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From Gaza to the West Bank
The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

16 August   |   2005   |   Subject  Middle East & North Africa (MENA)

A Jew does not expel a Jew

Israel seems to be in turmoil these days as an emotional tug-of-war is being waged by a relatively small number of settlers against the decision by the Israeli Government to 'disengage' from all the settlements in the Gaza Strip and from 4 small and isolated outposts in the northern West Bank. In fact, the graffiti on the walls hector PM Ariel Sharon for his decision to pull out from Gaza, and one of the more populist writings that 'a Jew does not expel a Jew' repeats the dramatic words of nineteen-year-old Cpl Avi Bieber that became the slogan for the pro-settler movement.

Indeed, the air is not only replete with ominous warnings and declarations that go so far as to compare the fate of Israelis today with those during WWII in Poland, but pro-pullout and anti-pullout ribbons are also being distributed across Israel. Those in favour of the pullout hand out blue ribbons that represent the colour of Israel's flag, whilst those opposing the pullout hand out bright orange ribbons as the colour of their struggle. Even a senior cabinet minister walked away from the notion of collective responsibility, when Benyamin Netanyahu submitted on 7 August 2005 his resignation as Minister of Finance in protest against the withdrawal from Gaza. However, Ehud Olmert quickly replaced Netanyahu, and the polls suggest that nearly half of the Israeli population believe the resignation was motivated by an attempt to undermine Ariel Sharon's leadership of Likud in the forthcoming primaries and to pave the way for the next general election.

And so, given such breaking news and grabbing headlines in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, one would probably be forgiven for thinking that this huge upheaval is due to a total Israeli pullout from all territories it occupied during the Six-Day War of 1967, and that all the settlers on occupied lands are being evicted from their settlements. After all, 55,000 Israeli soldiers are meant to guarantee that the pullout takes place according to plan. In fact, things are somewhat different since we are referring only to an Israeli withdrawal from 21 settlements in the Gaza Strip that house less than 9000 settlers and from Sa Nur, Homesh, Kadim and Ganim in the West Bank that were established in the early 1980's and that together have no more than 600 settlers living in them. Indeed, as Diana Buttu, legal adviser to the Palestinian Negotiating Support Unit underlined in a television interview last weekend, the overall pullout only affects 1% of Palestinian occupied territories and 2% of settlers on Palestinian land.

One quick look at the map of the Gaza Strip provides a graphic idea of how geography and demography are overlapping in this settlement-led conflict. The 15 settlements in southern Gaza, known as the Gush Katif, account for the bulk of the settlers, whilst the remaining 6 are toward the northern and central parts of this strip of land. Of those, a large number of settlers, and the majority of the Israeli population, are reconciled to varying degrees with the inevitable need to move out of the settlements. However, the settlements of Kfar Darom, Morag, Netzarim (established in the early 1970's, with roughly 1200 inhabitants) as well as that of Shirat Hayam (established in 2000, with merely 40 settlers) are the most devoutly religious and ideological ones. They have been causing a large degree of the polarisation within Israel.

I believe that the recent developments predicate a number of salient points:

An Israeli government (and no less a hawkish one than a Likud-led one headed by Ariel Sharon) has established the principle of withdrawal from occupied territories. This precedent should be welcomed let alone invoked as a precedent in the future. Moreover, it does not mean that Israel could use Gaza as its backyard to go in whenever it perceives an incursion necessary - irrespective of any deference to sovereignty, custom or circumstance.

The Palestinian factions should avoid any attacks on Israel, let alone any fratricidal struggles, and prove instead to the world that they are both willing and able to govern their lands. Any in-fighting and bloodshed would play into the hands of those who insist that Palestinians simply cannot govern a state and are more inebriated with the idea of freedom than with exercising good governance and states-like responsibility. Today, a cessation of violence remains an American sine qua non for further Israeli concessions, and this ramps up the burden on the Palestinian Authority - led by its President Mahmoud Abbas - to take effective control of those unchained territories in Gaza.

As I indicated in The Tipping Point?, this phase of withdrawal could only be the stepping-stone - not the culmination - of the process of peace. Israel should not be allowed to consolidate its settlements in the West Bank, and the Israeli hard-line thesis that by "giving" President Bush Gaza, Israel will have bought for itself at least a lack of American pressure so that it can annex the West Bank, should be disproven rapidly. After all, the rusty Roadmap for Peace calls for Israel to work with elected Palestinian officials for a negotiated Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza. Admittedly, it is the duty of the Palestinian Authority to ensure that it clamps down on terrorism and violence against Israel, but it is equally the duty of Israel - and by proxy that of the otiose Quartet - to ensure that Palestinian statehood does not slip off the agenda indefinitely. As I see it, this withdrawal is a precursor for an Israeli withdrawal from those settlements in the West Bank that are not already de facto parts of Israel, and subsequently for the creation of an independent and viable Palestinian state.

