Ali Abunimah and Hussein Ibish
- February 6, 2004
Ali Abunimah is a political analyst based in Chicago.
Hussein Ibish is
communications director for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's announcement that he plans to remove
virtually all Israeli settlers from the occupied Gaza Strip has caused a shock
wave in Israel.
Has some sudden epiphany convinced Sharon that the settlements are the key
obstacle to peace and that Israel's future is jeopardized by the continued
attempt to incorporate occupied Palestinian territories into a greater Israel?
Many Israelis, especially in the military, have long felt that the Gaza
settlements are pointless, and a massive drain on national resources for no
serious purpose. The small Gaza settlements are purely symbolic, in stark
contrast to the massive settlements on the West Bank, which have literally
reshaped the landscape and are designed also to transform its demographic and
political realities, making Israel's control permanent.
While Sharon talks about removing settlements in Gaza, he is continuing to build
them all over the West Bank, because he has no intention of permitting a real
Palestinian state to be constructed.
One of the main reasons President Bush's "road map" for peace failed was that
Sharon reneged on promises that he would start removing new settlement
"outposts." Instead, he made a show of removing a few small, uninhabited sites,
while setting up many more new ones and expanding dozens of major settlements up
and down the West Bank.
Since Sharon broke those promises, Israel has announced thousands of new settler
housing units. It recently allocated $1 million for yet another Jewish-only road
in the West Bank, this one to connect an outpost settlement to a school run by
an extremist Israeli group the U.S. State Department has formally designated as
a terrorist organization.
Sharon's announcement could simply be a ploy to offset scandals at home, and
growing pressure on Israel abroad, by trying to create the impression that he is
taking some far-reaching initiative without intending to actually do anything.
Within Israel, his proposal has divided the opposition.
The right now is split between those who see him as a traitor to the cause of
settling all of "Eretz Yisrael," or the Land of Israel, and those who see him as
a pragmatist who can make tough decisions. Some on the left mistrust him
completely, while others, like Labor Party leader Shimon Peres, welcome his
Sharon's announcement has also drawn international attention away from the
appalling separation barrier Israel is building in the West Bank.
Sharon probably does intend to remove the settlements from Gaza, although his
strategic vision has only been hinted at.
His spokesman Raanan Gissin explained that "Sharon envisages territorial
exchanges with the Palestinians as part of future permanent arrangements, under
which Arab Israeli localities would pass under the sovereignty of the latter,
while Jewish settlements [in the West Bank] would be integrated into Israeli
Sharon seems to be looking for a way to keep control of the West Bank--hence all
the new settlements and the separation wall deep inside Palestinian
territory--but maintain a Jewish majority among citizens of Israel.
Twenty percent of Israel's citizens are Arabs. Gissin is proposing to strip at
least some of them of their citizenship and transfer their villages to a
Palestinian mini-state within a greater Israel.
From what we can piece together from his actions and statements, Sharon's vision
includes offloading to a faux Palestinian state the burden of Gaza, political
responsibility for Palestinians in the West Bank, and a significant number of
Israeli citizens of Arab origin as well.
Such an arrangement would closely resemble efforts by South Africa's apartheid
rulers to maintain white rule and strip black citizens of their rights as South
Africans by creating ostensibly independent states for them known as Bantustans.
That ploy failed disastrously because the international community saw this
deception for what it was, while the injustices it created on the ground led to
ever more determined protest and resistance.
It appears that Sharon is hoping to pull the same trick and get away with it.
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