Israel and the United States will begin discussing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's "convergence plan" this week. The working assumption among senior Israeli officials is that the administration supports the plan and views it as "the only game in town."Anti-War looks at the implications for the Palestinians and traces the history of the so-called "convergance plan."
Two major issues are on the agenda: the timeline for the plan and the nature of the support to be extended by the U.S. government.
Olmert leaves next week for his first White House visit as Israel's elected prime minister, during which he will present the convergence idea to President George W. Bush. Aides to Olmert, who flew out Saturday night to prepare for the visit, will meet with White House officials to decide on the manner in which the plan is to be presented at the meeting between the leaders, as well as the statements that will follow the meeting. These preliminary sessions were defined as a "coordination of expectations."
In November 2003, Olmert, then Sharon's deputy, all but announced the coming Gaza Disengagement Plan before it had earned the official name. A few weeks before Sharon revealed that he would be pulling out of Gaza, Olmert outlined to Israel's Ha'aretz newspaper the most serious issue facing Israel. It was, he said, the problem of how, when the Palestinians were on the eve of becoming a majority in the region, to prevent them from launching a struggle similar to the one against apartheid waged by black South Africans.But isn't this what any two-state settlement would amount to?
Olmert's concern was that, if the Palestinian majority renounced violence and began to fight for one-man-one-vote, Israel would be faced by "a much cleaner struggle, a much more popular struggle – and ultimately a much more powerful one." Palestinian peaceful resistance, therefore, had to be preempted by Israel.
The logic of Olmert's solution, as he explained it then, sounds very much like the reasoning behind disengagement and now convergence: "[The] formula for the parameters of a unilateral solution are: To maximize the number of Jews; to minimize the number of Palestinians." Or, as he put last week, "division of the land, with the goal of ensuring a Jewish majority, is Zionism's lifeline."
But though Olmert has claimed convergence as his own, its provenance in the Israeli mainstream dates back more than a decade. Far from being a response to Palestinian terror during this Intifada, as government officials used to maintain, many in the Israeli military and political establishment have been pushing for "unilateral separation" – a withdrawal, partial or otherwise, from the occupied territories made concrete and irreversible by the building of a barrier – since the early 1990s.
The apostles of separation, however, failed to get their way until now because of two obstacles: the cherished, but conflicting, dreams of the Labor and Likud parties, both of which preferred to postpone, possibly indefinitely, the endgame of the conflict implicit in a separation imposed by Israel.
In signing up to Oslo, Yitzhak Rabin and his Labor Party believed they could achieve effective separation by other means, through the manufactured consent of the Palestinians. Rabin hoped to subcontract Israel's security to the Palestinian leadership in the shape of the largely dependent regime of the Palestinian Authority, under Yasser Arafat.
Palestinians resisting the occupation would be cowed by their own security forces, doing Israel's bidding, while Israel continued plundering resources – land and water – in the West Bank and Gaza and established a network of industrial parks in which Israeli employers could exploit the captive Palestinian labor force too.