In over 25 years of journalistic reporting, I have never witnessed more confusion in the Palestinian national (and Islamic) movement as I have seen during the past few months.
Israel’s refusal to reveal even the most mundane details of its plans, (even to its American allies), has been the main reason for this state of confusion.
One would have expected the Palestinians to be happy about the turn of events in Gaza. After all the Israeli decision to withdraw from Gaza (even if they use the term disengagement) is what the Palestinians have always wanted. Politically, the unilateral Israeli action doesn’t cost the Palestinians anything. There are no agreements to be signed and no commitments to be made. But the Israeli decision was initially faced with scepticism. Many doubted that it would ever take place. Then they argued that it would result in Israel taking a harder line in the West Bank and Jerusalem (probably true but this doesn’t mean the Palestinians should not welcome the withdrawal).
Then other issues came up. Should Palestinians celebrate this Israeli decision? Again, the arguments varied. Some wanted to celebrate and consider the Israeli decision a result of the Palestinian resistance, while others preferred keeping a much lower profile because the withdrawal is partial and doesn’t include the bulk of Palestinian land, even though it will include a major portion of Palestinians living under occupation. Hamas was the first to argue publicly about the need to celebrate.
They even announced a prize for the best poster that could depict the success of the resistance in forcing the Israelis to leave. But this issue was a source of contention. Palestinian leaders feared that the celebrations could cause havoc and get out of control. A more organised series of events was suggested.
On one occasion even public utterances reflected this contradiction. On one day President Mahmoud Abbas and Civil Affairs Minister Mohammed Dahlan spoke about the need to keep the celebrations low key, while the next day the local Palestinian press reported that Marwan Barghouthi sent a message from his jail cell saying that Palestinians should organise loud and popular activities to celebrate the success of the resistance in kicking out the occupiers. The different viewpoints were broadcast on several Arab satellite stations. Speaking on the Hizbollah-Lebanese station Al Manar, a Hamas spokesman said the Israelis were leaving because of the success of the Qassem rockets. Responding angrily, a Fateh representative said this statement belittled all the other Palestinian sacrifices over the years, a point that Barghouthi has made. He has argued that Israel’s decision was taken for multiple reasons, including the military and political efforts of Palestinians in and outside Palestine.
The issue of what the Israelis are going to leave behind has also been a source of confusion. Will they or will they not leave the houses intact? (They will destroy them). Who will pick up the debris? (It looks like Palestinian and Egyptian companies paid for by Israel will do that). What about the agricultural greenhouses, will they be left intact? Will the Palestinians have to pay for what was built on illegally occupied areas? Will it be acceptable to get them through the USAID mission so as to allow the Americans to pay for them?
More important are issues of whether the Israeli occupation should be compared with some type of military activity so as to give the impression that they are leaving under military pressure as in the case of south Lebanon. Islamic and Nationalist groups discussed this issue, with the Israeli army and senior politicians threatening to crush and reoccupy Gaza if they are attacked during the withdrawal process.
The confusion, of course, is due to the absence of answers to major and minor questions. Are the Israelis planning to sleep on any further withdrawals as some Israeli politicians have suggested, or is quitting Gaza part of the roadmap as the Americans and the Quartet are insisting. The issue of what happens the day after the withdrawal has also been left unanswered. Will electricity and telephone services, as well as bread and milk that come exclusively from Israel, continue uninterrupted? Will Gazans be allowed to move freely to and from the West Bank? Will the borders with Egypt, the airport and the future port be free? What kind of taxes and customs regulations will be applied? Will Palestinian airspace be liberated? Will Palestinians be allowed to leave and return to Gaza without Israeli approval? Will others be allowed to enter Gaza without Israeli visas?
The Israeli decision to quit Gaza is certainly a unilateral one. The questions that remain will only be answered once they end their long overstay. We will all have to wait and see what will happen.