Many theories have been advanced concerning the intentions of Israeli Prime Minister Sharon’s “disengagement” plan. Some point to its function as a smokescreen to hide Israel’s accelerated theft and walling-off of the West Bank and Jerusalem. Others believe the plan is fundamentally an effort to improve Israel’s security by abandoning an untenable position in the Gaza Strip. “Disengagement” has also been called a diplomatic ploy to garner US approval for Israel’s annexation of most of its illegal West Bank settlements. Many Israelis believe Sharon launched his plan in late 2003 to foment the national crisis that ultimately sidelined his looming indictment on corruption charges.
All of these approaches have merit, but none encompasses the entire process and reach of the “disengagement” plan. A full analysis of the goals of “disengagement” would have to account for all of these observations as well as other, less noticed features of Sharon’s execution of the plan to date.
Lacking that analysis, we are vulnerable to Sharon’s deceptions. For example, Israel obstructed and stonewalled its handover negotiations with the Palestinian Authority until the first week of August, the eve of the settler evacuation. Such obstinacy so late in the game provoked expressions of puzzlement and surprise from both participants and observers. They thought Israel’s security interests would impel Sharon to work out a smooth transfer to the PA.
They were wrong. Yet some PA officials still appear to believe that “disengagement” is essentially a security plan for Israel. Perhaps we need to step back a bit, and try to see “disengagement” as Sharon sees it, to develop an analysis with better predictive value.
Among the most insightful public comments about “disengagement” have been those of its co-author, Mr. Sharon’s closest advisor and former chief of staff, Dov Weisglass, who personally directs Sharon’s negotiations with Washington. In an October 2004 interview, Weisglass told the Israeli daily Ha’aretz that the withdrawal of settlers from Gaza would be used to “freeze” the peace process.
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. And all this with a presidential blessing and the ratification of both houses of Congress.
Zeroing in on the meaning of “disengagement”, Weisglass continued,
The disengagement is actually formaldehyde. It supplies the amount of formaldehyde that is necessary so there will not be a political process with the Palestinians….The peace process is the establishment of a Palestinian state with all the security risks that entails. The peace process is the evacuation of settlements, it's the return of refugees, it's the partition of Jerusalem. And all that has now been frozen.... what I effectively agreed to with the Americans was that part of the settlements would not be dealt with at all, and the rest will not be dealt with until the Palestinians turn into Finns. That is the significance of what we did. (1)
According to Weisglass, the essential “significance” of the “disengagement” plan is a deal with the Americans. The public contents of this deal had been revealed six months before in an exchange of letters between George W. Bush and Sharon. In his letter, Bush implicitly accepted Israel’s demand to keep its largest West Bank settlements, approved the “apartheid wall”, allowed Israel to retain military control over Gaza following the settlers’ exit, and rejected the Palestinians’ right to return.
In exchange, Sharon gave him the evacuation of about 9,000 settlers from the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. The US Congress (including Sen. John Kerry) subsequently passed resolutions to applaud this diplomatic victory, which cast international law to the winds and reversed decades of official US policy.
It’s likely that Sharon and Weisglass had some intimation of Washington’s receptivity before they announced their daring plan to the Israeli people. It’s safe to say that the “disengagement” plan was intended from its inception to be a joint US-Israeli project to further neutralize and proscribe the rights and self-determination of the Palestinian people. The plan would offer convenient token sacrifices to justify its actions, and it would use these sacrifices to extort international complicity in a provisional “solution” more amenable to Sharon’s interests.
Although US co-operation was essential to the plan’s success, it would not guarantee it. Two months after Sharon and Bush made their pact, the International Court of Justice (the ‘World Court’) ruled that both the separation barrier and Israel’s entire occupation are international crimes that must be torn down and ended, completely and immediately. The Court’s ruling threw down the legal gauntlet to the UN and the UN Security Council to take action to stop these crimes-in-progress.
Suddenly, prospects didn’t look so bright for a US-led effort to gradually push the Bush-Sharon letters down the throat of the international community. It must have been clear to Sharon that he would have to exploit other possibilities in the plan if it was to achieve its goal of freezing the peace process.
