What's Wrong With Israel's Disengagement Plan?

by Rafi Rom


Upside Down World

Since 1967, Israel has occupied the West Bank and Gaza Strip, two small, disconnected strips of land that make up about 22% of what was once Palestine. Israel occupied the Palestinian territories at the end of the Yom Kippur war, a massive victory for Israeli forces in which armies from six Arab countries (not Palestine) were squarely defeated. Over the years Israel has built military and civilian infrastructure on Palestinian territory, under the pretext that such a presence on the land is what is safest for Israel. However it has become clear over the years that Israel has no intention of allowing a Palestinian sovereign state to exist in the territories, and that the goal of the “settler movement” has been to make the land internationally recognized as Palestinian Territory inseparable from Israel-proper.

In October 2003, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, a right wing hawk who has been a principal architect of nearly every major human rights travesty committed by the Israelis against the Palestinians, announced his intention to withdraw troops and civilians from the Gaza Strip, the smaller of the two occupied lands, and much less historically significant to the Jewish people. The proposal, called “Hitnatkut”— cutting ourselves off—in Hebrew, has been dubbed “The Disengagement Plan” in English media. Some members of the Israeli left, as well as others in the International Community yearning for a peaceful solution to the conflict were taken aback. Has Sharon, who in 1982 (after he orchestrated the invasion of Lebanon which ended in a massacre of 20,000 Lebanese) said in an interview “We shall start another war, kill and destroy more and more, until they [ie the Arabs] will have had enough,” finally realized that endless war does not serve the interest of the Israeli people?

Not at all. If you read the “disengagement plan” closely and conceptualize it inside of the history of the conflict as well as the “facts on the ground,” it is clear that it is just the newest step in the Israeli government’s plan to control the West Bank and Gaza. Ariel Sharon’s “disengagement plan” is a fantastic example of how banality and technical language can make even the most horrific actions seem progressive. The plan stems from the conclusion of influential political and military officials that removing a military and civilian presence in Gaza will make control of the Palestinian population more efficient.

This is not a step in the right direction. In an interview with Haaretz, one of Israel’s major newspapers, Dov Wienglass, a senior policy advisor to Ariel Sharon, said, the purpose of the disengagement plan is to end the peace process. “When you freeze that process, you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state and you prevent a discussion on the refugees, the borders and Jerusalem...Effectively, this whole package called the Palestinian state . . . has been removed indefinitely from our agenda. The disengagement is actually formaldehyde. It supplies the amount of formaldehyde that is necessary so there will not be a political process with the Palestinians.”

Although Sharon was quick to distance him self from these words, it is important to keep in mind that Weinglass is a longtime friend and conspirator of Sharon’s, possessing the same thinking process Sharon does. So much talking has been done about this that many believe that the withdrawal has already begun. It has not. In fact, settlements are still being built, homes are still being demolished, and raids deep inside Gaza territory are still being carried out on a daily basis.The 1800 word plan outlines a four stage, year long process that will remove any Israeli presence inside of the West Bank. I am not brushing aside the historical significance of Israel finally acknowledging that the settlements in Gaza are simply not sustainable. However, what Israel proposes to put in its place, is equally unsustainable for any long-term peace in the region.

Why the disengagement plan?

In order to fully understand what is going on with Gaza, it is necessary to put it into historical perspective. Ariel Sharon has probably been the most influential Israeli official, both politically and militarily, in expanding Israel’s control over the occupied territories. At every crucial juncture in the occupation, Sharon has been there. In fact, from his position in the military in the late 1960s and 70s he moved the first military bases into the West Bank, as a pretext for building Israeli infrastructure over Palestinian land. Sharon has always made it clear that the West Bank—what he, and many others call by the biblical name “Judea and Samaria”—will eventually become part of Israel. Other territories that Israel has occupied over the years, from the Golan Heights, Southern Lebanon, or the Sinai Peninsula, have always been peripheral. Sharon’s plan with the Gaza Strip is not the first time he has proposed such a thing. In fact, he was one of the first major Israeli figures to pressure the Israeli government in withdrawing from the Sinai Peninsula, which extends from Israel’s Southern border all the way to the Suez Canal. This was after he lead the military front into the Sinai Penninsula, which led to the land being occupied in the first place.

