It doesn’t matter what he is doing or will do - Labor spokesmen explain - he has to be given a free hand because he has promised to get us out of Gaza within a year and a half. In fact, Sharon has yielded to all the demands of the dissenting ministers, and the decision on evacuating the settlements has been postponed until March 2005. Building and development in the Gaza settlements will continue, with the authorization of a special committee. (1,2) Yet none of this dissuades Labor from backing Sharon.
In his writings, Noam Chomsky persistently asks how it is possible in a democratic society for a small powerful group to impose on the majority a social order that is contrary to the majority’s wishes and interests. In Soviet-style dictatorships, the question does not arise: when there is only one candidate in the elections; when the Party decides and Pravda promulgates, the majority has no say in the matter. In a democracy, one of the processes that can lead to the same result is emptying the political system of content and eliminating genuine opposition.
In the last Israeli elections, many voters who were fed up with Sharon voted for Labor candidate Amram Mitznah. But now their elected representatives are keeping Sharon afloat. Whoever is elected becomes part of the system in exchange for a few crumbs of power, instead of representing the people who voted for them and opposing the government. The disappearance of opposition is supported by an acquiescent media. Haaretz, supposedly the paper of the liberal peaceniks, tells its readers day after day that what is important now is to save the worthy Sharon, who so badly wants to get out of Gaza.
But the virtue of democracy is that, in spite of all this, voters can still impose their will on their elected representatives. The place to address protests in the coming weeks is Labor Party headquarters. Sharon has to go. He must not be given a safety net.
[Background: On Monday, June 7, there were two non-confidence votes in the Israeli Parliament, one submitted jointly by the Beilin's Yahad party and the Arab parties. Labor party sustained, thus giving Sharon the majority he needed to survive.]
(1) Ha'aretz, Monday, June 7, 2004, PM: Disengagement is on its way
By Aluf Benn, Gideon Alon, and Nathan Guttman:
At the end of a dramatic cabinet meeting yesterday, the government passed Ariel Sharon's revised disengagement plan, by a vote of 14-7, but the decision does not allow for the dismantling of settlements and the prime minister will have to go back to the cabinet when he actually wants to begin the evacuation process. ...The decision on the evacuation of settlements will be brought to the government at the end of a preparation period. Sharon told the cabinet the preparation period would end next March 1. ...
(2) Ha'aretz, Mon. June 7, 2004
What's been approved, what's changed By Aluf Benn
The government approved the revised disengagement plan and the preparation of the groundwork for the evacuation of settlements in the Gaza Strip and northern Samaria.
The actual implementation of the evacuation will require additional approval by the government, in accordance with the compromise that was reached yesterday and that enabled enlistment of the support of the senior Likud ministers for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan. In the framework of the compromise, six areas in Sharon's original plan were modified at the request of Ministers Benjamin Netanyahu, Limor Livnat and Silvan Shalom:
1. The name of the plan was changed from the "four-stage disengagement plan" to the "revised disengagement plan."
2. There was no approval of actual evacuations. The draft Sharon presented to the government last week contained a decision in principle to evacuate 25 settlements, which were divided into four groups, with a separate discussion being set for each group. This was rejected by the senior ministers on the grounds that it contradicted the May 2 Likud referendum that had rejected Sharon's original plan.
A compromise suggested by Likud Minister Tzipi Livni stated that the amended plan would not specifically approve evacuation of settlements, and that a second government discussion would be held in this regard, "taking into account the circumstances at the time." This phrasing was the key to the compromise that was reached. ...
3. A "softening" of the timetable. Sharon's proposal stated that "the process of evacuation was to be completed by the end of 2005." In yesterday's decision the government merely "stated its intention" to complete the evacuation by the end of 2005.
4. Cancellation of the ministerial committee. Sharon wanted to set up a special ministerial committee on the evacuation, to be headed by himself and ministers who supported his plan. The approved plan states that the evacuation will be monitored by the political-security cabinet.
5. Watering down of the freeze on construction. Sharon's draft contained a complete and immediate freeze on all government plans for construction and development in areas slated for evacuation. The approved plan ensures "support for the needs of daily life" in settlements slated for evacuation. Bans on construction permits and leasing of lands were also removed from the prime minister's proposal.
6. Change in the panel approving deviations from the plan. The committee under the revised plan will be headed by the directors-general of the Prime Minister's Office (PMO), the Finance Ministry and the Justice Ministry.
Preparations for the evacuation will be undertaken in several areas. The defense establishment is planning the army's redeployment around the Gaza Strip and in northern Samaria. A special committee will formulate criteria for compensating settlers and begin negotiating with them. The Ministry of Justice will prepare the necessary legislation. The Jewish Agency will assist in resettling the evacuated settlers. At the PMO, a committee will be set up to oversee the evacuation and compensation process, with the authority to hand out advances to those willing to evacuate of their own free will.