Azmi Bishara: Q & A on Disengagement Plan
Questions and Answers about Sharon’s Disengagement Plan
What is your position with regards to Sharon’s Disengagement plan?
Sharon’s disengagement plan is part of a comprehensive political plan aimed at continuing the status quo of occupation under conditions more favorable to Israel. The dismantling of Gaza settlements and what is called the unilateral disengagement plan is one step in a larger project aimed at the wholesale freezing of the peace process and putting it on the back burner until Israel finishes imposing its unilateral plan on the ground. In particular Israel aims to expand and secure settlements in the West Bank, and to consolidate the occupation of parts of the west bank. The logic of the plan is twofold a. a political solution of the conflict is an impossibility. b. the use of military force is vital and instrumental for breaking the will of the Palestinian people. Until then Israel should implement unilateral disengagement from problematic areas that Israel does not want to annex anyway.
We oppose this plan because it is not intended to make a step towards the reaching of a final settlement but rather it is an alternative to one. Moreover, it is an alternative that is favorable to Israel, making it possible to delay a final settlement by decades, as its designers state publicly. The National Democratic Assembly has made this position clear a number of times, among them by way of the comprehensive report published in April 2004 under the title of “Questions and Answers about the Bush-Sharon Agreement.”
Isn’t it important that the Gaza settlements be dismantled and that Israel pull out of the Gaza Strip?
The Israeli news media focuses on the dismantling of settlements in Gaza when it has been proven that this is in Sharons interests globally and regionally. However, this is not the most important clause of the Sharon plan. The plan also includes fortification of settlements in the West Bank and the incorporation of a large settlement block and a great deal of land from the West Bank into Israel. Quoting from the third cause in the first section of the plan: “It is clear that various regions in the West Bank will remain part of Israel. Israel will annex the central Jewish settlement blocs, towns, security areas, and other lands which Israel has an interest in keeping.” For the first time since the annexation of East Jerusalem, the Knesset will approve in law the annexation of parts of Palestinian occupied lands into Israel.
Likewise, the plan does not constitute a unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. Rather, one kind of domination will take the place of an older one. It will be a re-distribution of occupation forces such that the Gaza Strip will be transformed into a huge detention camp, under siege from all sides. This is the practical meaning of the third section of Sharon’s plan: “Israel will honor and guard the external land borders, and will have complete control over the airspace of Gaza. Israel will also continue its military activities on the coast of the Gaza Strip.” As stipulated in the plan, Israeli forces will maintain control over the Philadelphi road, along the border of the Gaza Strip with Egypt, and Israel will maintain the right to widen the security zone in this area when it chooses to do so.
But won’t the people of Gaza enjoy an end to invasions, attacks, killings, and acts of demolition?
The separation plan itself includes the idea that Israel will continue military invasions inside Gaza. The third part of the plan states that Israel will have the right to continue these military operations under the title of self defense: “among them are the taking of pre-emptive and reactive steps to use force against threats posed from within the Gaza Strip.” This means that killing operations, assassinations, and demolition will continue after the implementation of the separation plan. This is in harmony with Sharon’s intentions in leaving burned land behind in Gaza, and with the goal of continuing to destroy the Palestinian national movement, which is Sharons historical goal since the Lebanese invasion. Likewise, it is clear that Israel is not pulling out of the Gaza Strip out of weakness. Sharon is trying to secure Israeli omnipotence by way of killings, assassinations, and demolition.
The case of Gaza is not a case of unilateral withdrawal yet, it is still an Israeli redeployment of forces. Unlike the case of the withdrawal from Lebanon one sovereignty is not replacing another.
Why is Sharon in a hurry to dismantle Gazan settlements and to pull his army out of the inside of the Gaza Strip?
In order to present an alternative to the political stagnation under conditions of protracted Israel aggression in Gaza without accepting a just solution. The overwhelming majority of Israeli society and its decision makers want to be done with the Gaza Strip, which has constituted a serious security and demographic burden on Israel. There are only seven thousand settlers in an ocean of more than one million Palestinians, and there is no future for this settlement project from the Israeli perspective. However, Sharon has tried to steal international political gains for its withdrawal, which also includes plans for strengthening settlements in the West Bank in exchange for what is called disengagement from Gaza.
Isn’t the dismantling of settlements an important precedent to set?
The evacuation of Gaza settlements does not establish a precedent. Sharon has dismantled the Sinai settlements in the past, and planted much more of them in the West Bank since then. His current plan includes in no uncertain terms the strengthening, and not the dismantling, of settlements in the West Bank, in exchange for the evacuation of Gaza settlements.
What about the Bush-Sharon agreement?
The letters exchanged between Sharon and Bush in April 2004 have become an integral part of the plan. Israel has obtained from the United States funding for the plan. The United States has supported the erasure of the right of return and the annexation of settlement blocs into Israel. The United States has also committed itself to the consolidation of the state of Israel as a Jewish state. Whoever supports the Sharon plan also supports this consolidation.
What is the relationship between the disengagement plan and the peace process?
Sharon’s disengagement plan is not part of the peace process, but rather is part of a long process of establishing a security framework that aims to make occupation of parts of the west bank more sustainable. The only relationship these letters have with the peace process is a negative one. As Sharon’s advisor Dov Weisglass said clearly in an interview with Ha’aretz, the plan is intended to freeze the peace process and to cut off the path to a national initiative. Weisglass considered the greatest accomplishment of the plan to be the placing of the political process and the question of a Palestine state on the sidelines for a long time.
To put it in short,
The plan is one package containing the dismantling of settlements in Gaza and four in the northern part of the West Bank, but in exchange for this, the plan: (1) is intended to freeze the peace process and prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza; (2) stipulates the fortification of settlements in the West Bank; (3) includes a plan for annexing settlement blocs and large swaths of land from the West Bank into Israel; (4) secures the siege of the Gaza Strip by land, sea, and air, and preserves Israels right to continue invasions and attacks in Gaza; (5) includes the Bush-Sharon correspondence which negates the right of return, certifies that Israel will remain a Jewish state, and acknowledges that settlement blocs will be annexed to Israel.
A package of this kind is unsupportable, and must be rejected. We decided to reject and to abstain in the vote in the Knesset because we wanted to distinguish our opposition from that of the far right.
Jerusalem. October 27, 2004.