When a Pullout Is Just a Ceasefire
unilateral Israeli withdrawal or "disengagement" from
the Gaza Strip and the evacuation of about 9,000 Jewish settlers
from that region have helped produce dramatic media images, including
mass demonstrations being held by the evicted settlers and their
political supporters in Israel.
in orange outfits and waving orange banners, the members of the
right-wing nationalist and religious coalition who have been the
driving force behind the Jewish settlement in the occupied Palestinian
territories in the West Bank and Gaza, have accused the ruling coalition
in Jerusalem of "betraying" the Zionist ideology of settling
all the Biblical Land of Israel with Jews.
fact, some of the leaders of the Orange Rebellion, that include
the two chief Rabbis of Israel, have depicted Prime Minister Ariel
Sharon as a "traitor" to the Jewish people, and have called
on Israeli soldiers to refuse orders to take part in the forcible
removal of Jewish settlers from Gaza.
many of the militant settlers have threatened to barricade themselves
inside synagogues and religious schools in the settlements and to
mount a violent resistance, raising the prospects of a civil war
between Jews in Israel.
Israeli security services have warned against the danger that Jewish
militants will attempt to assassinate Mr. Sharon and other pro-disengagement
politicians and to attack Muslim religious sites.
the threat of such acts of violence, a Jewish militant from a settlement
in the West Bank killed four Arab Israel citizens riding on a bus
two weeks ago (he was later lynched by a mob).
the political divisions inside Israel that the planned evacuation
from Gaza has ignited, Benjamin Netanyahu, a leading member of Likud,
Mr. Sharon's political party, has resigned from his cabinet position
as Treasury Minister.
Netanyahu warned that the Israeli withdrawal would help turn the
area into a "terrorist base" for anti-Israeli violence
and announced that he would mobilize opposition in Likud against
political commentators in Israel have speculated that Mr. Netanyahu's
move is the first step in a political realignment that could lead
to the formation of a centrist political party, led by Mr. Sharon
and Shimon Peres, the head of the Labor party and a member of the
the backdrop of so much political drama, it's not surprising perhaps
that most of the international media covering the pullout from Gaza
have focused on the evacuation that is scheduled to be completed
by the beginning of the autumn as a "turning point" in
the history of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and as a major stage
in the process that could bring about an end to the violence between
Arabs and Jews and provide the basis for a final accord.
Mr. Sharon's disengagement plan should be regarded as a tactical
move by the Israeli Prime Minister that is aimed at strengthening
Israel's diplomatic and military position, and not as part of a
grand strategy that will help resolve the conflict with the Palestinians.
Netanyahu and other critics of the pullout plan on the political
right are aware that Israel's core security interests will not be
effected by the disengagement from the Gaza Strip. Israel still
retains the right to deploy troops and use its air force to retaliate
against potential anti-Israeli violence in Gaza and to re-invade
Israelis will also continue to control the freedom of movement of
more than 1.3 million Palestinians into and out of the Gaza Strip.
And while the Israelis are planning to remove a few small Jewish
"outposts" in the northern West Bank, Mr. Sharon and his
aides have insisted that under no condition will Israel agree to
evacuate the major Jewish settlements in the West Bank or to relinquish
control over Arab East Jerusalem.
important to remember that even before Mr. Sharon proposed the disengagement
plan in an address to an Israel thinktank in December 2003, a clear
majority of Israelis had already expressed their support for removing
the Jewish settlers from Gaza. This Israeli consensus has less to
do with concern about the Arab Gazans for self-determination or
a determination to make peace with the Palestinians.
it reflects is a recognition among Israelis that their control of
a quarter of land in the Gaza strip for settlements and farming
didn't make a lot of sense in terms of Israeli interests.
should a large number of Israeli troops continue to protect the
presence of a small number of Jewish settlers living in the midst
of an angry and poor Arab population? If anything, the second Palestinian
Intifadah (uprising) that started in September 2000 helped to demonstrate
to most Israelis the rising costs of maintaining the Jewish settlements
the decision by Mr. Sharon to disengage from Gaza didn't display
a willingness on the part of the Israeli leaders to make a "painful
and historic sacrifice" for peace, as the Israeli Prime Minister
and other officials have stated several times. Notwithstanding the
images of political strife in Israel, Mr. Sharon knows that his
plan to withdraw from Gaza enjoys the support of the majority of
the Israelis, most members of the political establishment in that
country, the US administration and the entire international community.
