In a world where the declarations of politicians are taken with a healthy grain of salt, where the past, recent and remote, is kept in mind and the lessons it patiently insists on teaching us remembered, the latest maneuvers by Ariel Sharon would be viewed for precisely what they are: dramatic maneuvers called for during a time of crisis, but not in any way deviations from the one plan towards which execution Ariel Sharon and his supporters have been brutally pushing towards for more than at least thirty seven years.
In such a world, a document that contains declarations that directly and frontally contradict each other would not be called a "Compromise plan," as it has been called in blaring headlines by US newspapers -- since compromise denotes a state of affairs that reconciles competing interests -- but a farcical sham: "The state of Israel will evacuate the settlements in the Gaza Strip," notes the "Compromise Plan" in one appendix, after having asserted in the main body of the very same document that "there is nothing in this decision regarding the evacuation of settlements."
In such a world, moreover, outlandish declarations that contradict everything that the people making those declarations stand for and have dedicated their lives spilling blood over, would be discarded as a racket of so much distraction and not much more.
In such a world, the thoughtful would not be wasting their time absurdly pondering over the "meaning" of the declarations, but instead would take a step back and point out how very much the Sharon charade over the withdrawal from Gaza is in keeping not only with a long record of Israeli obfuscation, delaying, betrayal and outright deception, but also with the one plan that has defined Sharon and the settler movement in Israel.
And so, such an observer would not fail to note that this very plan which is purported to be preparing the way for eventually evacuating the Gaza Strip (when it is not asserting that it will do no such thing), explicitly asserts that the construction in Gaza of new settlements is still allowed. The sober observer, without lapsing to cynicism, would simply remind everyone else of Oslo, and how the settler population doubled between 1993 and 2000, a period during which Israel was expected to withdraw from the Occupied Territories.
For an observer keeping the past in mind and their common sense in working order, the important thing to highlight in the Israeli cabinet's decision is not its "approval" of "the Gaza pullout plan," but its open declaration of "Israel's intention to keep a permanent hold on swathes of occupied West Bank land where the bulk of its 240,000 settlers live." (Occupied East Jerusalem, of course, has long ago been taken off the table, as far as the cabinet is concerned, even though UN resolutions calling on Israel to withdraw from it still stand.)
Such an observer would simply ask: would Sharon have been able to have his cabinet make such a declaration so openly if he hadn't created this "crisis" over the "Gaza withdrawal"? And better yet: would he have been able to have the cabinet make it so openly and have the US media completely overlook it -- i.e., consider it less of a breakthrough than the notion that Israel would "evacuate" the Gaza Strip?
And yet, "the Gaza withdrawal plan" will no doubt be hailed by the White House and (the US media towing the line in kind) precisely in the way that the Sharon government wants the hailing to go: Sharon risks his political life to make a bold gesture -- a la de Gaulle -- towards beginning to return some land to the Palestinians. Not incidentally, this will not only give President George Bush a wispy straw to cling to whenever the need arises to point out that progress in the Middle East has been made, but will conveniently buy the Sharon coalition enough time ("a few months," that is) to get back to the more efficient implementation of The Plan, a la Jenin, once the pesky American Presidential elections are over and a strong ally of Israel (whether Bush or Kerry) is in the White House for the next four years.
Ahmed Bouzid is the President of Palestine Media Watch (www.pmwatch.com), and author of Framing The Struggle: Essays on the Middle East and the US Media (Dimensions, 2003). His essays can be read at http://www.ahmedbouzid.org.
Other Articles by Ahmed Bouzid