Also posted to Lenin's Tomb
With "disengagement" finally under way amid the predictable fanfare from western media and equally predictable demonstrations of just how "painful" this "concession" is , this is a consideration of what kind of Palestine Ariel Sharon is offering to the Palestinians.
The Gaza Strip comprises 360 square kilometres of land with a population of about 1.4 million Palestinians and 7,500 Jewish settlers. It is mostly desert and much of the arable land is reserved, at present, for Jewish use only. 75% of its Arab population live below the poverty line and 13% suffer from malnutrition. It has no natural freshwater resources and no control over its telecommunications. It was occupied, together with the West Bank, by Israel during the six days war of June 1967 and has been occupied ever since. It is no stranger to Palestinian resistance or Israeli war crimes. During the ethnic cleansing campaign (1947-1949) that brought Israel into existence with its Jewish majority, Gaza [with an influx of Palestinian refugees] became one of the most densely populated places on earth. Israel emerged from that war controlling 78% of what was Palestine.
Gaza and Ariel Sharon have been well acquainted since the 1950s when Ariel Sharon led "reprisal" raids against Palestinian villages that brought shame even to Israeli leaders. Foreign Minister Moshe Sharrett referred to one of Sharon’s atrocities as a "stain [that] would stick to us and not be washed away for many years". Clearly he underestimated the strength of Zionist propaganda in the mass media.
During one of Ariel Sharon’s visits to the White House, President George W. Bush described him as a "man of peace". Leaving aside the fact that Bush often can’t tell one world leader from another, it is possible that he was responding to Ariel Sharon’s stated willingness to make "painful concessions" on the "roadmap" to peace with the Palestinians. To those familiar with Sharon’s history, the description "man of peace" wasn’t one that sprang to mind. Apart from the bloody and disproportionate "reprisals" mentioned above, he was the architect of the Lebanon war that began in 1982 with the slaughter of perhaps 20,000 Palestinian and Lebanese civilians in a matter of weeks. The Israeli Supreme Court declared Sharon "unfit for office" because of his culpability in some particularly gruesome atrocities by Israel’s Lebanese allies in the refugee camps of Shatila and Sabra. Whenever there have been peaceful overtures by Arab states or the Palestine Liberation Organisation, Sharon’s response has always been, at best, dismissive and usually downright hostile. He has had more Palestinians killed, for example, since the PLO accepted Israel’s right to exist on 78% of Palestine than when their demand was for a "democratic secular state" or the "destruction of Israel" as the Zionists prefer to call it. In 1981, the Rabat plan, whereby the Arab states agreed to normalise relations with Israel in return for Israel withdrawing to its pre-1967 boundaries, was described by Sharon as "a declaration of war". And the recent Saudi peace plan, much the same as Rabat, is now gathering dust.
In addition to the war crimes Sharon has always had a reputation for being dishonest with his political masters. His first patron, David Ben Gurion, recorded in his diary (29/1/1960) that "if he could wean himself from the habit of lying he could be an exemplary military leader." Later, in 1982 he lied to Menachem Begin about his aims in the Lebanon war. He lied to the Kahane Commission (Supreme Court), he lost a libel action against the Israeli liberal daily Ha’aretz and now he tells of painful concessions for peace.
So what does the proposed Gaza withdrawal consist of? We have seen what Gaza itself consists of. It has almost nothing and what it does have has been commandeered by illegal colonial settlers or is provided by the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). The settlers will, if the plan goes ahead, be withdrawn. Settlers have been known to kill civilians (as recently as yesterday) so this could bring some comfort to the Gazan population. However, if the withdrawal goes ahead, might Israel press for UNRWA to be withdrawn? UNRWA provides housing, healthcare, education, but above all, jobs. This isn’t mere speculation. Last year, Sharon accused an UNRWA ambulance team of loading a Qassam (home made) missile on to an ambulance. He was too hasty in his accusation. Israeli intelligence didn’t have time to doctor their photographic "evidence" and the accusation was exposed as another lie when the "missile" turned out to be a stretcher. But looking at American websites and other media, many commentators have happily run with the Qassam story. This does not simply expose Palestinian ambulances to Israeli attacks. Israel has attacked medical facilities without "pretext" before. It is to undermine the authority and credibility of the Agency in order to hinder all of its work. Taken with the mass campaign of political assassinations, Sharon is creating a Gaza with no viable economy or polity.
Sharon has said that his withdrawal plan is a part of Bush’s much vaunted "road map" to peace and Palestinian statehood. This is curious since his most trusted adviser, Dov Weisglass, is on record as saying 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, and you prevent a discussion on the refugees, the borders and Jerusalem. Effectively, this whole package called the Palestinian state with all that it entails, has been removed indefinitely from our agenda". So the idea of following the road map is yet another lie by Sharon, though Weisglass was forced to withdraw his prepared statement.
But how painful is this particular concession? In a way, it represents a step back by Sharon. True, the Jewish population of Gaza is hardly a significant factor as a proportion of Israel’s population as a whole, and indeed of the settler population itself, and Sharon has always said that "Zionism is not about what Israel can do for Jews but what Jews can do for Israel." But his party, the Likud, still sings the anthem Shtei Gadot with its expansionist lyric "one side of the Jordan is ours and so is the other". So relinquishing land, any land, is always painful. The outcry from the far-right, including comparisons of Sharon with Hitler (this on account of his treatment of Jews rather than Palestinians) isn’t just choreography, though that is part of it. But the Israel-free Gaza will be so enfeebled and dependent many Palestinians will have to leave as they have done for decades now. The ethnic cleansing that Israel has failed to fully achieve by war, they have tried to make up for by economic stealth and this will surely continue in an "independent" Gaza. If large sections of the population leave, it is likely that only the most militant would remain. If this happens it wouldn’t take much for Sharon or a successor to manufacture a pretext for reoccupation.
Some commentators are perplexed over the support that Sharon is now garnering from the Zionist "left" for his plan. This is because they fail to see that Zionism doesn’t really have a left. Traditionally, the Likud wanted Jewish rule over Palestine and the Palestinians if needs be. Ethnic cleansing was never an essential part of their policy. They were happy to go the "way of (apartheid) South Africa". This never suited the left. The call for "transfer" (the expulsion of all of the Arabs from all of Palestine) was always a Labourite demand. The strict segregation engendered by the barrier is also a Labourite idea. The fact is that Sharon has a Labour Zionist background and he has made no significant departures from that throughout his career.
So with massive military strength, a reduction in Palestinian attacks, a Palestinian leadership either dead or brought to its knees, the uncritical support of an American President (and Congress and any credible Presidential hopeful) and no viable alternative government of Israel, why is Sharon withdrawing from Gaza? When the disengagement plan was first discussed, Sharon’s extreme right critics argued that he was rewarding the Palestinians. His words in an interview with Yedioth Ahronoth (Israel’s most popular daily newspaper) are informative. Of unilateral disengagement from Gaza he said that "this should be seen as a punishment and not a reward for the Palestinians".
For once, he might just have been telling the truth.
This article is a slight update of one first published in October 2004 by Ireland's Sunday Business Post.