b i t t e r l e m o n s. o r g
    August 29, 2005 Edition 31                       Palestinian-Israeli crossfire
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  Gaza withdrawal: winners and losers
. All win or all lose        by Ghassan Khatib
There can be no winners and losers in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. There can only be winners or losers.
  . Eat my laptop II        by Yossi Alpher
If Abbas fails, this will have been a tactical victory on the way to yet another defeat for Palestinian statehood.
. "Wosers"        by Khader Khader
There is too much ground to be covered before anyone can call themselves winners or losers.
  . Another round in the 100 year war        by Yehoshua Porath
History does not stop here.

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All win or all lose
by Ghassan Khatib

The net outcome of the unilateral Israeli withdrawal from Gaza will only be determined in its aftermath and will depend on its consequences within the Palestinian and Israeli camps. It will also depend on what the next step in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is going to be.

There are two possible scenarios. The first scenario sees Israel following its unilateral plan in Gaza with further unilateral steps in the West Bank of the kind we are already witnessing, whereby the wall continues being built and settlements continue expanding. In this case, there will be no winners. Both sides will lose the opportunity to renew the peace process and implement the roadmap. These are crucial to replacing violence with negotiations and allowing the two sides the chance to achieve their respective objectives, without doing so at the expense of the legitimate rights of the other side.

The other scenario sees the international community, led by the US through the Quartet, begin to fulfill its promises, invest the necessary political will, and apply the necessary political pressure to invite the two parties back to the negotiations to ensure the implementation of the roadmap.

In parallel with the above scenarios, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has two options. The first is to immediately compensate for the Gaza withdrawal by building more settlements in the West Bank. This will create a confrontation with the Palestinian side. If he chooses this path, both Palestinians and Israelis will lose out to the extremist minorities on both sides, who will be provided with a suitable playground to carry on with their anti-peace activities.

Sharon's second option is to use the current atmosphere of relative calm to replace his unilateral approach with bilateral negotiations that will build positively on the Gaza withdrawal. This will strengthen those arguing for a peaceful resolution to the conflict on both sides. A return to fruitful negotiations is the only way to create a win-win situation by reducing the room for maneuver of extremists and violent parties.

The signals emanating from the Israeli government so far are not hopeful. New tenders for settlements, the continued building of the wall dipping deeper and deeper into occupied Palestinian territory, and deadly Israeli military incursions, only serve to strengthen the impression that Sharon has chosen the first path.

The time is right for a third party initiative that will encourage and strengthen both sides to take the right path after Gaza. After all, this was what the Quartet and other leading players in the international community promised the Palestinian side would happen, when working to convince them of the importance of the Gaza withdrawal taking place smoothly. There can be no winners and losers in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in general and after the Gaza disengagement in particular. There can only be winners or losers. A just and negotiated peace is the only way to ensure that both sides become winners. Unilateralism, obliviousness to international law, and a continued hands-off approach from the international community will see us all lose.- Published 29/8/2005 (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.

Eat my laptop II
by Yossi Alpher

It is too early to determine definitively who won and who lost in Gaza. And it is certainly premature to know whether and how the losers will learn the lessons of their setbacks. So the following must be taken as a very tentative, and provisional, judgment.

Broadly speaking, Israel prevailed in the five year low-level war between Palestinians and Israelis that culminated in the Gaza withdrawal. The past six months have seen a radical reduction in Palestinian violence. Palestinian terrorists and their leaders know they can be tracked and eliminated by Israel virtually anywhere. Israeli success in combining air, land, and sophisticated intelligence forces in real time to locate and take out terrorists constitutes an outstanding military victory. Disengagement from Gaza was easier because it took place at a time of military victory. The IDF and Israel Police emerged from the withdrawal operation itself as big winners in Israeli and international eyes.

And yet the Israeli disengagement also, at a certain level, constitutes a victory for Palestinian violence. The demographic and security folly of an Israeli settler and military presence inside Gaza would have been less obvious to many Israelis, less painful and more tolerable, had there been no sustained Palestinian campaign of violence. The same, we well know, could be said of the Israeli military presence in southern Lebanon, which ended five years ago with the first unilateral withdrawal.

This assertion must be heavily qualified. In both cases, Lebanon and Gaza, Israel retreated from areas it should never have continued to occupy in the first place. Those withdrawals reflected a measured sense of priorities, however painfully slow to manifest itself, among a very democratic public. Palestinian assertions (including in recent days by Hamas military leader Mohammed Deif) that the lesson of Gaza is that Israel can be forced out of Jerusalem and Haifa, or even Maaleh Adumim, confront a very different set of Israeli priorities, and hence reflect muddled Palestinian thinking.

