With Ariel Sharon – the notorious Butcher of Beirut – apparently on his death bed, interesting times lie ahead for the struggle of the Palestinian people for self-determination. With the newspapers widely acclaiming Sharon as a ‘man of peace’, an honourable man with one final mission of establishing a Palestinian state – and hence a secure Israel – with or without the cooperation of those obstreperous Arabs, it seems an appropriate moment to reflect on whether Sharon’s policy genuinely does reflect a move towards conciliation with the Palestinians and a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or whether it is a mere trick of the light.
A brief history of Ariel Sharon
Sharon spent his teens and 20s as a member of vicious zionist militias, the Gadna and Haganah, both of which were notorious for their many despicable massacres perpetrated against Palestinian civilians. He went on to have a ‘distinguished’ (in the eyes of zionism) military career, fighting in the six day war (1967) and Yom Kippur war (1973), and leading the vile invasion of Lebanon in 1982.
Sharon’s most notorious moment was as Israel’s Defence Minister at the time of the Sabra and Shatila refugee camp massacres in Lebanon in 1982. Even the official Israeli Kahan commission of enquiry considered Sharon to be personally responsible for these massacres (whilst, of course, attempting to absolve the Israeli state of any responsibility), and recommended that Sharon never be allowed to return to public office.
As Minister of Agriculture from 1977 to 1981, Sharon probably did more for the illegal settlement movement than any other Israeli politician – the number of Jewish settlements on the West Bank and Gaza Strip doubled during this period. With regard to the settlement policy, Sharon said while addressing a meeting of the Tsomet Party: “Everybody has to move, run and grab as many hilltops as they can to enlarge the settlements because everything we take now will stay ours … Everything we don’t grab will go to them.” (Agence France Presse, 15 November 1998)
Sharon also has a long history of opposition to negotiations with the Palestinians. He opposed participating in the Madrid peace conference in 1991; he opposed the Knesset plenum vote on the Oslo agreement in 1993; he opposed the 1997 Hebron agreement; he opposed Israel’s retreat from Lebanon in 2000.
In short, he has over half a century’s first hand experience of vicious and uncompromising zionist terror.
Owing to the relentless struggle of the Palestinians, who refuse to lie down and give up the right to their existence, the population of Israel has in recent years shown an increasing thirst for peace with the Palestinians. This, combined with a US foreign policy that would prefer the Palestinians to keep quiet whilst the attentions of the US are focussed on Iraq, forced Sharon, as Israel’s Prime Minister from 2001, to the negotiating table. True to form, however, Sharon made a point of replying to every Palestinian ceasefire with provocative assassinations and military raids.
When they signed the Oslo Agreement in 1993, the Palestinians made an unprecedented sacrifice in agreeing to give up their claim to 78 percent of historic Palestine in return for an independent Palestinian state on the remainder of their land with East Jerusalem as its capital and the right of return (in line with international law and many UN resolutions) for those who had been forced from their homes at gunpoint by zionist death squads. This was clearly not enough for Sharon, however. Throughout the negotiations, Sharon’s Israel continued to grab land, building the monstrous separation wall in a further attempt to make ‘facts on the ground’ and annexe those parts of the West Bank and East Jerusalem that remained in Palestinian hands. Whatever negotiated settlement Sharon might have been prepared to come to, it was clearly not one that was likely to have been acceptable to many Palestinians.
Gaza pullout and Jerusalem takeover
Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza represented an important victory for the Palestinian people. All other factors notwithstanding, there is absolutely no question that, were it not for the intense resistance that has been waged over the years by the liberation fighters in Gaza, Israel would never have withdrawn.
Nonetheless, Israel has shown no signs of giving up real control in Gaza. The Rafah border between Gaza and Egypt has been reopened, but is overseen by employees of the European Union, with Israeli officials viewing all activity at the border by live video link-up. The Israelis would not agree to the reopening of Gaza’s airport, and, although they agreed to start allowing bus convoys to travel between Gaza and the West Bank, they have since been stalling even on this. Furthermore, Israeli assassinations and military raids in Gaza have continued.
Since withdrawing the settlers, the Israeli ‘Defence’ Force has been terrorising the population of Gaza by sending in air force jets at night, flying extremely fast and low, creating sonic booms – sometimes as little as an hour apart through the night. These booms, caused by breaking the sound barrier, are incredibly loud, equivalent to the sound of a huge bomb. This tactic, so despicable and torturous, has been specifically condemned by the UN, which has stated that sonic booms cause panic attacks in children. (The Guardian, 3 November 2005) Doctors at Gaza’s Shifa hospital have said that sonic booms are causing miscarriages, of which there has been a sudden 40 percent increase. The Palestinian health ministry estimates that the sonic booms have caused at least 20 miscarriages. Ironically, the Israeli military had to apologise after one sonic boom was unintentionally heard hundreds of kilometres inside Israel. “Thousands of citizens leapt in panic from their beds, and many placed worried calls to the police and the fire department. The Tel Aviv and central district police switchboards crashed.” (Ibid)
In truth, the evacuation of Gaza was more a repackaging of the occupation than an Israeli disengagement. Speaking last October with considerable candour, Sharon’s senior adviser Dov Weisglass declared that the Gaza disengagement plan “supplies the formaldehyde that is necessary so that there will not be a political process with the Palestinians”.
