Sharon's scheme

Print edition : January 16, 2004

A Palestinian woman watches the funeral of a young relative, who was killed in a raid by the Israeli army, at the Rafah refugee camp, southern Gaza Strip, on December 24. - MOHAMMED SALEM/REUTERS

If Ariel Sharon's security plan stays on course, the best Palestinian land available on the West Bank will end up as a part of Israel.

ISRAELI Prime Minster Ariel Sharon's announcement on December 18 that his government would unilaterally impose a security plan separating Israelis and Palestinians has further complicated the peace process. The bellicose stance of the old Zionist warhorse was in part a reaction to the unofficial peace agreement signed between Palestinian and Israeli negotiators in Geneva in the first week of December (Frontline, January 2). The plan had found acceptance among a wide cross-section of Israelis and Palestinians, and Sharon's ultimatum to the Palestinian Authority (P.A.) is seen as an attempt to derail the new peace moves and regain the initiative.

"If in a few months the Palestinians still continue to disregard their part in implementing the `road map', then Israel will initiate the unilateral security step of disengagement from the Palestinians," Sharon said in a speech broadcast on Israeli state television. He specifically stated that the disengagement plan envisaged by his government would involve a radical redrawing of the map in favour of Israel. Under the plan, the Israeli army would be deployed on "a new security line" in order to "reduce as much as possible the number of Israelis located in the heart of the Palestinian populace". This in practical terms means that the best Palestinian land available on the West Bank will be gobbled up by Israel. Sharon also pledged that Israel would continue to construct the "apartheid" wall despite international condemnation. Although Sharon was on record as stating that some of the illegal Jewish settlements on the West Bank would be dismantled, he did not specify the numbers or a time-frame. In the past, Sharon had threatened to remove unauthorised settlements only to legalise them subsequently.

If Sharon is allowed to go ahead with his scheme, the territory nominally under the control of the P.A. will shrink by another 50 per cent and 90 per cent of Palestinians will be pushed into a tiny sliver of land. Under the `Oslo accord', Palestinian President Yasser Arafat recognised Israeli sovereignty over 78 per cent of Palestinian land in the hope of establishing an independent Palestinian state. Uri Avnery, the perceptive Israeli commentator, has written that Sharon's latest plan is "an extremely dangerous" one. According to Avnery and many other observers of the West Asian scene, Sharon is planning to incorporate most of the West Bank as a de facto part of Israel. The rest of the land will be divided into separate enclaves and left to Palestinians. Jewish settlements that remain in isolated enclaves will be removed.

Behind the Sharon government's haste to complete the fence is the grandiose scheme of aggrandisement being planned by the Likud-led government. The Jewish settlers who are to be relocated will be settled in the West Bank areas that will be enclosed by the "apartheid" wall. According to reports, the Israeli government plans to go ahead with the resettlement programme over the next six months. Sharon's calculation seems to be that with the process of presidential elections in top gear in the United States, there will be minimal pressure from Washington. Even Howard Dean, the current Democratic frontrunner is a fervent supporter of the Zionist state; he has gone to the extent of supporting the targeted killings of Palestinians by the Israeli state machinery. "The Democrats need Jewish votes and money. The Republicans also need the votes and money of the 60 million Christian fundamentalists, who support the most extreme elements in Israel," wrote Avnery.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.-BOAZ OPPENHEM/AP. POOL

The Sharon government's game plan is to annex most of the West Bank while ritually paying obeisance to the "road map" and the statesmanship of President George W. Bush. Sharon accepted the American-sponsored "road map" with many conditions, making the process a virtual non-starter. He and his close associates have focussed on making Arafat the scapegoat for the failure of the "road map" and the continuing violence. Sharon must be further encouraged by President Bush's pronouncement in late December that the only way for the "road map" to be implemented was to get Arafat out of the way.

If Sharon has his way, a new reality will be in place by early 2005. The Palestinians will be handed over a more truncated state with the security fence as the border. Israeli Finance Minister Binyamin Netanyahu recently allocated an additional $160 million for the year 2004 for the construction of the barrier.

Senior Bush administration officials have, for the record's sake, criticised Sharon's stated aim of expediting Israel's disengagement from the dialogue process with the Palestinians, as mandated by the "road map". A White House spokesman said that the American government would "oppose any move" that would abandon the American-sponsored "road map". At the same time, senior officials of the Bush administration have acknowledged that the Israeli side had consulted Washington before Sharon made his controversial speech. The Americans have already welcomed the Israeli governments pledge to relocate some settlements, portraying it as some sort of a grand gesture on the part of the Likud government. Sharon in his speech had also said that the "disengagement plan" was devised to provide the maximum security for the citizens of Israel and would be implemented concurrently with the "road map". This effectively means that even if the Palestinian side cooperates fully, Sharon will still go ahead with his "disengagement plan".

The "apartheid" wall, on the outskirts of Jerusalem.-GIL COHEN MAGEN/REUTERS

Militant organisations such as Hamas and the Islamic Jihad had recently agreed to halt their military activities inside Israel. There has been a noticeable decline in violent attacks against targets inside Israel in recent months. There were indications that the militant groupings were willing to opt for a general ceasefire, provided Israel desisted from military activity inside the occupied territories. But targeted killings and the use of massive military force in the West Bank continue unabated. In the fourth week of December, Israeli troops staged attacks on Palestinian towns in the West Bank and Gaza. Israeli troops supported by tanks and helicopters staged an attack on the densely populated Rafah camp in the Gaza Strip, killing eight Palestinians. Israel hopes to provoke retaliatory suicide attacks, which could provide the pretext for breaking all contacts with the P.A. and proceed with the grand annexation plans. In the first three weeks of December, 25 Palestinians were killed as a result of Israeli military action in the occupied territories. Two Israeli army officers have also been killed.

But the proposed Zionist enterprise will not be accomplished easily. The Palestinians will not remain mute spectators if more of their land is stolen. The Israeli state will find it difficult to box in the Palestinian population in what would constitute 10 per cent of the land that belonged to them. Sharon will also find it difficult to remove the Jewish zealots who have settled down in remote outposts in the West Bank. Israel will have to call up all its army reservists to uproot the settlers, who have indicated their unwillingness to be relocated.

Israeli public opinion is yet to be convinced of Sharon's new gambit. Disaffection with Sharon's policies seems to be spreading even within the Israeli army. A group of Israeli fighter pilots refused to go on assignments to bomb Palestinian civilian targets in the West Bank and Gaza a few months ago. Now it is the turn of soldiers of the army's top commando unit to show their defiance. Thirteen reservists, including three officers and 10 soldiers, wrote a letter to Ariel Sharon saying that they would no longer participate in "a rule of oppression" and the defence of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. "We will no longer corrupt the stamp of humanity in us through carrying out the missions of an occupation army - in the past we fought for a justified cause (but today) we have reached the boundary of oppressing another people," the letter said.

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