b i t t e r l e m o n s. o r g
    August 15, 2005 Edition 29                       Palestinian-Israeli crossfire
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  Disengagement and beyond
. Misplaced optimism        by Ghassan Khatib
If the post-Gaza era leads to another unilateral phase it will confirm fears that Israel intends to dictate the future of the region.
  . Doubts, hopes, and troubling thoughts        by Yossi Alpher
Both the positive predictions of peace and the negative prognoses regarding large-scale violence have to be treated very skeptically.
. Gaza is not the last station        an interview with Mohammad Abu Shamala
The Israeli withdrawal is the fruit of the armed struggle and the patience of the people.
  . A pack of untruths        an interview with Moshe Arens
The day after disengagement the demographics of the state of Israel won't change by a single percentile.

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Misplaced optimism
by Ghassan Khatib

Whenever Palestinians complain to the international community about the consolidation of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, the response is invariably that this is an issue to be taken up after the Gaza withdrawal is completed. In other words, the position of the international community, as represented by the Quartet members, on the unilateral Israeli disengagement plan is based on the assumption that this plan marks the beginning of the implementation of the Quartet's roadmap plan for peace. This underlying hypothesis holds that the Israeli disengagement from Gaza and the evacuation of four small settlements in the northern West Bank will facilitate and lead to the resumption of negotiations toward a peaceful settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

It is because of such optimism that the unilateral Israeli plan gained international support.

The signals emanating from Israel, however, are completely different. In most of his statements on the aftermath of disengagement, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has been keen to "assure" Israelis that the withdrawal from Gaza will not be followed by more withdrawals in the West Bank. Even the small steps taken in the northern West Bank were reduced so that now Israel is talking about evacuating the four small settlements without changing the status of that area from Area C to B or A, which would leave them under Palestinian Authority control and responsibility as in Gaza.

Alas, this is not just about signals. Israeli actions in the West Bank, including the expansion of settlements and the completion of the illegal wall, all clearly indicate that Israel has in mind another unilateral disengagement plan for the West Bank. The combination of the accelerated settlement expansion program and the completion of the wall will leave what some people have started to call the autonomous Palestinian walled state. In this "state" Israel will have confined the vast majority of the Palestinian population to within the wall and within the closed area of Gaza, while the rest of the West Bank, almost half of it, will serve to accommodate the expansion of settlements and become contiguous territory to Israel.

Without a serious international effort to force Israel to move from a unilateral into a bilateral process and consequent negotiations based on the roadmap, the post unilateral Gaza disengagement plan might be followed by another in the West Bank. Such unilateralism is not only not helpful to a peace process, it is antithetical. Any attempt by Israel at imposing a solution will only cause frustration and anger and subsequently violence.

The only reason why Palestinians might look positively at the Gaza withdrawal is exactly the hope that it will lead to a bilateral process and the resumption of peace negotiations. If the post-Gaza era leads to another unilateral phase, that will confirm Palestinian fears of Israeli determination to unilaterally and by force dictate the future of the region. This could have dramatic and negative consequences, including tilting the balance of power inside Palestinian society. After all, without negotiations, the camp within the Palestinian body politic that believes in bilateral peace negotiations to end the occupation that started in 1967 and establish a Palestinian state within these borders, will cease to exist.- Published 15/8/2005 (c) bitterlemons.org

Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications. He is the Palestinian Authority minister of planning and has been a political analyst and media contact for many years.

Doubts, hopes, and troubling thoughts
by Yossi Alpher

Whatever else happens after disengagement, an Israeli-Palestinian peace process is not likely. Indeed, the period confronting us is one of great uncertainty, in which both the positive predictions of peace and the negative prognoses regarding large-scale violence have to be treated very skeptically.

One reason for the uncertainty that is shared by both sides is politics. Israel and Palestine are heading for national elections. These will be the focus of public attention for the next six months, with another two or three months required to digest the results, form governments, and plan policies.

Beyond this political timetable, there are plenty of additional variables to take into account.
We don't know whether Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) will succeed in maintaining PA/PLO rule in Gaza, or whether there will be chaos or rule by Hamas. We don't know whether Palestinians will continue firing Qasam rockets and mortar rounds from Gaza--or will now begin firing them from the West Bank. We don't know how well Hamas will do in Palestinian Legislative Council elections slated for January 2006, and what effect this will have on Palestinian policymaking regarding Israel. If Abbas ceases to rule, we don't know who will replace him.

