There is little argument that the second Palestinian uprising is effectively terminated, despite the fact that the causes which led to its inception remain in place. This claim does not deny the looming prospect of a third revolt, nor does it undermine the unbroken will of the Palestinian people to carry on with their resistance by any channel available.
However, unfolding events in the occupied territories, topped by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s declared intentions of “disengaging” from the Gaza Strip, with a first phase scheduled for August 2005, have shifted internal Palestinian focus, even if temporarily, from confronting the Israeli occupation to settling factional and political grievances.
As far as the Israeli disengagement plan is concerned, Sharon’s real motives are starkly clear and require little political know-how. In a noteworthy policy speech delivered on June 30, 2005, Sharon, while taking on settlers opposing the disengagement of Gaza, clarified once again that the conditional move is motivated purely by demographics. This is certainly a palpable insinuation that Sharon’s actions are hardly motivated by the recommendations of the US-led quartet on Middle East peace, the provisions of the US forged roadmap or relevant international law regarding the unconditional withdrawal from the occupied territories.
“We concluded that we are going to leave Gaza, where there is no chance of establishing a Jewish majority,” he said in Cesaria, Israel. “It is clear to everyone that Gaza will never be part of Israel in any final agreement. At the same time, we are turning our resources to the most important areas, which we need to safeguard for our existence: the Galilee, the Negev, Greater Jerusalem, the settlement blocs and security areas.”
Sharon has once more demonstrated that he is anything but a changed man. His words and actions are the single required testimony. In fact, one might argue that his commitment to the illegal settlements project, which has been so dedicatedly pursed throughout the years, is approaching the apex: Caging in Palestinians in the whole occupied territories, effectively annexing 58 per cent of the size of the West Bank, expanding the borders of “Greater Jerusalem” to include major “settlements blocs” — Ma’aleh Adumim, Betar, Ariel, Gush Etzion and many others — working diligently to offset Palestinian population growth by dispatching thousands of Jewish settlers to the West Bank, expropriating a large percentage of Palestinian land by extending the illegal separation wall which has already snaked its way around scores of Palestinian towns and villages, incarcerating tens of thousands of Palestinians behind walls, fences, trenches and locked gates.
This is what the Israeli Prime Minister has to offer Palestinians in response to their one sided ceasefire and to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, whose foremost priority seems to be proving to Washington and Tel Aviv, that he, unlike Arafat, is a worthy and “relevant” peace partner.
Meanwhile, audiences worldwide watched with shock and amazement Israel’s over-publicised clashes between Jewish settlers and soldiers. “Israeli vs. Israeli in Gaza”, read a Christian Science Monitor headline. Media all around the world did their best to diminish the ingrained conception that Sharon’s commitment to the illegal settlements is everlasting. If the man who earned the title of “The Bulldozer” for destroying so many homes in Gaza during the 1970s is willing to take on his extremist and most loyal constituency for the sake of peace, then he must indeed be earnest in his efforts to bring the conflict to a halt, many must have concluded.
But there is more to “Arik’s horror show” in Gaza, wrote veteran Israeli journalist and peace activist, Uri Avnery, following a noisy clash between settler youth and Israeli troops on June 29, 2005. He asked: “Why were the riots not put down everywhere,” as was the case in the Gaza sideshow, which was well attended and covered by the media?
“There is no escaping the simple conclusion. It is in (Sharon’s) interests that TV screens in Israel and all over the world show the scenes of the terrible riots. That’s how he sows in the heads of the viewers the natural question, “If the evacuation of a few small settlements causes such a huge uproar — how can one even dream of removing the big settlements in the West Bank?”
Moreover, if the transfer of Gaza’s settlers to the West Bank (estimated at 1,700 families) will needlessly cost the Israeli budget $1.1 million per family, then how will the Israeli public ever back the removal of hundreds of thousands of illegal settlers infesting the occupied West Bank?
Sharon has indeed calculated will, creating enough political, ideologically, technical and financial hindrances that places a serious Israeli settler evacuation from the West Bank in the realm of impossibility. And of course, if the settlers remain, then the army will have to stay put in order to provide protection, more walls will to be erected, more Jewish only bypass roads to be curved throughout the West Bank, thus more land to be confiscated and many more Palestinians will be forced to leave to make way for new residents.
On the political front, the disengagement serves a great purpose and compels one to recall remarks made by Sharon’s lawyer and most trusted adviser, Dov Weisglass not long ago, who told the daily Ha’aretz of Sharon’s political ploy that has prompted the disengagement. He revealed that the “The `disengagement’ would actually supply the amount of formaldehyde necessary so there would not be a political process with the Palestinians.”
And indeed, there was no political process and none should be expected. The highly touted meetings like that between Sharon and Abbas in Jerusalem on June 21, 2005, were simply used by the Israeli premier as a way to pacify any censure for neglecting the peace track in favour of his unilateral moves across the occupied territories. The meeting was just another opportunity where Palestinians were duly reprimanded for not doing enough to curb violence and uproot the “terrorist infrastructure” and so on.
And while Sharon’s plan is actualising to the last point, Palestinians are haunted by a long legacy of corruption and nepotism, which is as old as the PA itself. Left alone to battle Israeli tanks and army helicopters, the Palestinian masses are also undeniably weary and in need of a ray of hope, however faint it might be. And sadly, it is highly unlikely that such a ray will arrive from neighbouring Arab countries, some being very eager to embrace political and economic normalisation with Israel, and unreservedly at that. Egypt, for one, agreed to supply Israel with cheap gas in a lucrative deal signed on June 30, 2005, and estimated at $2.5 billion. It is still unclear why Israel should be rewarded with cheap Arab gas while it continues to subjugate millions of Palestinian Arabs to untold misery.
It is only Palestinian resistance, which is capable of diffusing Sharon’s dangerous plan, whose blueprint was repugnantly highlighted in his infamous speech on March 05, 2002. “It won’t be possible to reach an agreement with them before the Palestinians are hit hard. If they aren’t badly beaten, there won’t be any negotiations. Only after they are beaten will we be able to conduct talks. I want an agreement, but first they have to be beaten so they get the thought out of their minds that they can impose an agreement on Israel that Israel does not want.”
If history was of any use at all, Sharon might have realised how horribly mistaken he was following every act of carnage against Palestinians. After all, it was a Palestinian who once wrote, “like the trees we die standing,” a phrase that has been ingrained in the Palestinian psyche for generations and was demonstrated in heroic resilience throughout the occupied territories, echoing from Jenin, to Hebron to Rafah and Gaza, on every street and in every corner.
But neither Sharon nor most of Israel’s decision makers seem to be proficient students of history. They are damned to repeat the same mistake again, and with every unlearned lesson, squandering an untold number of lives and countless opportunities for a genuine, just and lasting peace.