opponents of the disengagement are a relatively small and noisy
minority that have proved to be quite effective in orchestrating
media events. And a split in the Likud party in the aftermath of
Mr. Netanyahu's resignation is not going to threaten Mr. Sharon's
political position, since even if the current government falls from
power, he is expected to win reelection as leader of a new political
the perspective of the relationship with the Palestinians, the United
States and the international community, Mr. Sharon's move could
also be seen as cost-effective if one considers the alternative,
that is, the possible implementation of the "road map"
backed by the United States and the Quartet.
Mr. Sharon would have agreed to reactivate this international process,
he have probably been forced into a set of diplomatic negotiations
and the need to announce Israeli commitment to the creation of Palestinian
state and a withdrawal of Israel from both Gaza and the West Bank
to the 1967 lines. Instead, the unilateral Israeli move ensures
that the "road map" and the two-state solution would be
put on hold for a long time.
the Israeli withdrawal should be regarded as a tactical move was
made clear during an interview last year by Dov Weisglass, Mr. Sharon's
top advisor, who told reporter Ari Shavit from the Ha'aretz
newspaper that the "significance of the disengagement plan
is the freezing of the peace process. And when you freeze that process,
you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state."
the Bush administration, the disengagement process makes it possible
to create the sense of movement on the Israeli-Palestinian front,
without making it necessary for the Americans to become too engaged
in a long and complex process of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations
that could lead inevitably to frictions with the Israelis, the Palestinians,
and other players over the future of the West Bank, the Jewish settlements
there and the final status of Jerusalem.
Bush and his aides are certainly not in a mood to repeat former
President Bill Clinton's experience in the failed Camp David negotiations
in 2000. Like in Iraq and the prospects for ending the violence
and stabilizing that country, the Bushies are highlighting a best-case
scenario when it comes to the chances of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian
in the aftermath of the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza.
are counting on Mahmoud Abbas, the head of the Palestinian Authority
(PA) to provide the necessary leadership to create the conditions
for political and economic reform in Gaza and for continuing negotiations
with Israel and comprehensive peace.
Wolfensohn, the former head of the World Bank and the special envoy
of the United States and the rest of the "Quartet" – the
European Union, United Nations and Russia – is expected to lead
an effort to draw international aid and investment into Gaza, while
the Americans are trying to help Mr. Abbas improve the effectiveness
of its security forces.
hope in Washington is that the Gaza Strip under the control of a
moderate Palestinian leaders would prove to be a successful experiment
in building the political and economic foundations of a future Palestinian
state, that will include eventually most of the West Bank and East
Jerusalem, and that would peacefully coexist with an Israeli state.
observers, however, are expressing skepticism about the ability
to Mr. Abbas and his secular nationalist coalition to win the support
of the majority of the Palestinians in Gaza.
more radical Islamic Hamas movement is very popular, especially
among young Palestinians who believe that its attacks against the
Israelis have forced Israel to withdraw from Gaza.
not inconceivable that Hamas would emerge as a winner in a fair
and open election in Gaza, which explains why Mr. Abbas could find
it difficult to make major concessions to the Israelis over the
issues of the Jewish settlements in the West Bank, Jerusalem, and
the right of the Palestinian refugees to return to the villages
and towns in Israel from which they had fled in 1948.
even if the Palestinians and the Israelis will not be ready for
ending their conflict and making peace, the Israeli withdrawal from
Gaza could perhaps create the basis for a temporary cease-fire.
perhaps it will permit the Palestinians in Gaza to start building
their political institutions and draw investment from the Arab world
and the West into their economy, which will probably turn out to
be the best-case scenario when it comes to the realities on the
ground in the Middle East in the weeks and months after the Israeli
Hadar [send him mail] is Washington correspondent
for the Business Times of Singapore
and the author of the forthcoming Sandstorm:
Policy Failure in the Middle East (Palgrave Macmillan).
© 2005 Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. All rights reserved. Reprinted
with permission of the author.