- Conferences and Seminars
The Lost Settlement Course
By Dr. Mohsen Moh'd Saleh:
With Sharon adopting the idea of unilateral disengagement and the withdrawal of Israel from the Gaza Strip, the Israeli convictions in the need of stepping over the Roadmap project and clearly preferring moving on to unilateral solutions more decisively.
This thought is no longer exclusive to the Kadima party, which was established by Sharon. There have been many forms of support by different Zionist currents in the left, center, and right wings, though with different preambles.
The Background to the Adoption of a Unilateral Disengagement
Israeli strategists admit that the dilemma of Israel lies in achieving balance between: the need of a democratic Jewish state that comfortably has a Jewish majority, which means sacrificing parts of what they call “Israeli land”, and establishing a Palestinian state in order to rid themselves of the burden of the Palestinian population; and the need to protect the existence of the Jews in the “Israeli land”, which means supporting the settlement projects, the Jewish expansion, and continuing to occupy the lands of the promised “Palestinian state” and the security necessities this entails.
These strategists also admit that the time factor isn’t in favor of achieving the goal of Israel existing as a Jewish democratic state nor is it in the favor of the two-state solution, since there can be no Jewish majority while “Israel” continues to govern the Palestinians in the West Bank.
Estimates show that in 2010, the number of Palestinians (within historical Palestine, i.e. Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip) will surpass that of the Jews.
For them, this may lead to the “dangers” of the Palestinians abolishing calls for the two state solution, demanding back one country and their political and civil rights, and striving to remove the discriminative Israeli regime in a way similar to the black Africans' struggle in South Africa. This might provide a chance to end the Jewish nature of the state in accordance with new and developing considerations. (We may need to write another article discussing the gravity of these dangers).
The Israeli challenges also lie in the fact that the maximum Israel has to offer doesn’t even meet the minimum expected by the Palestinians, especially when it comes to the issue of the Palestinian refugees’ right to return to their homes from which they were expelled in 1948; the future of Jerusalem particularly that of al-Aqsa Mosque; the future of the settlement blocs; and the extent of the sovereignty of the Palestinian state in its own land, in terms of establishing an army and the control of borders and water resources.
On the other hand, the rise of Hamas, the Palestinian demographic threat, the Iranian nuclear threat, and the increase of Islamic political power in the Middle East; all form a strategic challenge for “Israel”. Add to these, the rise of the opposition power in Iraq, Lebanon, and Afghanistan and the spread of what is called anti-“terrorism” of Israel and America in an open manner. All this constitute a complicated strategic challenge to Israel.
In conclusion, there must be a withdrawal in order to get rid of the density of the Palestinian population without needing to have a joint settlement with the Palestinians.
America as a Negotiator for the Palestinians
In the beginning of 2006, two days before Sharon entered a comma, the editor in chief of the newspaper “Maarif”, joined by his chief reporter, published what they called the real political plan which had been prepared in the past few months for the upcoming term of Sharon (or the Kadima party).
The plan is based on the foundation of being an alternate for the Roadmap and is founded on many ideas, the most important of which are:
-The Palestinian Authority will not be able to dissociate the infrastructure of “terrorism”, which means that the first phase of the Roadmap won’t go through,
- The Roadmap will remain nothing but "a fig leaf" used by the Israeli authority in any way they please.
-“Israel” and the United States would embark on secret negotiations to set the eastern borders of Israel, where America will undertake the role of negotiating on behalf of the Palestinians, who will be presented as unable to manage their own affairs, and that there will be no chance of achieving a practical achievement through negotiations between the Palestinians and Israelis.
- No significant difference (8-12% range) will be expected between the respective estimation of Tel Aviv and Washington, regarding the area of the West Bank that Israel will be annexing to its territory.
-“Israel” will have the US acknowledge its sovereignty in Old Jerusalem and will move all the Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem under Palestinian sovereignty. Israel will also get the US to acknowledge the total refusal of the right of the Palestinians to return to the land they were forced out of in 1948.
- The building of the separation wall will continue till complete, as well as the gradual evacuation of the settlements (with the exception of the six major settlement blocs).
- The US will provide “Israel” with generous financial aid.