On the Israeli side, we don't know whether PM Ariel Sharon will succeed in remaining at the head of the Likud, much less whether he will be the next prime minister. If he remains in office, we don't know what sort of coalition he'll be able to form, and whether it will seek a peace process, another round of disengagement, or something else. Lately he has been telling both sides of the Israeli political spectrum what they want to hear: to the right his message is that there will be no more unilateral disengagements and no negotiations unless all terrorism stops; the left hears him hinting that Israel will eventually leave both the West Bank mountain heartland and the Jordan Valley.

If someone else is prime minister of Israel, we may be better able to predict his course: Netanyahu will shun both disengagement and serious territorial concessions, but will allow himself to be dragged into a peace process due to weakness. Peres will reopen final status negotiations. Barak will initiate comprehensive disengagement.

In Washington, we don't know what President Bush's Middle East agenda will look like nine months from now, though it is safe to assume that Iraq and Iran will still dominate it. This renders highly unlikely a serious administration initiative to sponsor a new roadmap-based peace process, particularly one that entails confrontation between Washington and Jerusalem over the extent of territorial concessions.

We do know that disengagement is good for Israel and Palestine. It ends part of Israel's occupation of another people and serves its vital demographic needs, while it transfers land and a degree of sovereignty to the Palestinians. Thus amidst the many uncertainties, it seems imperative to express a few hopes for the coming weeks:

  • that the actual disengagement will go relatively smoothly and the accompanying internal Israeli controversy will do no permanent damage to the Israeli social and political fabric, which is essentially very resilient;
  • that the Israeli public, which on the eve of disengagement continued to support the unilateral pullout by a solid majority--with a slim majority even expressing some readiness to countenance more such unilateral moves--will, post facto, continue to see this as a positive precedent;
  • that the views of a majority of Palestinians, who consistently tell pollsters that they do not believe Israel is "fleeing" Gaza due to military weakness, will prevail over the hotheads who cite the withdrawal as a Palestinian military victory to be emulated;
  • that the international effort to mobilize the Gazan economy, spearheaded by the US, will reflect lessons drawn from past failures and register some success;
  • and that Abu Mazen, who has thus far survived politically against considerable odds--and who favors a non-violent Palestinian effort to show that the PA can manage Gaza well and is therefore deserving of additional Israeli territorial concessions--will prevail over the terrorists, the extremists, and the bullies of lawlessness in Gaza.

Finally, two closing, and troubling, thoughts. In closing down the settlements in Gaza we encounter, up close, the folly of building them in the first place: the huge waste in resources and human suffering--including that of the departing settlers, which for many Jews is wrenching.

And there is more folly ahead. In looking to the future the calculation is staggering: the success of this complex and dramatic removal of 8,000 settlers will give us some indication just how difficult it will be to remove at least another 50,000 from the West Bank. That is the minimum necessary to make room for a Palestinian Arab state that will enable Israel to remain a Jewish and a democratic state.- Published 15/8/2005 (c) bitterlemons.org

Yossi Alpher is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications. He is former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies and a former senior adviser to PM Ehud Barak.

Gaza is not the last station
an interview with Mohammad Abu Shamala

bitterlemons: How will Hamas' military strategy change after the Israeli withdrawal ?

Abu Shamala: The Israeli withdrawal will not affect the situation. Instead, maybe it will encourage people to become more active. Gaza is not the last station, and we have to continue to work until we free all of Palestine.

Perhaps the focus will now shift to the West Bank. But in Gaza we will not stay silent if there is continued aggression against Palestinians by the Israeli occupation forces.

bitterlemons: Do you consider the withdrawal a victory for the armed resistance alone, or is it a combination of things? Abu Shamala: The withdrawal is the fruit of the armed struggle and the patience of the people only. This is not the result of any political negotiations. The Palestinian Authority spent 10 years negotiating with Israel and got nothing. Look also at what happened in South Lebanon, where military resistance pushed Israel out. The same thing has happened here.

bitterlemons: Do you think in the future, the Palestinian strategy should only be military?

Abu Shamala: We see that military action is the only way to get our rights from Israel. If political negotiations are fruitful, then OK. But our experience with Israel, especially after the long process of negotiations from which we got nothing and reached a dead end, leads us to conclude that we have to depend on the military strategy.

bitterlemons: There seems to have been a decision recently not to engage in rocket or mortar attacks. Is that correct?

Abu Shamala: We are interested that the withdrawal be completed. We are not interested in creating any trouble or obstacles in the way of this. We want to rid Gaza of the occupation. But we have many issues. There is the issue of prisoners, for instance. Also, we believe Sharon did what he did so he could keep the West Bank and the settlements there. We cannot trust Israel and we cannot put all our eggs in one basket. We have to look at the interests of our people.

bitterlemons: How do you respond to President Mahmoud Abbas' recent statement that there should be one authority and one weapon?

