The Israeli idea of unilateral separation and the debate that has ebbed and flowed in Israeli political circles, reflected widely in the Israeli media, has never been attractive to Palestinians. That was correct during the government of former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and it still true today. Palestinians flatly do not accept the principle of Israeli unilateral steps and so have never been excited enough about plans for unilateral separation to discuss them in their media, public gatherings or political meetings.
To Palestinians, the proposals for unilateral separation are just another form of maintaining the Israeli occupation on certain parts of the Palestinian territories. They are also perceived as a way for Israel to unilaterally determine the future of the relationship between the two sides– boxing Palestinians in on “their” side, without access to resources and divided by Israeli settlements and areas of control.
To do so unilaterally, rather than with the signature of the Palestinian side as Israel would like, is only to do so by virtue of Israel’s advanced military superiority. All versions of separation, of course, take into consideration Israeli interests–whether they be security, economic or political. As such, these proposals not only disregard Palestinian interests, but Palestinian rights under all international laws and norms.
Indeed, the very idea of separation is racist in its essence in that it is accompanied by restrictions on movement along the borders of 1967, but only in one direction. Palestinian movement to the west, towards Israel, is restricted as much as possible, while Israeli movement to the east (in the form of settlements, security outposts and buffer zones) is allowed.
It also contradicts the basis on which Palestinians and the international community build their approach to the problem and its resolution– that of international legality. Palestinians are always sensitive to any move that is not based on this international legality, which safeguards Palestinian positions and rights.
In short, the separation concept is intended to move Israel’s borders eastward in order to accommodate the illegal Israeli settlement policy, which to this day continues to steal Palestinian land for the purpose of settling Jews. Acceptance of the separation policy is equal to legitimization of the illegal settlement expansion policy and other facts on the ground created by Israel, such as changes made to occupied East Jerusalem.
Those who hope that plans for separation would move us closer towards peace, or even calm the currently fierce struggle against occupation and the Israeli violence used to maintain that occupation, will be sorely mistaken. Plans for unilateral separation leave certain parts of the Palestinian territories under occupation, do not solve the issue of Jerusalem and do not bring closure to the problem of the Palestinian refugees. These are major components of the conflict that must be addressed and agreed upon with the support of international legality and in a way that is acceptable to both sides.
What proponents of unilateral separation hope is that if the two peoples become invisible to one another, their conflict will diminish. But the conflict cannot be taken care of by shutting the door on Palestinians. The conflict will end with a courageous admission of the injustice that has been perpetrated on the Palestinian people and with corrections to those injustices that adhere to international law. Palestinians say simply: the occupation must end in its entirety–including the areas of East Jerusalem and the long arm of the settlements–and the suffering of Palestinian refugees alleviated in line with United Nations Resolution 194.
Mr. Ghassan Khatib is a Palestinian political analyst and director of the Jerusalem Media and Communications Center.