Israeli sensitivity to violence is a double-edged sword. Take for example the Palestinian "strategic weapon" of suicide bombings. Israel did not leave Gaza because of suicide bombers, because none penetrated the security fence around Gaza and few penetrated the settlements there; correspondingly, the Israeli reaction to suicide bombings emanating from the West Bank has been to build an effective security fence there too, at great cost to Palestinians' welfare. As a "strategic weapon", suicide bombings have only hurt the Palestinian cause. Palestinians who take too seriously the assertion that "Israelis only understand the language of force" are destined to replay the mistakes that have postponed Palestinian statehood for the past 27 years, ever since the first Camp David agreements offered them a violence-free route to sovereignty and they rejected it. As President Mahmoud Abbas well knows, Palestinians could today achieve a lot more without force.

The religious-ideological settler movement is a loser. It lost its settlement foothold in Gaza and it lost a lot of Israeli public tolerance for its messianic fundamentalist message. Whether it will draw the appropriate lessons and act to maximize the settlers' territorial gains (the settlement blocs) while ceasing to offend simple demographic, political, and security logic, remains to be seen.

Ariel Sharon is a winner among the Israeli public, but a loser within his own right wing Likud party. How he will maneuver out of this dilemma is not at all clear.

Mahmoud Abbas is a winner: he successfully persuaded Palestinian militants to hold their fire and show Israelis and the world that dismantling settlements need not involve Israeli-Palestinian violence. But can he translate this achievement into an extended ceasefire, a peaceful election, and consolidated PA/PLO rule in Gaza and elsewhere? If he fails, this will have been a temporary, tactical victory on the way to yet another defeat for the legitimate Palestinian aim of a viable Arab state next to the Jewish state.

Finally, this writer is both a winner and a loser. I won because I have been advocating unilateral withdrawal for around four years now. I lost because some three years ago I bet several colleagues, and published the fact in these virtual pages, that Ariel Sharon would never remove a single settlement. If he did, I offered to eat my laptop.

Suggestions as to the proper seasoning and mode of preparation are welcome.- Published 29/8/2005 (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.

by Khader Khader

It may be true as the Palestinian Authority says, for once in agreement with all the factions, that the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza Strip settlements, is a national achievement. To believe so is also a natural response on behalf of the people, who need to feel a sense of accomplishment after so much suffering from the indignities and cruelties of the settlement presence in their midst, not to mention the brutality of the Israeli army's policy of collective punishment, house demolitions, random bombings, and regular military incursions for the past five years.

But the withdrawal must be put into perspective. It was a unilateral Israeli measure, one that came about after five years of violence that afflicted the Gaza Strip far worse, materially, economically, psychologically and socially, than any other part of historic Palestine. That violence followed years of fruitless negotiations between the PA and Israel under the auspices of Oslo. Furthermore, it is not going to be complete. Beyond the fact that the West Bank--which according to international agreement is a single unit with the Gaza Strip--is still under occupation, the direct occupation of the Strip itself will not end.

Israel will maintain control over borders, sea- and air-space, and thus movement to and from the Strip. Under no circumstances can this be described as an end to occupation, and while Gazans undoubtedly will feel immediate relief from the obvious and intrusive elements of the colonial settlement project itself, control of their lives will ultimately still be in the hands of the Israeli army, which has furthermore reserved for itself the right to re-enter and target the Strip should it see fit.

Then there is the political fallout. Already Israel, backed vocally by the US, is asking the PA to pay the price for this "courageous and painful" withdrawal by confronting and disarming the armed factions. Never mind that this is a recipe for internal armed conflict, or civil war, and never mind that, by and large, the dialogue route that the PA has so far chosen to go down has proven fairly successful. Israel knows, of course, that a calm enforced only by dialogue will of necessity fail once it becomes clear to everyone that no further withdrawals are in the offing and instead there is a renewed vigor to expand and fortify illegal settlements in the West Bank.

But perhaps the most critical element of the Israeli withdrawal is the picture it leaves us of the future Palestine: the Gaza Strip is one entity, totally isolated from the West Bank, if not the rest of the world; also totally isolated from the West Bank is East Jerusalem; and finally, independent of them both, is a West Bank carved up between settlements and by-pass roads, with ever decreasing land as the Israeli separation wall snakes it way in and out, expropriating - a fine word for stealing - ever more land to protect the illegal settlements that are constantly expanding. Perhaps, applying the model of "the new and free" Iraq, the US and Israel intend a federal system for Palestine.

While the Palestinian people are entitled to feel a sense of victory, there is too much ground to be covered before anyone can call themselves winners or losers. At this point, the Palestinians are best described perhaps as "wosers"; winning will only come against the odds if the PA, the factions, and the people can agree on one position and move ahead as one unit.- Published 29/8/2005 (c) bitterlemons.org

Khader Khader is a media analyst with the Jerusalem Media and Communications Center.