One of these possibilities was already built into the offensive strategy of the plan, which aimed to achieve a core dream of nationalist Zionism -- seizing all of Jerusalem for the Jews.
If it were framed as a military operation, the “disengagement” plan would be a feint in which a retreat is staged on one front to draw the enemy in and relax his guard. An attack on the enemy’s flank can then catch him undefended, and may sweep him from the field. The flank attack is happening right now in Jerusalem.
In villages around the Holy City, Palestinians are being driven off their land to make way for the “annexation wall” and expanding settlements that will complete the city’s Jewish encirclement. In East Jerusalem, the wall is ripping apart Palestinian neighborhoods, some of which are being demolished for Jewish parks and housing. A campaign of evictions, coercion, deed swindles, bureaucratic chicanery and armed theft continues to drive Palestinians from their homes and strip them of their Jerusalem citizenship.
Less than two weeks after the “peace” talks at Sharm el-Sheik, Israel announced plans to illegally annex its sprawling Ma’ale Adumin and Gush Etzion settlements east and south of Jerusalem. In June, the route of the 26-foot “annexation wall” was coordinated with a new law to cut 55,000 Palestinians out of Jerusalem altogether, in one fell “Judaizing” swipe (to use Israel’s favorite oxymoronic verb).
Sharon knows that Jerusalem is another golden key to the peace process freezer. If his grip is tight enough, he can reverse decades of negotiation and claim the entire city for Israel outright, demolishing any hope for successful talks. The PA/PLO negotiating position would become completely untenable. For years to come, Jerusalem might serve right-wing Israelis as a reliable stumbling block on the road to peace talks.
Yet nothing is certain in this world. Flies might still land in the ointment. If the Americans began to resist the Jerusalem piece of the plan, Israel might again find itself vulnerable to the threat of the peace process.
Perhaps the diplomatic uncertainties attending the Jerusalem project led Sharon and Weisglass to develop a second line of defense against negotiations. This strategy would use “disengagement” to demolish the Palestinian side of the peace process by attempting a return to the “there is no partner” solution they tried to pin on Arafat.
Since demonizing Mahmoud Abbas was not a promising course of action, it might be necessary to divide and conquer. In this scenario, every effort would be made to drive a wedge between Hamas, which is most powerful in Gaza, and the PA.
Sharon would hijack a foolish Fatah proposal and use it to mount international pressure on Abbas to delay parliamentary elections and exclude Hamas from the PA. Using the Sharm el-Sheikh peace talks as a lever, he would force Abbas to mount a hopeless campaign of pleading with his constituents to disarm themselves in the middle of a war zone. He would publicly disparage and humiliate Abbas and delay the release of prisoners for months, just to let Abbas and the PA look like powerless fools. To frustrate the PA’s efforts to control the Gaza Strip after evacuation, he would refuse serious cooperation and deny even rudimentary requests for weapons and ammunition to arm the PA police. Meanwhile, he would complain incessantly that Abbas isn’t ‘getting tough enough with the terrorists. ’
In a nutshell, he would do what he has been doing since the February “thaw” at Sharm el-Sheikh. The ideal outcome of all this activity would be a Gaza Strip in the hands of Hamas. This would effectively split the authority to speak for the Palestinian people in two. The resulting triangulation would be a perfect recipe for long-term stalemate, a frozen peace process as manipulated by Israel.
As Akiva Eldar reported in Ha’aretz August 5, “Abu Mazen’s last visit to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon convinced him that at best, Sharon doesn’t care whether Hamas gains control of the Gaza Strip.” From this we can infer that Sharon is inclined to prefer a Hamas takeover of Gaza, and at worst would try to make it happen—an outcome quite consistent with his management of events this year. (2)
Would Hamas be too dangerous a neighbor? Not necessarily. Sharon knows that neither Hamas nor the PA wants to see attacks launched from Gaza following the settlers’ withdrawal. The diplomatic damage could be severe. They will want to mount their resistance where the crimes are continuing, in the West Bank. The Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies recently came to the same conclusion.