Abu Shamala: We are not a second authority here and we do not want to take the place of the PA. But we are a liberation movement--we fight for our people and we fight for Palestine--and because of this we will keep our weapons. We will not compromise on this point. What is liberated now is only a very small part of Palestine, and we have to continue.

Furthermore, Hamas keeps its weapons aimed at the occupation and doesn't use them in the streets or against other Palestinians, like other factions have done. We have to continue military action against Israel and therefore we have to keep these weapons in our hands.

The Cairo Understandings also gave us the right to react to any Israeli aggression. Hamas agrees with this position, and Hamas has recorded many Israeli violations against our people. It is our right to fight against the occupation and to react against these crimes and aggressions.

bitterlemons: But do, for instance, mortar attacks, as some suggest, ultimately hurt Palestinians more than they hurt the Israelis?

Abu Shamala: No. Yes, we pay a price, but that is the price of liberation. But Israel has been pushed out of Gaza because of these rockets and mortars.

bitterlemons: You say the Israeli withdrawal is an achievement for the armed resistance in Gaza. Can the armed resistance achieve the same in the West Bank?

Abu Shamala: I hope the same thing will happen in the West Bank. I hope that by continuous struggle and armed resistance and military operations against settlers and soldiers, Israel will leave the West Bank. We know that Israel will eventually leave the West Bank, even if it takes time. Resistance is at the heart of the Palestinian people; it is a Palestinian way of life.- Published 15/8/2005 (c) bitterlemons.org

Mohammad Abu Shamala is the commander of the Izzedin al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas' military wing, in southern Gaza.

A pack of untruths
an interview with Moshe Arens

bitterlemons: You're opposed to disengagement. Can the anti-disengagement camp succeed at this late date in preventing it?

Arens: I'm highly doubtful. Although this is the land of miracles, I'm not holding my breath.

bitterlemons: Why is unilateral disengagement going to be bad for Israel?

Arens: First and foremost because it encourages terror. The Palestinians don't hide their jubilation and conviction that this is a direct result of their use of terror. This will encourage further terror. We were successful in the battle against terrorism until this idea came along. It's not part of any treaty obligation. Even [PM Mahmoud] Abbas declares from Gaza that Jerusalem is next.

Secondly, this is a blatant violation of the rights of Israeli citizens. It could not happen in any other democratic country. [Presidents] Bush and Chirac praise [PM] Sharon, yet know that in their countries you couldn't pull 8,000 people out of their homes.

bitterlemons: What will be the effect on Israeli-Palestinian political relations?

Arens: I've noted that this encourages terrorism. But I can't foretell the future. I can't totally discount a positive effect on Palestinian political dynamics. There is a possibility that this will bring about a change of mood among the Palestinians, [to the effect that] they should renounce terrorism and stick to politics. But it doesn't seem probable.

bitterlemons: How will Israeli society be affected?

Arens: The worst outcome is the rift within Israeli society, which was foreseeable and which will take a long time to heal. The settlers and their supporters are not an insignificant minority and by any reckoning they're a high quality part of society. The IDF has always been a symbol of unity, but now it's using soldiers in compulsory military service to confront other Israeli citizens. This is not good for the image of the IDF in the eyes of Israelis, and not good for solidarity within Israeli society.

bitterlemons: How do you address the argument that disengagement is vital from the demographic standpoint and that it is important to reduce the extent of Israeli occupation?

Arens: In my opinion, the arguments for disengagement are a pack of untruths, if not outright lies. This is not disengagement but rather a unilateral withdrawal. Israel will never be able to totally disengage from Palestinians. I don't need to tell you that the day after disengagement the demographics of the state of Israel won't change by a single percentile. We're not really ending occupation in Gaza. We ended that 11 years ago. I advocated that in 1992 as minister of defense. Though Palestinian life is not normalized and Netzarim and Kfar Darom are indeed located right in the middle of Gaza, Gush Qatif is separate: it and the northern Gaza settlements don't cause us to us rule Gaza. Even in Judea and Samaria we had stopped ruling the cities until Operation Defensive Shield in 2002.

bitterlemons: To sum up, how do you see the coming year beyond disengagement?

Arens: It all depends what happens with terrorism. It is accepted by almost everybody that when terrorism is rampant there can be no negotiating front. If terror remains at its present low level I would advocate negotiations, not another unilateral step.

bitterlemons: Do you envision the Bush administration or the international community actively involved in such an initiative?

Arens: I don't accept the premise that we need heavy US involvement, and I don't foresee this administration stepping in to pressure one side or the other. That was not the case in the past and I don't see it happening in the future.- Published 15/8/2005 (c) bitterlemons.org

Moshe Arens is a former minister of defense, minister of foreign affairs, and Israeli ambassador to the United States.

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