Two Commentaries on the Gaza Withdrawal

August 20th, 2005 - by admin

Ushani Agalawatta / Inter Press Service & Mustafa Barghouthi / International Herald Tribune – 2005-08-20 09:24:24

Prepare for the World’s Largest Prison
Analysis by Ushani Agalawatta / Inter Press Service

JERUSALEM (August 16, 2005) – ‘This plan is good for Israel in any future scenario,’ Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said of the Gaza pullout. And it may not be as good for Palestinians as it seems.

Israel’s disengagement from Gaza set to begin in less than 48 hours is a historic twist in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. It may seem like a step forward in this conflict-torn region, but some analysts think it is no more than an olive branch meant to jump-start the peace process.

‘One doesn’t have to travel far to find reasons for Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza, since this has been elaborated by the Israelis themselves,’ Nadia Hijab from the Beirut-based Institute for Palestine Studies told IPS. She quoted the remarks of Sharon’s senior adviser Dov Weisglass who had said: ‘The significance of the disengagement plan is the freezing of the peace process… effectively, this whole package called the Palestinian state, with all that it entails, has been removed indefinitely from our agenda.’

Weisglass had said in an interview with Haaretz magazine last year: ‘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… disengagement supplies the amount of formaldehyde (a compound that maintains a given condition) that is necessary so there will not be a political process with the Palestinians.’

On August 17, Israeli soldiers will begin forcefully removing remaining Israeli settlers from the Gaza Strip. ‘Dismantling illegal settlements and military installations in the Gaza Strip is definitely a positive step and undoubtedly a big victory for all Palestinian people; however in and of itself, it will not lead to peace, and certainly not a just and lasting peace,’ Josh Ruebner from the U.S.. campaign to end the occupation told IPS.

‘Disengagement from Gaza raises a lot of troubling questions, most importantly the question of whether the Gaza Strip will be besieged post-disengagement,’ he said. ‘Because in reality, Israel will maintain a full-scale land, air, and water siege of the Gaza Strip which is exactly what (U.S.) Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that Israel cannot do. Disengagement may in fact keep Gaza as the world’s largest open air prison.’

While the international community is fixated on the dramatic pullout from Gaza, watching images of distraught settlers being handed eviction notices, and listening to a sombre Israeli Prime Minister expressing grief over the decision to pull out, few are raising even an eyebrow about Israeli expansion in the West Bank, and the wall which is effectively creating isolated enclaves of Palestinians..

‘Sharon seems to be betting that the Israelis can afford a situation of no-war, no-peace, as he swallows more Palestinian land in the West Bank land for settlements and the wall, separating Palestinians from their fields and from each other into small areas sealed off by impenetrable borders,’ Hijab said.

The construction of the ‘security’ wall began in 2002. It runs from the north to the south in the West Bank and it runs in and around Jerusalem. In addition to the construction of the wall the Israeli government is pursuing a plan which expands settlements in the West Bank and increases the area of the original municipality of Jerusalem, squeezing out several Palestinian Jerusalemite families.

The West Bank is the Palestinian area under Israeli control that lies west of the Jordan river. The Jordan river marks the border between Jordan on its the east, and Israel including the West Bank area. The further dispute is over Jerusalem which is on the border between the West Bank and Israel proper, which is to the west of the West Bank. The Gaza Strip is a Palestinian conclave on the other side of Israel along the Mediterranean Sea.

While all eyes are on Gaza, the Israeli Cabinet has approved a decision to move forward with completion of the wall in east Jerusalem, Ruebner told IPS.

The International Crisis Group, an independent group that reports on crises around the world recently reported that ‘the wall, which is being used to redefine Jerusalem’s borders, is routed in occupied Palestinian territory in such a way as to maximize the number of Palestinian Jerusalemites behind the wall, while maximizing the amount of Palestinian land on the ‘Israeli’ side of the wall.’

The group estimates that ‘55,000 Palestinian residents of Israeli-defined municipal Jerusalem, together with another estimated 60,000 Palestinian Jerusalemites living outside the municipal borders will be effectively cut off from their city, and forced to access their schools, hospitals, religious sites and even families through Israeli military ‘gates’. In addition, West Bank residents (including many labourers dependent on East Jerusalem jobs) will lose all access to East Jerusalem.’

Hind Khoury, the Palestinian Authority’s minister for Jerusalem affairs, wrote in the International Herald Tribune that ‘Israeli demolitions of Palestinian homes in and around occupied East Jerusalem are increasingly common, with more than 50 homes destroyed so far this year.’ Khoury said that ‘Israel greedily insists on retaining control over the whole of Jerusalem. Indeed, Israel, as a Jewish state, rejects the very idea of a pluralistic Jerusalem.’