- The agreement will be announced as a historical American achievement and that America was the only one able to succeed in pushing “Israel” to withdraw from most of the West Bank territory or to allow the establishment of a Palestinian state that geographically lies in the West Bank area.
Thus, the essence of the project revolves around a unilateral disengagement, with the absence of any Palestinian partners and in accordance with arrangements made with the US. Moreover, it will have the official American approval and the US will acknowledge Israel’s new borders, in order to get international support for itself.
Ma'arif pointed out that the American senior officials listened to the plan with interest. Moreover, the godfather of the American policy and the former Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, was one of the first supporters of the plan. He demanded that the Israeli-American contacts remain secret and presented the issue as if it was forced upon “Israel” by America.
Ignoring the Palestinians
The plan was designed to be executed with the absence of negotiations with the Palestinians, whether Hamas or Fatah won the elections; and the talk about sympathizing with Abu-Mazen or about the Palestinian obstruction of the Roadmap was nothing but the required spices to prepare the unilateral “dish”.
The President of the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), Mahmoud Abbas, and ever since his election has sought showing the Palestinian Authority’s willingness to negotiate and tried to prove that they are a suitable partner to reach a final settlement with.
One of Ababs's objectives for holding the legislative elections was to contain Hamas within the Palestinian political system and then seize their weapons after the elections. Another objective was to control Hamas’s actions as a part of the Palestinian Authority and the PLO’s dominant role, especially since it was predicted that Fatah would win the electoral majority.
Thus, Abbas began, about two months before the legislative elections, to promise the prospect of reaching an agreement with “Israel” and said that if there was an “Israeli” party that was willing to begin negotiations, it wouldn’t take more than six months to reach the final settlement.
However, the Israeli authority decided to ignore Abbas and continue the unilateral disengagement from the Gaza Strip and the convergence plan.
In the first half of 2006, Israeli statements and leaks related to this project continued and emphasized that “Israel” would draw its own permanent borders; "it will have to force a settlement without consulting the Palestinians".
Olmert mentioned that “Israel” will emerge with a new image in four years, and live within different borders which, if aren’t acknowledged officially, “will be truly supported by the important parties in the world”.
Olmert also said that “Israel” is in a hurry to separate itself from the Palestinians and that it can’t wait 20 years “for Hamas to mature”. He also stated that in the case of the absence of a Palestinian partner, “we will take up other initiatives in coordination with the US and the Europeans.”
The new Israeli government announced its political program on 5/5/2006. It emphasized its desire to crystallize the final borders of its state as a Jewish state and that if an agreement isn’t reached through negotiations with the Palestinians, the government will determine its own borders.
In less than three weeks following the formation of the government, Olmert arrived Washington to market himself, his ministry, and his plan to annex and realign. There, he met with the American president, Bush, who seemed somewhat impressed with the Israeli plan, when he described it as brave and said that waiting can't be eternal.
Not to mention that Bush, on the other hand, did not make a promise to acknowledge the proposed borders as the final ones. He also reiterated his vision of establishing a Palestinian state that is fit for human habitation and the necessity to have serious negotiations with Mahmoud Abbas, considering him a real partner in peace making and to refrain from hindering his duties or weakening him.
Frustration and Suspending the Execution of the Plan
In the second half of 2006, frustration began to spread quickly towards the execution of the convergence plan. The plan began to lose its spot on the government’s ladder of priorities. Perhaps some of the most important reasons for losing its spark and momentum are:
1. The victory of Hamas, the establishment of its government, and the failure to overthrow it. Despite the fact that this reinforced the idea of having no Palestinian partner, and consequently increased the justification of the unilateral solution, the withdrawal from vast areas of the West Bank would be considered a victory for Hamas and would further solidify its authority. It would be very hard to market the solution, especially since the rise of Hamas made the possibility of establishing a Palestinian state with safe borders more difficult.
2. The failure of the Israeli war against Hezbollah and Lebanon in the summer of 2006 and the increase of the conviction that the withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000 made Hezbollah and the opposition more powerful has increased the fear of repeating the same scenario in the West Bank.
3. The waning popularity of Olmert and the Kadima party, and the weakened faith of the Israeli constituent in the governing alliance along with the increase of the popularity of the right wing Israeli power, which has weakened Olmert’s ability to maneuver and act.
