policy of hitnatkut, or unilateral disengagement, developed by
Ariel Sharon needed a swift facelift following the withdrawal of settlers
from Gaza last year. And Israel’s prime minister-designate, Ehud Olmert,
has found it in the related concept of hitkansut, variously
translated as “convergence,” “consolidation” and “ingathering”.
After all, Olmert could hardly campaign
convincingly for a West Bank disengagement when it was clear Jewish settlers
and soldiers would continue occupying a significant proportion of
Palestinian land at the withdrawal’s end. So convergence is usefully, and
misleadingly, supplanting disengagement.
Many critics of Israel assume convergence is simply jargon disguising
the government’s intention illegally to annex swaths of West Bank territory.
The grand land theft will be sold to the world as a painful withdrawal of
Jewish settlers, even if the great majority (probably 80 per cent) are left
in place and only the most remote settlements are dismantled.
But events this week suggest that the principle of hitkansut will
have a far wider application than just to the West Bank settlement blocs,
with results even more sinister than many had anticipated. Olmert’s
consolidation, it is becoming clear, will embrace Palestinians too.
The shape of things to come was hinted at this week in the wake of
Monday’s suicide bombing in Tel Aviv by the small militant group Islamic
Jihad. Rather than approving the usual indiscriminate military strikes
against Palestinian population centers that characterized the Sharon era,
Olmert pursued a low-key, but no less disturbing, response.
He revoked the rights of three Hamas MPs and a Palestinian cabinet minister,
Mahmoud Abu Tir, to reside in Jerusalem. The intention is to deport them to
the West Bank, behind the separation wall Israel is hastily completing,
where they will lose all the rights they currently enjoy to live and work
inside Jerusalem and Israel.
Apparently Israel is considering extending this punishment to other
members of Hamas in Jerusalem and possibly anyone working for the
Once upon a time, back in the 1970s and 1980s, Israel would regularly
dump hundreds of Palestinian political activists at a time across the border
in Lebanon. Now the border will be, more conveniently, much closer to hand:
just a stone’s throw from the center of Jerusalem.
What are the grounds for the deportations? The official reason is the
failure of Hamas to denounce the suicide bombing. Olmert told an emergency
meeting of the cabinet: “Any member of a government involved in
terrorism should not be granted any immunity in the form of his Israeli
Let’s ignore Olmert’s gratuitous extension of the meaning of the
word “terrorism,” and concentrate instead on the extent of his chutzpah.
Israel occupied East Jerusalem during the Six-Day war of 1967 and later
annexed the Palestinian half of the city and its inhabitants to Israel in
violation of international law.
Now Olmert, the former mayor of Jerusalem and a man well versed in
underhand maneuvers in the holy city, is expelling Palestinians from
East Jerusalem on the grounds that he doesn’t like their politics.
Foreign minister Tzipi Livni observed that Israel had the right to revoke
the residency of whomever it deemed disloyal to Israel. In other words,
Olmert and his cronies are behaving as though Palestinian residency in
Jerusalem is a right conferred by Israel -- as though Palestinians are
immigrants rather than the city’s indigenous inhabitants living under an
illegal and increasingly vicious occupation.
Of course, Israel’s approach towards East Jerusalem and its residents is not
new, though the degree of brazen cheek in Israel’s singling out of
Palestinian public figures for this treatment, and Olmert’s happy courting
of publicity over the abuse of their rights, is.
Despite the illegal annexation of East Jerusalem by Israel, Palestinians
living there do not have Israeli citizenship. Instead, they are classified
as “permanent residents”, without voting rights or Israeli passports.
Theoretically, their residency offers them rights of free movement
inside Jerusalem and Israel, unlike West Bankers who since Oslo have been
confined by curfews, checkpoints and now the wall.
But in practice, as the deportations prove, “permanent residency” is
not necessarily so permanent. Israel has for some time been narrowing the
terms of who qualifies for residency in Jerusalem: Palestinians who study or
work abroad often find they are not entitled to return to the city; the
recent revoking of family unification means many spouses and children of
East Jerusalem residents are facing deportation; and the arbitrary route of
the wall across East Jerusalem is putting some residents on the wrong
side, making it all but impossible for them to reach jobs, shops, schools
and hospitals in the city center.
The reason for these measures and others by Israel -- such as planning rules
that make it almost impossible for East Jerusalemites to build homes to cope
with their natural population growth; and the abuse of their rights to vote
in Palestinian elections -- is clear.
The hope is that under such relentless pressure most Palestinians will leave
Jerusalem and seek residence in the West Bank, where they will have even
less rights to withstand Israeli abuses and where they will pose far less of
a demographic threat to an expanded Israeli state’s “Jewishness.”
But this week’s deportation of Palestinian MPs who refuse to toe the Israeli
line reveals yet another layer of Israel’s plan. What Olmert hopes to
achieve with hitkansut is not only consolidating the inclusion of
Jewish settlers inside the expanded borders of the new Jewish state but also
consolidating the exclusion of Palestinians who currently enjoy residency in
territory coveted by Israel: namely East Jerusalem. While Olmert will be
busy “ingathering” the settlers, he will also be busy “outgathering”
Palestinians from Jerusalem.
However, unlike Olmert’s plans for the consolidation of Jews, who will be
gathered into a single, expanded Jewish state, Israel clearly has
different vision of consolidation for the Palestinians -- despite Sharon’s
weasly words to the United Nations last year about wanting to create a
Palestinian state on the land left after the limited withdrawal from the
Given the nature of the Jewish settlement blocs left after hitkansut
-- their fingers penetrating deep into the West Bank at strategic points --
Palestinian land will be separated into a series of ghettoes, isolated and
cut off one from the next.
In Olmert’s consolidation plan, Jerusalem will be turned into a ghetto
comprising only those Palestinians prepared to have no contact with or offer
no support to the rest of their people, including their own elected
The West Bank, meanwhile, will be consolidated into a series of small
ghettoes, based on the main cities, filled with Palestinians whose rights
can be trampled on by Israel at will. And finally Gaza will be consolidated
into yet another ghetto, disconnected from Jerusalem and the West Bank.
Palestinian politics, whether of the Fatah or Hamas variety, will be
meaningless in such an environment. It is not hard to predict the response:
the year-long Hamas ceasefire will be strained beyond breaking point.
Terrorism -- human bombs or home-made Qassam rockets -- will be the
only answer for Palestinians who want to resist the arm’s-length occupation.
That may suit Israel, offering it yet more excuses -- in reply to the
“terror” -- to further “consolidate” the Palestinian population into
smaller, more tightly controlled ghettoes.
At the same Israeli cabinet meeting at which the deportations of the
Hamas MPs were agreed, ministers discussed changing the classification of
the Palestinian Authority, the Palestinians’ government, from a “hostile
entity” to the harsher status of an “enemy entity.” The move was rejected
for the time being.
One senior official told the Israeli media why: “There are international
legal implications in such a declaration, including closing off the border
crossings, that we don't want to do yet.” Not yet. But soon, when the
infrastructure of imprisonment is complete.
a British journalist living in Nazareth, is the author of
Blood and Religion: The Unmasking of the Jewish and Democratic State,
to be published next month by Pluto Press. His website is:
Other Articles by Jonathan
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Duplicity and the Siege of Jericho Jail