Another round in the war
by Yehoshua Porath

Few situations in human history can be defined in clear-cut terms as victory or defeat. Even wars that are ended by crushing military defeats and the unconditional surrender of one side do not necessarily constitute political or economic victory for the other.

Victory and defeat are very relative terms. Further, they are concepts applicable only to the end of wars. One should be very careful not to use them for interim situations. Since the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip cannot even by the most fertile imagination be perceived as an end to the protracted 100 year war between Israel and the Arabs, any utilization of these concepts would be completely misplaced. At best, one can regard the most recent Israeli step as a partial and limited Palestinian Arab achievement.

This achievement was foreseeable and could have been predicted from the very first moment when Israel commenced its folly of building settlements in the Gaza Strip. This poor stretch of land with hardly any natural resources, with little rainfall and hardly any springs, is one of the most densely populated areas of the world. Even if Israel had millions of reserve inhabitants and were ready and able to settle there and to transform Gaza's national character into Jewish-Israeli, there would have been no room for them, either physically or economically.

>From the outset it was completely clear that by establishing small agricultural settlements, no more than a few thousand Israeli settlers could be implanted there, and only at enormous cost. Each settlement necessarily became the target of violent Palestinian reaction; each settlement had to be defended day and night against military incursions; each vehicle going or coming between the settlements and Israel proper or traveling among the settlements had to be defended by the army at high cost.

Only a mystical-messianic belief in divine intervention in human destinies can explain why various Israeli governments and parties initiated this folly. The Israeli government decision to evacuate the Gaza Strip results principally from the realization that this situation could not be maintained forever. Yet a Likud-led government cannot admit publicly that the policy of establishing settlements was a profound mistake. Therefore the process of dismantling the settlements had to be perceived as part of a general withdrawal from the Strip. Otherwise, the government would not have had the parliamentary majority to sustain this step.

Thus far, one can assert that the Palestinian Arabs have gained an achievement: an Israeli dream of laying the ground for possible annexation of the Gaza Strip to Israel has been foiled. However, history does not stop here. Under international pressure, Israel had to acquiesce in the future construction of maritime and air ports and transfer to other hands control over land access from Egypt into Gaza. Even if we erroneously assume that Egypt will make a bigger effort than in the recent past, the smuggling of rocket-launchers, heavy mortars, and artillery from Sinai into Gaza will continue. Once the Gaza ports are functional, a steady flow of these arms will enter the Strip by sea and air.

To date, Israel has only consented to the establishment of these ports and not to their actual functioning. But I doubt Israel will be in a position to resist international (mainly European) pressure to let the ports open, once so much foreign money has been invested in their construction and the economic needs are presented as paramount. One could argue that the Israel Navy would be able to control the goods imported to Gaza's sea port, and that God's angels would do a similar job as far as the airport is concerned. But let us speak frankly: no power, human or divine, will be in a position to prevent a huge stockpiling of arms in the Gaza Strip within a few years. The government of Israel understands this; hence it has until now rejected any demand for safe passage between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. The possibility that these arms will flow to Abu Dis, Tulkarm, or Qalqilya, which would place the majority of the Israeli population between Haifa and Jerusalem under daily threat of bombardment and the economy of Israel under threat of near total standstill, is real enough to create very strong Israeli resistance on this point.

As for the arms stockpiled in the Strip, they will not be used for display only, but rather to bring Israel to concede the most central Palestinian-Arab demand: the right of the 1948 refugees "to return to their homes and lands". Consequently, within a few months or years after completion of the ports (if not earlier, by means of locally produced Qassam rockets), the Palestinians will launch a static war of bombardment from the Gaza Strip against southwest Israel (Sderot, Ashdod, Ashkelon). The exact range of these probable attacks will be decided by the quality of the rockets, artillery, and mortars supplied to the Palestinian Authority and the more extreme Islamic organizations. No Palestinian leadership will have the authority or even the will to prevent these attacks as long as the Palestinian population of the Strip, mostly composed of the descendants of the 1948 refugees, continues to nourish the vision of turning back the hands of the clock to the pre-1948 situation.

And Israel? No Israeli government would let such a situation continue. I assume that, following a short period of devastating blows, and despite international pressure to concede more and more to the "poor" Palestinians and absorb more and more blows, Israel would react by re-conquering the Gaza Strip. Thus would the circle be closed. The only change that might occur would concern the question of the possible reestablishing of Israeli settlements. It is almost certain that this folly would not be repeated.

Returning to the question of victory or defeat, what is the answer? Certainly not a Palestinian victory, but neither is it an Israeli victory. Simply put, another round in the generations-long war between Israel and its neighboring enemies.- Published 29/8/2005 (c) bitterlemons.org

Yehoshua Porath is emeritus professor of Islamic and Middle Eastern studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

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