4. The rise of some Israeli/international convictions in the need to support Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority and the coordination with him to face Hamas and attempt to overthrow it.
5. The Israeli distraction with the internal corruption scandals and with the investigations of the poor performance and failure of the Israeli army in the war against Hezbollah and Lebanon.
6. The emergence of security, legal, and economic challenges when studying the execution of the plan. This is what the convergence committee pointed out after studying the unilateral disengagement option and providing its evaluation in August 2006. The committee also noted the risks of launching rockets from the West Bank and that the Israelis won’t be able to get an international acknowledgement of the Israeli state then because of intents to keep parts of the West Bank.
With the end of the war on Lebanon, obvious fragmentations began to appear in the Kadima party concerning the withdrawal plan. Israeli reports mentioned that a great number of Kadima ministers and members in the Knesset were against it, which weakened its main source of momentum.
A few days after the end of the war with Lebanon, Olmert told a number of his ministers that the convergence plan was no longer on his list of priorities. As for Shimon Perez, the Deputy Prime Minister, he made a statement to Yedioth Ahronoth on 8/9/2006 saying that the idea of convergence and disengagement was “over politically, emotionally, and practically”, and warned that the Kadima party would vanish from the political scene if a new political agenda is formed.
In this sort of environment, the Israeli governing alliance seemed to lose its vision and direction. Invitations to coordinate the withdrawal with Abu Mazen and to hand over certain areas of the West Bank to his presidential guards began to surface.
In mid November 2006, political proposals (published by al-Hayat newspaper on 19/11/2006) appeared, which were reported about the Foreign Minister Tsibi Livni and were similar to those proposed in the Camp David negotiations in the summer of 2000. Livni spoke about the withdrawal from about 90% of the West Bank, with later withdrawals and border adjustments, the withdrawal from Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem, with the exception of al-Aqsa Mosque, which will be handed over in the third phase, the issuance of a UN resolution concerning the establishment of an independent Palestinian state within the 1967 borders that exists in peace and security with its neighbors. They used this phrase instead of using the phrase “acknowledging Israel”.
The proposals state that “Israel” will not have sacrificing the right of the Palestinian refugees to return as a condition, but it will say that it won’t allow the return of the refugees to “their land”, and that they can only return to the Palestinian state while the right of return stays alive, if only theoretically. At the end of the day, two states with total sovereignty will be acknowledged. The plan makes it clear that the agreed upon matters will be implemented without relating them to other issues.
Livni’s ideas, if true, will make a big difference in the Kadima or Israeli authority’s thoughts of backing down from the unilateral option, agreeing to the possibility of establishing a Palestinian state in most of the West Bank and Gaza Strip without the need to have the condition of officially giving up the right of the Palestinian refugees to return, nor associating or relating the agreement to other issues that were usually used as a way to delay or cause the agreement to fail.
This also means that there are Israelis who have become more willing to deal with Palestinian currents who aren’t willing to acknowledge their Zionist entity, like Hamas, the Islamic Jihad, and others.
However, it is yet early to say that the Israelis have totally backed down from implementing the unilateral disengagement plan, but they have surely begun to realize the extent of the challenges in executing it. If the Israelis rush to find a solution to their problem (and not to the Palestinian issue) while on the other hand none accepted their proposals, then this is what pushes them to try to impose individual solutions. They need to know that they can’t impose their will on people who do not give up their rights and who are willing to sacrifice anything for their rights.
The Israelis are still only capable of negotiating and discussing things among themselves, but they neither have the will nor the required gravity to negotiate with the Palestinians or the Arabs, not even in accordance with the international legitimate contexts. The Israeli mind doesn’t understand that the Palestinians are peoples who deserve to exercise humanitarian rights by returning to their land and living on it freely with dignity. They deserve to decide their fate and build their country. Finally, it shouldn’t be asked of the Palestinians, Arabs, and Muslims to wait for the “awakening of the Israeli conscience or awareness!” Instead, they should continue their efforts and sacrifices to seize their rights.
This article is a translation of the arabic article published by Dr. Mohsen Moh'd Saleh on Aljazeera.Net on 15-5-2007