Disengagement May Be a Disappointment

JERUSALEM – "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 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 has 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 said in an interview with Ha’aretz 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 that is necessary so there will not be a political process with the Palestinians."

On Aug. 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 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 somber 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 that 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 in and around Jerusalem. In addition to the construction of the wall, the Israeli government is pursuing a plan that 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 laborers 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 organizations issued a call on July 9 for a boycott, divestment, and sanctions as nonviolent punitive measures to be applied until Israel complies with international law.