Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his right wing government could not have possibly envisioned a more gratifying scenario to the post-disengagement period than the one effectively advancing in the Gaza Strip.
Events on the ground point to the disquieting conclusion that internal Palestinian strife in Gaza is imminent and that Israel will continue to determine the future of the occupied territories, unabated and aided by the US government, along with the total marginalization of the rest of the international community. Moreover, Sharon has intensified his forceful rhetoric, warning that Israel will ruthlessly respond to any supposed Palestinian provocation after the pullout.
It is obvious that Israel’s military strategists are very concerned that the Israeli move might be interpreted as an indication of military failure, following the same line of thinking that accompanied the Israeli withdrawal from South Lebanon in May 2000.
The Sharon government is determined to closely monitor and control the narrative surrounding its pullout from Gaza. On the one hand, it wants to convey to its right wing constituency that the move is merely tactical and aimed at strengthening Israel’s control over the more strategic settlements of occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank. On the other hand, it is promoting the pullout internationally as a painful concession for the sake of peace with its ever-ungrateful Palestinian neighbors.
TV images of weeping settlers being “uprooted” from their homes in the Gaza settlements evoked untold emotions, and yet they have failed to honestly address the unspeakable injustices done to the Palestinians through the illegal presence of those same settlers: the uncompensated financial loss, the virtual and perpetual imprisonment within Gaza, the daily murders committed in the name of protecting the settlements, and so forth. The Israeli narrative has successfully crossed out much of this relevant context under which the entire Palestinian population in the occupied territories continues to be subjugated.
Palestinians, who have ultimately conceded to the much-resisted unilateral Israeli action, have attempted to fathom, thus propagate, the Israeli move in a way that might prove politically and strategically beneficial. According to a media plan drafted by the PA’s interior ministry, the withdrawal was “a political victory” for “the peace and moderation camp”. The PA was obliged, understandably so, to construct its own reading of the Israeli move of which the PA was, in fact, the least relevant factor.
Hamas, on the other hand, joined to a lesser extent by other factions, has celebrated the withdrawal as a victory for armed resistance, one that was comparable in meaning and magnitude to that of Hizbollah in Lebanon. Among the poor and destitute refugees throughout the occupied territories and in diaspora, the Hamas narrative is the most prevailing.
Almost immediately after the Gaza pullout, a violent Israeli assault is evident. Frequent deadly raids and bombardments, joined with Israeli air force jets breaking sound barriers over the Gaza sky several times a day, triggering sonic booms, are meant as a cruel reminder of Israel’s sheer military advantage over the incarcerated population of the Gaza Strip. Concurrently, Israel’s illegal settlement project in the West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem has received an historic boost with the allocation of more funds towards settlement expansion, coupled with American assurances by outgoing US ambassador to Israel, Daniel Kurtzer that the “United States will support the retention by Israel of areas with a high concentration of Israelis”.
Kurtzer, speaking to Israeli radio on Sept. 18 — less than a week following the pullout from Gaza — read a passage to listeners from a letter by the US president sent to Sharon in April 2004, where Bush declared that it was “unrealistic to expect that the outcome of the final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949”, and where he also bluntly rejected the Palestinian refugees right to return in accordance with UN Resolution 194.
Former head of Israel’s National Security Council Uzi Dayan (who, in 2002, recommended a one-sided withdrawal from Gaza) has offered further insight and a more candid translation of Kurtzer’s comments. In a press conference in Tel Aviv on Sept. 20, Dayan proposed an Israeli withdrawal from minor settlements in the West Bank and the creation of a de-facto border that would claim vast Palestinian lands as Israeli territory. This new territory would envelope the lands hosting the illegal Jewish settlements of Ma’ale Adumim, Ariel, Kiryat Arba and Beit El, among others, and along with them nearly 200,000 Jewish settlers.
According to Dayan’s computation, “28 Palestinian towns would be divorced from their Palestinian space to become part of … Israel proper”. Considering the atrocious effects created by the Israeli separation wall and the integrated land theft, Israel’s future plans for the West Bank and Jerusalem constitute new and horrendous war crimes with painfully lasting consequences.
While Israel is actively and openly pursuing its designs, altering the geopolitical nature of its conflict with the Palestinians for years to come, there is no political process to speak of. President Mahmoud Abbas’ announcement on Sept. 13, regarding his readiness to “immediately engage” in peace talks with Israel, were purposely undermined by Sharon’s terror campaign in the occupied territories.
Israel’s pre-determined role for the PA is no different from the one envisaged by past Israeli governments following the signing of the Oslo Accord in 1993: that of prison guard, not peace partner. Little has changed despite five arduous years of Palestinian revolt.
The PA’s adherence to its assigned role will once again determine the nature of the relationship between the Israeli government and the PA, and naturally thereafter, between the latter and the US administration. The Abbas government’s failure to disarm Palestinian factions and to crack down on “this and that” will eventually be understood as a faltering on its commitment to Israel’s security, which will invite more Israeli wrath, murder and mayhem, as we have already seen in past weeks. Marking its fifth anniversary on Sept. 29, the Palestinian struggle is certainly facing one of its most consequential challenges yet.
Israel’s conduct following its pullout from Gaza confirms that its ultimate objective is to maintain an elevated level of chaos among Palestinians. Such insecurity will affirm the claim that Palestinians are innately lawless and irresponsible, rationalizing Israel’s unwarranted attacks on Gaza and continued occupation elsewhere. The US mainstream media have already established that Gaza is a “test” for Palestinians and their ability to govern themselves, and while Israel continues its charge that Palestinian factions continue to threaten Israeli borders, Palestinians are evidently failing the test.
* The writer, veteran Arab American journalist, teaches mass communication at Australia’s Curtin University of Technology, Malaysia Campus. His forthcoming book, “Writings on the Second Palestinian Uprising” is being published by Pluto Press in London.