But Hijab says ‘what is interesting — and hopeful — in this otherwise gloomy scenario is the way that the Palestinian people themselves are responding, and the resonance their response is having around the world.’ She said that about 170 Palestinian coalitions, associations, and organisations issued a call on July 9 for boycott, divestment, and sanctions as non-violent punitive measures to be applied until Israel complies with international law.

Copyright (c) 2005 IPS-Inter Press Service. All rights reserved.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

Make Sure ‘Gaza First’ Is Not ‘Gaza Last’
Mustafa Barghouthi / International Herald Tribune

RAMALLAH, West Bank (August 19, 2005) — As Palestinian factions vie for credit for Israel’s disengagement from Gaza, many forget that the success really belongs to the ordinary men, women and children of Palestine who have remained in their homeland during 38 years of devastating occupation and clung to the belief in the justice of their cause. The disengagement is a direct result of their patience and resilience, and now the occupation has only one direction to go – backward.

Serious risks and challenges lie ahead, however. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel has learned that there is a price to pay for oppressing and dispossessing the Palestinian people. But instead of embracing a negotiated peace based on international law, he has used limited tactical unilateral actions to deflect attention in other directions.

His tactics have laid three main challenges in front of the Palestinian people.

First, Palestinian mismanagement of the Gaza Strip would encourage critics to claim that Palestinians are unfit for self-rule.

We can avoid this by holding fair democratic elections in the legislative council, municipalities and all representative bodies, making sure competition between factions is expressed only through the ballot box, in a peaceful and pluralistic manner. Forcing opinions on people using violence, intimidation, favoritism and patronage must be avoided at all costs.

Rumors that the evacuated lands might be monopolized by influential members of the Palestinian political establishment can easily be dispensed with if the Palestinian Authority follows the rule of law with complete transparency when allocating the lands. Privately owned land must be returned to its rightful owners, and public lands must remain under public domain to be used for the public good.

Second, many fear that Israel’s “disengagement” is nothing more than a redeployment that will render Palestinian sovereignty in Gaza impossible. If Israel removes its settlers and soldiers but maintains control over all access to Gaza by land, sea and air, the strip will remain an isolated, impoverished prison. Palestinians must insist on complete Palestinian control over the Gaza coastline and the border with Egypt, with no Israeli interference or supervision.

Third, Sharon’s attempt to use the disengagement to cut Gaza off from the West Bank and freeze the peace process indefinitely presents the biggest challenge.

Further delay gives Sharon time to impose more facts on the ground that prejudice final-status negotiations. By continuing to build the Wall, expand settlements and slice East Jerusalem off the political map, Sharon is attempting to impose a unilateral final resolution that is unacceptable to the Palestinian people and at odds with international law.

Sharon’s vision of bartering Gaza for East Jerusalem and vast and vital areas of the West Bank would destroy the dream of Palestinian statehood and replace it with a nightmare of isolated, impoverished cantons, similar to the bantustans that black South Africans rejected under apartheid. It could mean a third intifada.

After the disengagement, Sharon faces a precarious internal political situation. Those who seek peace must immediately act to ensure that the redeployment from Gaza transitions into a comprehensive withdrawal from all settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. International law unequivocally states that the settlements in Gaza have no legitimacy. The settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are held under the same illegal belligerent occupancy and must likewise be dismantled and evacuated.

To become agents of our own destiny, Palestinians must follow three steps. The first is to call for an international peace conference like the one held in Madrid in 1991. This will end the political freeze that Sharon is trying to impose. It will open for discussion critical issues such as the East Jerusalem settlements, final borders and the rights of refugees. It will engage the international community in the negotiations, which Israel has long sought to prevent. And, most important, it will re-establish international law as the basis by which the Palestinian/Israeli conflicts must be solved.

The second step is to take the International Court of Justice ruling that Israel’s Wall is contrary to international law to the United Nations and demand that the ruling be enforced by nonviolent means such as sanctions until Israel complies.

Finally, the nonviolent struggle against the Wall and settlements must continue in Palestine and around the world in order to maintain strong grassroots and civil society pressure against Israel’s illegal policies.

Today we and all who have stood with us in our struggle for peace and freedom celebrate the removal of illegal settlements from Gaza. But we must remain vigilant in order to harness the momentum of this process and take it to its logical conclusion – a sovereign Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.

Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi, general secretary of the Palestinian National Initiative, was a candidate in the Palestinian presidential elections in January.

Posted in accordance with Title 17, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.