At the time, Sharon made his reasoning clear. Israel could not maintain an aggressive relationship with Egypt and continue controlling the West Bank and Gaza. Israel’s only option was to exchange “land for peace.” To Sharon, giving up the Sinai Peninsula was necessary to fulfill his vision of seeing the other occupied territories fully incorporated into Israel proper. During these peace talks, Sharon even said to then President Jimmy Carter that one day there would be one million Jews in the West Bank. All of this is outlined in “Righteous Victims,” a book by Benny Morris, an Israeli historian famous for his deadpan explanation of Israel’s misdeeds and his support for them. Now, Sharon has come to the same conclusion. Gaza has little to offer Israel, resource and land wise, unlike the West Bank. If anything, it is a major demographic nightmare, since Gaza, one of the most densely populated strips of land in the world, is a major factor in lessening the gap between the Jewish and Palestinian population in the “greater” Israel.

By withdrawing from the Gaza Strip, Israel buys itself some more time before it has to face the demographic reality that there are more Palestinians than Jews in the region. That said, it is a mistake to even think of the “disengagement plan” as a withdrawal. As Webster’s Dictionary makes it clear, disengage means “to release from something that engages; to release or detach oneself.” What Israel is trying to do is detach itself from any ethical or legal obligations it has to the nation it occupies, without ending its control over the land. Israel plans on maintaining the occupation from the outside, or as one Israeli commentator put it, by “remote control.”

Since Gaza is such a small territory, Israel will be able to effectively control it from the outside, making it the largest prison in the world. As Israel’s disengagement plan makes clear, when it comes to military, economic, political, or environmental issues, the status quo will remain the same. It should be noted that the status quo is absolutely horrible. For instance, there is a massive water shortage in Gaza, with water available only a few hours every day. It is bitterly comical that the plan even says that control of the sewage structure will be given over to the Palestinians, since Gaza has some of the most severe sanitary problems in the world.

There is no basis to believe that Gaza will become any sort of independent territory. Israel will still control the seaports and the air space, and will reserve the right to invade Gaza “at will.” Moreover, it plans on keeping the buffer zone in place between Gaza and Egypt. This buffer zone is the site of some of the worst human rights atrocities in the region. According to Human Rights Watch, some 16,000 Palestinians have been expelled from the region, and 1600 homes have been demolished.

The Disengagement Plan is only one part of what is basically a two-pronged plan. The plan itself reads, “In any future final status arrangement, there will be no Israeli settlement activity in the Gaza Strip. On the other hand, it is clear that there will be areas in Judea and Samaria that will be part of the State of Israel, and there will be civilian communities, security zones and other places in which Israel has further interest inside those areas.” The bottom line is that Israel sees evacuating the settlements from the Gaza Strip as the only path towards fully incorporating the West Bank into the fabric of Israel.

In a memo released by the PLO Negotiation Affairs Department on 10/7/04, “the Gaza withdrawal plan has less to do with what Israel is giving up in Gaza and more to do with what Israel plans on taking from the West Bank.”

Over the past few years, Israel has been stepping up the construction of settlements and military bases in the West Bank. There now exists what Israeli anthropologist and activist Jeff Halper has dubbed “The matrix of control” – a sophisticated network of military and civilian infrastructure that ensures that no viable Palestine state can exist. Halper includes in this “matrix” the military rule imposed on the Palestinians, the expropriation of land for the building of settlements, the restriction of freedom of movement, and a whole host of other mechanisms that make life in Palestine unlivable for Palestinians.

Linguistically, Sharon’s “disengagement plan” is almost as manipulative as the “separation barrier” or “security fence,” being built around and inside the West Bank. The wall has been built on thousands of acres of Palestinian land, separated villages, stealing natural resources, and most importantly, weaving around many key settlements and essentially annexing them. The disengagement plan is one more step in strengthening the apartheid regime that divides Israelis and Palestinians. This does not mean the course of things is irreversible. As long as Sharon remains in power, the conflict will continue as it always has.



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"If the world is upside down the way it is now, wouldn't we have to turn it over to get it to stand up straight?" ---Eduardo Galeano