Gaza cannot become a cage for gaoling over 1.2 million Palestinians. There are 7 crossings between Gaza and Israel that could provide lifelines for the economic survival of Gaza. Besides, Palestinians should be allowed access to their borders and coastline, territorial waters and airspace - not be controlled, manu militari , by Israel.

•  The Palestinians should take this opportunity of regaining their land to improve the situation of the Palestinians still resident in refugee camps. Those camps are a painful reminder of a dispossessed and scattered people, but they are also showpieces against occupation, and should now be developed further with assistance from the EU.

In the midst of all those political permutations about the withdrawal from Gaza and future withdrawals from the West Bank, it should not be forgotten either that Israel is also solidifying its hold over a wide area in and around the city of Jerusalem, creating a far broader city and gradually destroying the pragmatic tools that would lead to a viable two-state solution. It is in fact implementing a focused and systematic plan that, if carried out, risks choking off Arab East Jerusalem by further fragmenting it and surrounding it with Jewish settlements / neighbourhoods. As the International Crisis Group (ICG) observed in its Executive Summary and Recommendations entitled The Jerusalem Powder Keg, there are grim concerns over Jerusalem:

  • The separation barrier, once completed, would create a broad Jerusalem area encompassing virtually all of municipal Jerusalem as expanded and annexed in 1967 as well as major settlements to its north, east, and south. This new "Jerusalem envelope", as the area inside the barrier euphemistically has been called, incorporates large settlement blocks and buffer zones, encompasses over 4 per cent of the West Bank, absorbs many Palestinians outside of municipal Jerusalem and excludes over 50,000 within, often cutting Palestinians off from their agricultural land.
  • Expansion of the large Ma'ale Adumim settlement to the east of Jerusalem and linking it to the city through the E1, a planned built-up urban land bridge, would go close to cutting the West Bank in two.
  • New Jewish neighbourhoods/settlements at the perimeter of the municipal boundaries would create a Jewish belt around Arab East Jerusalem, cutting it off from the West Bank and constricting Palestinian growth within the city.

The shifting physical and political landscapes in Israel and Palestine today would suggest that Israel has 'won this round'. After all, it seems that Ariel Sharon has almost fulfilled Menachem Begin's advice to ensure permanent Israeli control over the entire 'Land of Israel' whilst foreclosing the emergence of a viable Palestinian state. If this were the case, it is important to re-energise the now-somnolent international civil society. Jeff Halper, an Israeli anthropologist and coordinator of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, writes in The Narrow Gate to Peace that 'the people, gathered into hundreds of organisations worldwide that support Palestinian rights - faith-based communities, human rights organisations, political groups, trade unions, Israeli and Jewish peace groups, Muslims, Christians, intellectuals, students, unaffiliated members of the public - have at their disposal a growing awareness of the importance of human rights and instruments of international law'. He stresses that those civil forces should demand the end of the occupation and the right of Palestinians to self-determination through non-violent measures of protest, resistance and international sanctions such as divestment.  

As Meron Rapaport argues this month in Le Monde Diplomatique , the withdrawal from Gaza should prima facie lead both parties to re-address the issues of the West Bank where Palestinians are increasingly being locked into 70 walled enclaves, and where over 240,000 Israelis live in 200 settlements. As a press briefing from the Council for British-Arab Understanding elicits, Israel today is preparing 50 other West Bank settlements, planning to build 6,391 new housing units and 'legitimising' another 120 unauthorised settlement outposts. If the international civil society does not assume its obligations but rather forfeits its struggle against occupation, then the less-than-opaque prediction uttered by Dov Weisglass, senior adviser to PM Ariel Sharon, that the disengagement from Gaza is solely the formaldehyde that would put to sleep the political process with the Palestinians could well and truly become a sobering reality. If so, the ensuing implosions would render the whole region increasingly more unstable, radical, bellicose and ultimately dangerous.

A Jew does not expel a Jew, he just moves him a little bit

Sticker on car bumpers in Israel, August 2005


1. Kfar Darom, Morag, Netzarim, Shirat Hayam, Netzer Hazani, Ganei Tal, Atzmona, Gadid, Gan Or, Kfar Yam, Neve Dekalim, Elei Sinai, Rafiah Yam, Nisanit, Katif, Bedolah, Pe'at Sadeh, Digit, Tel Katiffa, Kerem Atzmona & Slav


3. Erez, Nahil Oz, Karni, Kissufim, Sufa, Keren Shalom & Rafah

4.Jabalya, Nouseirat, Boureij, Maghazi, Deir el-Balah, Beach, Khan Younis & Rafah

5. Middle East report, # 44, 2 August 2005

6. Sojourners Magazine, Vol 34 # 8, August 2005


© Dr Harry Hagopian   |   2005   |   16 August


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