Sharon, in the Herzliya Conference, reiterated his determination to press ahead with his expansionist project at the expense of the Palestinian people. A cursory glance at the speech is sufficient to conclude that he is still playing the same game: brandishing the security spectre as cover for pressing ahead with his attempt to define new borders for the State of Israel. The “security wall” that President Bush described as a “snake twisting through the West Bank”, leaving him wondering where the Palestinian state would be established, is but a means.
As he has always done, Sharon is also using the security spectre as pretext for continuing the endless assault against Palestinian civilians in their camps, villages and cities. This, he claims, falls under his government’s commitment to the roadmap, which to him represents yet another security plan. As he said in Herzliya, “The roadmap is a clear and logical plan that can and should be put into effect. Its underlying idea is that only security can lead to peace.” He had no qualms in suggesting that his so-called “unilateral disengagement plan” was consistent with the “principles” of the roadmap. The unilateral steps envisaged under the plan were purely “security measures”, that Israel needed to put into effect unilaterally as long as the Palestinian Authority refuses to implement its commitments under the first phase of the roadmap. These commitments Sharon summed up as the achievement of total security through the dismantling of “terrorist infrastructure”.
So ran his argument. But few were deceived, including the USA administration which referred to the unilateral disengagement plan as Sharon’s plan to disengage from the roadmap. Taking Sharon’s disengagement to represent Israel’s declared policy we can draw a number of conclusions. Above all, one notes that Sharon in unveiling this plan made no mention of withdrawing occupation forces from occupied territories, which is in keeping with his refusal to recognise that the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem are occupied, rather than what he prefers in the best of circumstances as “disputed”, territories. This refusal to concede that the Palestinians have any sovereign rights over Palestinian territory emanates from his Biblically inspired ideological conviction of Israel’s alleged right to all of historic Palestine. Little wonder, therefore, that whenever he is compelled to consider Israeli troop withdrawals from any section of Palestine he refers to this as a “painful concession” of part of Greater Israel.
Sharon, in his speech, did not budge an inch towards the resumption of negotiations under the roadmap. On the contrary, his purpose was to deliver an ultimatum to his hypothetical Palestinian interlocutors: “We hope the PA abides by its obligations. But if after several months they have still not done their part under the roadmap then Israel will be forced to take a unilateral security step to disengage from the Palestinians.” It hardly takes great effort to read between these lines. Essentially, Sharon is telling the Palestinians, “Either you come to the negotiating table prepared to sign away a large portion of your territory and legitimate rights, or Israel will annex your land unilaterally.” The result is the same in either case, but Sharon obviously believed that he was holding out the carrot rather than the stick when he warned that his disengagement plan would “clearly leave the Palestinians with much less than they would get via direct negotiations through the roadmap”. Notice, too, his turn of phrase, referring to “negotiations through the roadmap” instead of “implementation” of the roadmap.
The central premise behind Sharon’s speech is that security leads to peace rather than the other way around. The Zionist right have long upheld this adage. Not only does this camp of Israeli opinion still reject the principle of land for peace, it subscribes to the acquisition of land even at the cost of a peace agreement. To them, the annexation of large tracts of Palestinian land is a fundamental cornerstone in the security guarantees they demand from Palestinians. The Israelis and Americans speak of a geographically contiguous state, a principle Sharon affirmed in Herzliya. However, this by no means gives an indication of the nature of Israel’s presumed withdrawal from large areas of Palestine. Nor is it clear what they mean by “contiguous”, a concept they could very well stretch to comprise a series of bridges or tunnels linking isolated Palestinian “bantustans”. Whatever the case, Sharon’s wording suggests a tacit Israeli-USA agreement that complete withdrawal from occupied Palestinian territories is not on the books. Adding credence to this suspicion is Sharon’s assertion in his speech that “it is possible that parts of the disengagement plan that are supposed to provide maximum security to the citizens of Israel will be undertaken while also attempting to implement the roadmap.” In other words, even if negotiations are resumed under the roadmap, Israel will not halt—indeed may even step up—the annexation process in order to establish concrete realities on the ground.
