It might be easy to be deceived by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s comments alluding to a unilateral withdrawal from Palestinian territory and even some settlements, if the wall Israel is building around us Palestinians were not growing longer and more oppressive by the day. Maps show the barrier’s predicted path slicing into the West Bank, taking half of the land inside of the green line–half of the land that Palestinians and the world agreed would make up the Palestinian state.
But Sharon’s hints that he is ready to dismantle some settlements are not an anomaly in his position, rather they are the natural conclusion of the promise Sharon made decades ago to render Palestinian statehood inoperable by dividing Palestinian land into cantons and surrounding them by Israeli military control. Sharon was never happy about building this "separation wall"–for him, it was an unnecessary division of land that God promised the Jews. But Sharon and his allies also recognized that building the wall was simply another way to proceed with his plan–to push Palestinians into as little space as possible, making their freedom and independence unattainable and leaving the rest of the land for Israel.
When Sharon speaks now of unilateral withdrawal, he is eyeing the map of the West Bank and the less than 20 illegal Israeli settlements (of some 150) that will eventually fall inside its walled Palestinian cantons. Dismantling these is his "difficult concession" to the idea that the land of historic Palestine is not the birthright of the Jews. It is by no means an admission that this land is occupied territory, or that Palestinians have any rights here at all. And, once his allies further to the right have their say, the chances are that those withdrawals will never take place. Sharon is under fire from Israel’s left, and as usual he is trying to dodge the bullet.
The international community cannot let the Israeli wall–the apartheid wall–go unanswered. First, the humanitarian crisis that it is introducing on an already exhausted population is of immense proportions. When one takes the land of a farmer and leaves him only a plot for his home, not only his family suffers. Palestinians will be forced to buy their produce from Israeli farms built on Palestinian land and tilled (maybe) by the Palestinians who once owned that land. It is one more chapter in the same Palestinian story, one more land grab in defiance of all international legality and norms.
That brings us to the second reason for blocking the wall’s construction: the United Nations’ own resolutions. The United Nations Security Council has repeatedly voted that the way out of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict lies in the two state solution based on Resolution 242 and the green line. This is the international consensus and international law. Why then is Israel allowed to act with impunity and draw new borders when and where it chooses? If this were truly about Israel’s security, the wall could easily follow those borders sanctioned by international law.
If the wall is completed as planned, the two-state solution will be rendered a thing of the past. Three million Palestinians will be inside these barriers, detached from each other and their land, with no economic agreements to maintain financial viability and unable to move without Israeli permission. The next negotiations will agonize fruitlessly about areas where the wall might be moved or removed, distancing us further from the crux of the problem: the illegal Israeli occupation. Tensions will escalate with the desperation of a people canned in tight borders and stewing in poverty and hopelessness. The Gaza Strip already has a wall, and it is a prime example of what lies in store for the West Bank.
Ariel Sharon began the implementation of his plan to decimate Palestinian nationhood by sending the Israeli army to annul the borders that had been drawn by the Oslo process. Palestinians responded by rethinking their commitment to the two-state solution. "If Israel doesn’t recognize us," they said, "why should we recognize Israel?" Thus, in a marked change from before the uprising, nearly half of Palestinians now say that the aim of the intifada is to liberate all of historic Palestine. The building of the apartheid wall will only further prove to Palestinians that Israel has no intention of offering them independence and freedom on any part of this land.
The two-state solution is the only compromise on the table, and it is in dire jeopardy. It is up to the international community–the Quartet guided by the United States–to save this region from Sharon’s grand plan.