Nothing new

In spite of dramatic announcements every now and then, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has been consistent in his government’s positions and practices. Motivated by his ideology, his strategy was, and still is, to undo the developments created by the Oslo agreement that he opposed. That includes regaining direct control over the Palestinian territories, being part of the historical land of greater Israel, and dismantling the Palestinian Authority because of its potential development into a Palestinian government.

The Israeli illegal settlement expansion policy has been one of the major tools for achieving these strategic objectives. The expansion of Jewish settlements on confiscated Palestinian land has proved to be incompatible with peace. In fact, peace requires dismantlement of these settlements. For these reasons, Sharon’s recent announcement about evacuating settlements in Gaza was not taken seriously by Palestinians who were not excited at all, even though the evacuation of the settlements is a core issue.

Palestinians know that Sharon stands for the expansion of settlements and cannot be for evacuating them. Soon, Palestinian political instincts will be proved correct. Sharon wants to evacuate settlements in Gaza in order to consolidate and expand settlements in West Bank including East Jerusalem which of course has major ideological dimensions. Again, this goes to prove his consistency.

Their should be no doubt that this recent political move by Sharon is also a sign of crisis which stems from his arrogance and die hard belief that he can achieve peace and security only by force. Hence the moniker, “if force is not working then the answer is more force.” Gaza, which is kept under tight Israeli control as a bargaining chip, has been a heavy security, political and moral burden.

In addition Sharon needed to release some of the pressure on Israel resulting from mounting international criticism regarding the continued building of what the Palestinians call the apartheid separation wall. The timing of this “initiative”, coming on the eve of a scheduled visit by Sharon to Washington where he is expected to be on the defensive on numerous issues, is suspect at best. The American administration will be conducting the talks according to the parameters of the roadmap which Sharon has never really supported. He will also face difficulties on the wall and settlement expansion, especially in light of the growing noise–including inside Washington–concerning the negative effect of his policy on “Bush’s vision” in conjunction with the demographic issue.

Accordingly, this new announcement will be a useful tactic to diffuse pressure and divert attention, on the short term, and on the other hand it will contribute to the consolidation of the occupation. What this initiative will fail to achieve, however, are the declared Israeli objectives of peace and security. The events of the last three years have shown that violence will only breed more violence. The deepening and widening of this vicious circle of bloodshed will only hasten the ongoing radicalization in both Israeli and Palestinian societies, with long term negative effects on any potential peace not only for now, but also for the future.