The “security is the key to peace and not the reverse” formula has always been used to justify not only Israel’s continued occupation of all of Palestine but also its invasion and occupation of the Syrian Golan and Shabaa Farms in Lebanon. Its power resides in its ability to obviate any possibility of the Palestinians and Arabs demonstrating their good intentions. In an article on the roadmap, former USA Secretary of State Henry Kissinger remarked, “The Arab and Palestinian press, literature and television treat Israel as an illegitimate entity that the Arab world must get rid of. The Palestinians have never sincerely recognised Israel’s right to exist in the midst of the Arab countries, including in Palestine where perhaps the majority of groups would not recognise the legitimacy of Israel even after a comprehensive solution.” (Al-Sharq Al- Awsat, 22 June 2003)
If this is the logic that sanctions the annexation of a large portion of Palestinian territory under the pretext of security, it is also the logic that will dig in its heels against a final and comprehensive peace. A likely scenario is that the Americans will push Israel into accepting a temporary state on a small portion of Palestinian territory as called for in the second phase of the roadmap, and leave it at that. As Kissinger himself said in the same article, “The aim will not be a final peace, which is a legitimate aspiration, but coexistence as a necessary prelude to peace.” This thinking leaves plenty of room for the “temporary” status to be extended indefinitely on the basis of a “wait-and-see” stance towards the period supposedly following the temporary state.
The Israelis believe that the strategic environment created by their allies’ occupation of Iraq presents a golden opportunity to impose conditions and realities they could not have gotten away with before. As Israeli Chief of Staff Moshe Yaalon put it in Yediot Aharanot on 27 December 2003, “There is no longer an Arab world. There is no longer anything called an Arab alliance. There are just players, each pursuing their own interests. Everyone knows that in our mono-polar world anyone who wants to be considered part of the big village must be connected to the USA and not with any other alliance.” According to this viewpoint, Iran’s agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency and Libya’s decision to abandon its weapons of mass destruction are regarded as fruits of “the victory in Iraq”. To Israeli leaders, as long as these fruits are being plucked there is nothing to compel them to hasten the peace process. On the contrary, they believe they have everything to gain by waiting until the geopolitical map of the region in the post-Iraqi occupation era becomes more clearly defined.
Another frequently used ploy by the Zionist right is to evoke the ogre of the Arab “demographic danger”. It may not be immediately apparent why Israel would annex, via the construction of the racist separating wall, areas of the West Bank densely populated by Palestinians, but Netanyahu, in Herzliya, hastened to put Israeli minds to rest: “The Palestinian inhabitants will be moved to Palestinian controlled areas. Therefore, if there is a demographic problem—and it does exist—it is with the Israeli Arabs.” That the newly annexed areas must be freed of their Arab populations to allow for Israeli expansion is obvious to Netanyahu. But to him, the Arabs in the areas of Palestine occupied in 1948 present a greater “danger”. His solution is a blatant call for population transfer: Israel will give up isolated settlements in exchange for large swathes of depopulated territory. In exchange for relocating the settlers from the newly born Palestinian state, Israel will expel the Palestinians of 1948. This nightmarish scenario is grounded in the belief, encouraged by Washington, in Israel’s alleged right to preserve its identity as a “Jewish state”, and it is regretful that Abu Mazen fell into this trap at the Aqaba Summit as did the PA team of the so-called Dead Sea/Geneva Agreement.
Sharon and Netenyahu plan to play good cop, bad cop, while they wait for four more years from their electorate in Washington.
From the foregoing it is possible to conclude that all solutions proposed by Israelis, from the Settlements Council plan to the proposals by the Likud and the proponents of the Dead Sea/ Geneva Accord, converge on several fundamental points:
The direction Israel appears to be taking is to keep the conflict alive. Apparently, it has learned little from the experiences of its previous wars. Settling a conflict militarily is one thing. Settling it in a manner that secures its political objectives over the long term is another matter entirely.
The question remains as to how long Washington will remain aloof to any effective international role in rehabilitating the political process. Certainly the answer to this is contingent upon developments in Iraq and the repercussions of this in the Arab world. If Yaalon’s assessment of the Arab world is to be proved incorrect, various forms of resistance must continue and spread and the spirit of Arab cooperation must be revived. And, if this is to occur, the Palestinians must once again form the fulcrum of the revival, which, in turn requires that they return to their common platform of national unity, safeguarding the Intifada, democracy, the legitimacy of resistance to occupation and the pursuit of their legitimate rights to self- determination and full national independence on all of Palestinian territory occupied in June 1967, including Jerusalem.
In order to sustain this platform, the Palestinians must engage in a programme of comprehensive democratic reform leading to a total overhaul of their governing institutions and bases of authority; for in their present condition, permeated as they are with self-serving individualism and corruption, they will never be able to bear the burdens of the coming phase. This pursuit is a duty incumbent upon all forces of the Intifada. It is furthermore imperative that the PA step towards a Palestinian common ground now, before the boiling pot of forthcoming USA presidential elections furnishes the perfect climate for Sharon to impose his unilateral project by force.
The writer is the secretary-general of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
Article courtesy of Al-Ahram Weekly