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"Disengagement" in Gaza:
What is Israel really after?

August 5, 2005 | Page 5

ISRAELI PRIME Minister Ariel Sharon and his government have set August 15 as the date for what they call a "unilateral disengagement" from the occupied territory of Gaza and a few parts of the West Bank. Confrontations between the Israeli military and right-wing settlers who oppose the Sharon plan reached a fever pitch as the deadline approached.

Sharon has been praised as a peacemaker by the Bush administration for his Gaza plan. But the reality is very different. TOUFIC HADDAD, former coeditor of Between the Lines and the coeditor of a forthcoming book from South End Press on the Palestinian Intifada, writes from Bethlehem in the West Bank about what's at stake in Sharon's "withdrawal" from Gaza.

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BY MID-August 2005, Israel will likely begin to withdraw its military and 22 settlements from the heart of the Gaza Strip, in addition to four settlements in the north of the West Bank.

The maneuver, initiated by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, has come to be known as the "unilateral disengagement plan" and has earned Sharon considerable praise from both Republicans and Democrats in the U.S.--who congratulate him for his "historic and courageous actions" (George W. Bush) and his "boldness" (Democratic National Committee Chair Howard Dean).

The plan was originally announced at the end of 2003, when Sharon promised "to draw the most efficient security line possible...between Israel and the Palestinians." Since then, the Sharon government has worked tirelessly to iron out the details of the plan, including what to do with the 5,000 Israeli settlers who reside in Gaza. Sharon gained a consensus within the Israeli political establishment for these plans--and demanded an additional $2.2 billion of U.S. government aid to carry them out.

Although important questions remain regarding what precisely will take place during the disengagement itself--vis-à-vis Israeli settlers, as well the Palestinians who live in Gaza--these are actually secondary to the main questions that have already been answered.

In reality, the disengagement plan is not a specific redeployment of troops here, or a relocation of settlers there. On the contrary, Sharon's plan is a much broader package deal that will formally replace the previous "Oslo Accords" era--and unilaterally define the nature of Palestinian-Israeli relations for years to come.

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TO BEGIN with, it is important to dispel some myths that unfortunately continue to permeate the discourse surrounding Sharon's plan.

The occupation of the Gaza Strip is not ending, nor is it being made any more benevolent. On the contrary, Israel is neither surrendering control of Gaza to a sovereign power, nor does it promise to remain out of the territory in the future.

In fact, the plan, as passed by the Israeli parliament, specifically entitles Israel to maintain control of Gaza by land, air and sea, while empowering it to take "pre-emptive and reactive steps to use force against threats posed from within the Gaza Strip." Essentially, this is a license for Israel to continue its scorched-earth and assassination policy indefinitely.

Thus, Israel is only reformulating its occupation of Gaza along lines that are more favorable to its military control--since the old arrangement proved inefficient since the onset of the Al-Aqsa Intifada and the development of a well-organized guerrilla struggle against Jewish settlers and the Israeli army in Gaza.

Second, though the disengagement plan seems focused on Gaza, its main thrust involves the West Bank--particularly, the consolidation of the main Israeli settlement blocs there. These blocs, where the bulk of Israeli settlers reside, are situated on the primary water reserves of the entire region. They also permanently fragment the West Bank into a series of cantons.

The settlements thus make the creation of an independent, territorially contiguous Palestinian state in these areas--the supposed goal of the Oslo "peace process"--no more than a pipe dream. This, too, is explicitly written into the text of the disengagement, which promises that "Israel will annex the central Jewish settlement blocs, towns, security areas and other lands which Israel has an interest in keeping." For the first time since the annexation of East Jerusalem soon after the 1967 war, the Israeli Knesset will approve the annexation of parts of Palestinian-occupied lands.

This explains why the attention is focused on Gaza--it is being used to shift attention away from the massive ghettos being constructed across the West Bank, in the forms of walls, military bases and enormous checkpoints that will act as crossing points between these ghettos and the outside world.

No less important (but all too often ignored) is the impact that the plan will have on the Palestinian citizens of Israel. Large allotments of U.S. "aid" to carry out the disengagement will be spent on settling Israeli Jews in the Negev and the Galilee--the two main areas where Palestinian citizens are concentrated within Israel.

Israel has always discriminated and oppressed this community since its members first found themselves as "non-Jews" in the Jewish state--after the founding of Israel in 1948 through the dispossession of the great majority of Palestinians. But this oppression has drastically escalated in the wake of the Al-Aqsa Intifada--to the extent that Israel is now taking steps to ban political representation of Palestinians in the parliament, conduct mass house demolition campaigns and further thicken Jewish-only settlements in and around Palestinian villages. These are the exact same techniques used in the Occupied Territories of Gaza and the West Bank.

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FINALLY, SHARON'S plan aims to definitively do away with the logic and assumptions of the Oslo "peace process," which, from a Zionist perspective, has thoroughly failed. In other words, the assumption that it was possible to achieve Palestinian consent for Israeli colonial ambitions through a "Palestinian partner" (something which has nothing to do with achieving a permanent and just peace) has been permanently retired.

To take the words of Sharon's adviser Dov Weisglass, "The disengagement is actually formaldehyde. It supplies the amount of formaldehyde that's necessary so that there will not be a political process with the Palestinians," and enables Israel "to park conveniently in an interim situation that distances us as far as possible from political pressure."

Upon completion of the disengagement--which is deliberately being orchestrated within Israel as though it is a traumatic experience that no one can "reasonably" ask Israel to repeat in the future--a new era will emerge. It will be marked by a solidified map of Palestinian ghettos surrounded by ever-increasing settlement expansion on both sides of the Green Line in the West Bank--and enormous Israeli repression every time Palestinians attempt to resist their fate.

Here, the U.S. government's "road map" will play a role--as a "political process" that codifies the permissibility of Israeli actions until a virtually limitless series of "political, social and anti-terror reforms" are undertaken by Palestinian authorities.

The ushering in of this new era--a long-term scenario of permanent war that aims at nothing less than crushing the Palestinian national movement and its people, and which, over time, may even result in their expulsion--is far more significant than the disengagement itself.

U.S. antiwar and solidarity forces have an enormous role to play in exposing the truth about the disengagement plan and the "formaldehyde era" that Israel promises will precede it in the form of the "road map." Building a mass movement which links the struggle of Palestine with the antiwar struggle against the occupation of Iraq--together with the domestic struggle against American taxpayer money being spent on these colonial adventures--is the best hope of averting the ominous future that these policies promise for us all.

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