The more pertinent question may be, who would be more reliable? Sharon knows that Hamas is the best-disciplined group in the territories. It has demonstrated its ability to maintain a long strategic truce if not attacked or arrested. Fatah’s fractious gangs in Gaza, on the other hand, are much less predictable. And if trouble should arise, Israel would feel less constrained in waging its brand of “security” against Hamas “terrorists” than it would in dealing with the “new” internationally supported PA.
And what if peace with the citizens of Gaza is not part of the plan? If revenge and a campaign to eliminate Hamas are in the cards (consistent with Sharon’s long career of massacres), it would be convenient to have them tied down in Gaza. Israel could use the notion that the Gaza Strip is a “terrorist state” as an excuse to sever traffic between it and the West Bank, an action that could be developed into a rolling siege of the entire Strip, after sufficiently violent provocation of the Hamas leadership forces their retaliation.
And what if, despite all of Sharon’s efforts, Fatah and Hamas remain determined to avoid civil war and fragmentation? What if Hamas refuses the Gaza bait and patiently awaits its eventual triumph at the polls? One of Sharon’s worst nightmares might come to pass; a unified, representative and determined Palestinian Authority. The more we see of the “disengagement” plan, the more we appreciate the insuperable value of Palestinian solidarity, the people’s most precious asset.
Now that the settler evacuation is upon us and the media frenzy is underway, here comes Sharon’s most loyal servant, Deputy PM Ehud Olmert, to explain that, “Gaza is not a tradeoff for the West Bank,” directly contradicting Sharon’s explanation to Israel for the last two years. Then Mr. Olmert goes over the top: “For the first time in history, an Israeli government has voluntarily decided without outside pressure to pull out of these territories for the sake of one thing only - to lay foundations for the beginning of a meaningful dialogue with Palestinians.” We can assume that Dov Weisglass both approved and enjoyed this cynically direct contradiction of his own statements. (3)
Now Israel is in the spotlight, and its government must be presented as a patient democracy shepherding its people through a difficult time, always yearning for a partner in peace. Intimating more “generosity” to come, Weisglass has suggested that a further withdrawal of perhaps 80,000 West Bank settlers might be considered.
To my knowledge, Mr. Weisglass has not publicly speculated as to the number of years Israel might be able to drag out the evacuation of dozens of tiny, scattered settlements. Will there be a “political process” with the Palestinians, after all? If so, how many concessions might Israel be able to wring out of each settlement evacuation? Will Israel evacuate settlers from the outposts, resettle them in areas of the West Bank it has illegally annexed, and then claim to have moved them to “Israel”?
Last year our governments read Mr. Weisglass’ public comments. They are now watching the ethnic cleansing of Jerusalem and the rape of the West Bank. But no one lifts a finger to stop it, for fear of jeopardizing that “great opening for peace,” Sharon’s ‘courageous disengagement.’
This complicity in Sharon’s designs may be remembered as one of history’s most foolish and immoral appeasements. We must demand that our leaders reject Sharon’s extortion of their silence while he tries to kill the Palestinian state in the womb and “Judaize” the Holy City of the three Mosaic religions.
It’s high time we recognized that the “disengagement” in Sharon’s plan was intended to be ours, not Israel’s. To fulfill his objectives we were supposed to behave exactly as we are now; watching the crimes unfold while praising and paying the criminal for seeking peace. Meanwhile we admonish the victim to remain quiet, but compassionately offer to buy her a cup of coffee, with strings attached, of course.
This sickeningly hypocritical foreign policy will not foster peace and reconciliation. It will only support Sharon’s plans for more occupation and theft and dispossession, “until the Palestinians become Finns.”
PM aide: Gaza plan aims to freeze the peace process," Ha'aretz,
Mazen's surprise," Ha'aretz, 8/5/2005.
3. "Israel hopes pullout revives peace talks," Daily Star, 8/11/2005
Other Articles by James Brooks
* Who's Afraid Of International Law?
* Israel's New War Machine Opens the Abyss: "We Didn't Know" Will Be No Excuse
Send Hans Blix to Nes Ziona: Palestinian Civilians Attacked with Poison