This is the calm before the storm. By the time you read this, all hell might have broken loose. If not today, it is only because Israel’s Prime Minister Ariel Sharon does not want to provoke a strong reaction from the Arab Summit meeting in Amman, Jordan. If not by Friday, it is only because Sharon does not want to add oil to the flames of Palestinian Land Day. But the shoe has fallen, the orders have been given. We all wait. Israel’s final push to “break” the Palestinians is about to commence. This is what Sharon was elected for; this is what he has been waiting for these past 53 and more years.
The Need for Bush’s Blessing:
One obstacle stood in the way of Israel’s National Unity Government, which includes Nobel laureate Shimon Peres as foreign minister, and Nathan Sharansky, the Soviet-Jewish human rights hero, as deputy prime minister. It needed the blessing of President George Bush. Sharon was the first Middle East leader to visit the White House after the U.S. election (his first order of business was to urge Bush not to invite Palestinian Authority (PA) President Yasser Arafat). Sharon set out his agenda before the new government: bringing “security” to Israel’s citizens; ending Palestinian “terrorism”; and, because he believes peace is impossible, perhaps negotiating an “interim” agreement with the Palestinians.
All this is code for two underlying policies. First, breaking Palestinian resistance once and for all; forcing the Palestinians to accept a mini-state on half of the West Bank and Gaza. The mini-state is necessary to relieve Israel of having to grant citizenship to some three million inhabitants of the Occupied Territories, but it will be far from viable or truly sovereign. It will have no territorial contiguity, being squeezed between Israeli settlements, bypass roads, and military checkpoints and facilities. It will have no borders, being completely encircled by Israel, and no control of border crossings. It will be unable to develop a viable economy, its people remaining casual laborers forever dependent upon the Israeli economy. Its sovereignty will be limited at best. Second, reverting to the familiar tactics of delaying negotiations so as to create additional “facts on the ground,” thus prejudicing the very negotiating process itself. The bottom line is that the Palestinians better accept this “reality”-or else; occupation by consent, or absolute suppression.
What Sharon needed from Bush, then, was permission to ruthlessly suppress any Palestinian resistance to the military occupation. This he received, with one proviso: Do not do anything that “embarrasses” the United States. Do not expect, then, U.S.-made Apache helicopters to attack Hebron, as they did Beit Jala and Gaza. Less visible means will be employed: a more extensive campaign of assassinations of Palestinian leaders and grassroots activists; surgical “operations” to “punish” the people and to “clear” agricultural land and urban neighborhoods (watch what happens in the Palestinian neighborhood of Abu Sneineh in Hebron over the next couple days, where shots were apparently fired that killed an Israeli infant); reverting to bureaucratic methods, such as house demolition orders and land expropriation measures; massive settlement expansion and road-building; “painful” sanctions on the PA, and more.
Israeli State Terrorism:
All this will be cast, of course, as justified “responses” to terrorism. After all, Sharon was elected to bring personal security back to the Israeli public. But this cynically conceals the major goal of the Sharon-Peres government: creating such despair among the Palestinians that they will finally submit to Israeli dictates. Signs of this proactive policy-and not mere reactions following Palestinian actions-are already evident. Just this week, the Jerusalem Municipality issued dozens of demolition orders, and the Israeli Civil Administration is doing the same for the West Bank and Gaza. Settlements are being expanded-also this week, the government announced its intent to build a new city in the Etzion Bloc (Giva’ot) with 6,000 housing units in the first stage. Hundreds of acres of farm and horticultural land are being cleared for a massive “bypass road” near Turkumiyya, close to Hebron. And much more. All that was needed was the spark-the attacks on Israeli civilians this week-to jump-start the Campaign of Despair. Israel is again the victim with no responsibility, able to blame the Palestinians for the “violence.” Meanwhile, the United States is let off the hook.
State terrorism on a scale we have not seen before, coupled with creating massive “facts” on the ground and perhaps causing the collapse of the PA, will now be employed to break Palestinian resistance once and for all. What unites Sharon and Peres is the belief that Israel can win. The United States-and Congress in particular, Israel’s trump card-is unwavering in its total support. Europe, more critical, has no independent policy apart from the U.S. The UN is neutralized by the U.S. as an effective force. The Arab countries will give the Palestinians only lip-service. Nothing will prevent Israel from either creating facts or brow-beating the Palestinians. Indeed, the only countervailing force at this time seems to be the Palestinian street. Here, assassinations and punishment (besiegement until hunger, preventing people from working, house demolitions, land expropriation, mass arrests, constant harassment, and the extensive use of undercover police to undermine social solidarity) are intended to do their part.
‘Master Plan’ of Annexation:
Sharon hopes to finally fulfill his mentor’s dream of utterly defeating the Palestinians and taking possession of the entire Land of Israel. In a famous article entitled “The Iron Wall,” published in 1923, Ze’ev Jabotinsky, the founder of Revisionist Zionism who described his attitude towards the Arabs as one of “polite indifference,” set forth the platform of the present National Unity Government. “Every indigenous people,” he wrote, “will resist alien settlers as long as they see any hope of ridding themselves of the danger of foreign settlement. This is how the Arabs will behave and go on behaving so long as they possess a gleam of hope that they can prevent ‘Palestine’ from becoming the Land of Israel.” The sole way to an agreement, then, is through the iron wall, that is to say, the establishment in Palestine of a force that will in no way be influenced by Arab pressure. . . . A voluntary agreement is unattainable. . . . We must either suspend our settlement efforts or continue them without paying attention to the mood of the natives. Settlement can thus develop under the protection of a force that is not dependent on the local population, behind an iron wall which they will be powerless to break down.
After 34 years of occupation, including 24 years following Sharon’s 1977 “Master Plan” for annexing the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza, the iron wall is nearing completion. The “facts” have been created, the Master Plan almost concluded. All that remains is to extinguish that “gleam of hope” among the Palestinians that they might eke out a small but viable, independent state in 22 percent of the land of historic Palestine. The conquest and consolidation have been accomplished; only the despair remains that will allow Israel to control the Greater Land of Israel while getting rid of Palestinians through forcing a bantustan upon them. Has the world seen the last of apartheid? The next few weeks and months will tell. And it will all be happening in front of us, if we can discern the repression through the public relations of “defense” and “security.”
Jeff Halper (53) is the Coordinator of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) and a Professor of Anthropology at Ben Gurion University. He has lived in Israel since 1973.