Meanwhile, while the world’s attention was turned to the Gaza pullout, the Israeli ‘Defence’ Force was busily defending settlements in the West Bank and around Jerusalem. In an interview with Al Jazeera on 1 September, Palestinian Minister of State for Jerusalem Affairs, Hind Khoury, made the following points: “The disengagement plan was, yes, partly successful because there were evacuations of settlers from Gaza and that’s a good thing. But it also meant increased control over Jerusalem and a Jewish city in the greater Jerusalem area. So Israel has effectively traded Gaza for East Jerusalem. As the rest of the world’s attention was diverted, Israel’s strategy has been playing itself out in East Jerusalem. What we are witnessing in East Jerusalem is that the Gaza disengagement was not meant to really start a peace process but rather to end one. And the very concept of a two-state solution is a very major risk. We can’t have a viable Palestinian state with 54 percent of the West Bank. Israel also announced plans to make room for 25,000 more settlers in the colony of Maale Adumim, East of Jerusalem. Land confiscation orders were issued for 1,600 dunums (400 acres) of Palestinian land to continue to build the wall around Maale Adumim and to link it to Jerusalem. Maale Adumim as a colony bloc is about 68sq km – much larger than the area of Tel Aviv. This is a colony that goes deep into the West Bank a depth of 14km.”
The recent growth of Maale Adumim – the largest settlement in the West Bank – has far exceeded the number of 8,000 settlers evacuated from Gaza and a few isolated, tiny West Bank settlements over the past few months.
Israel’s policy objectives are very clear: recognising that, at some point in the not too distant future, they are going to be forced to concede a Palestinian state, the zionists are attempting to prejudice the borders of such a state, encircling East Jerusalem (which is internationally recognised as the capital of a future independent Palestine) with settlements, maximising Jewish population of East Jerusalem, minimising Palestinian population of East Jerusalem, and withdrawing from the areas with tiny Jewish populations whilst bolstering the larger Jewish settlements, thereby driving barriers between the main areas of Palestinian population. In this way, Israel imagines that it will be able to force the creation of a Palestinian state that is geographically arranged in a way that will render it impotent and thoroughly dependent upon Israel’s goodwill for its survival.
Writing in The Observer of 8 January, Henry Siegman points out: “The precedent Sharon sought to establish was not for additional disengagements from the West Bank (other than from isolated areas and major Palestinian population centres). Rather, he intended Gaza to serve as a precedent for a continuing unilateralism enabling Israel to retain de facto control of the West Bank, even if a nominal Palestinian state were to come into existence. Sharon believed a nominal state was the only way for Israel to deal with the demographic challenge posed by Palestinian population growth and – equally important – the only way to retain US support for its unilateralism.
“Sharon’s ideas for an imposed solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, based on a narrow conception of security that considers Palestinian national aspirations and Palestinian rights, a notion foreign to Sharon, as irrelevant, constitute a dubious foundation for peacemaking.”
Resistance the only solution
The victory of Hamas – a militant Islamic group – in the recent Palestinian Authority elections demonstrates that the Palestinian population is tiring of Israel’s tricks and is well able to understand the Israeli game plan. It looks entirely likely that Sharon will soon die (and the only lament of the Palestinians will be that the cause of death was not sniper fire). Regardless of who succeeds him, regardless of what happens in the forthcoming Israeli elections, it is unlikely that Israel will deviate from Sharon’s ‘master plan’. However, there is no way that the Palestinians are going to be willing to accept a deal on statehood that does not include a total Israeli withdrawal from all of Gaza and the West Bank, acceptance of East Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital, and a negotiated resolution for Palestinian refugees based on their right of return to homes in what is now Israel.
Consequently, it looks likely that the Palestinians are going to be left with very little option other than a return to armed struggle – the only bargaining chip they have left. It seems the Israeli state needs to be reminded that the population of Israel will not be allowed to live in peace and prosperity while the Palestinians are crammed into refugee camps, assassinated, massacred and starved of economic means and political independence in their own land. We have no doubt that the heroic Palestinian people will, through the skilful combination of armed resistance and diplomacy that has so long characterised their struggle, win their state.