Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon described his proposal for a future deal with the Palestinians to US President George W Bush as a “realistic arrangement,” the implementation of which could lead to a comprehensive agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.
Please, hold back your applause for this long-awaited breakthrough: let us look at Sharon’s “realistic” ideas. Sharon claims that his proposed arrangement will allow for a small Palestinian state — with certain provisos. First, of course, the Israeli government will maintain control over strategically important areas: that is, the Jordan Valley and a buffer zone along the Green Line (created on land confiscated from the West Bank). The Israeli government will also require control over roads that cut across the West Bank between these eastern and western borders. Sharon’s plan conveniently omits to mention the dismantling of illegal Israeli settlements, and naturally the Israeli government will have authority over Jerusalem. In addition, Sharon demands that the Israeli government retain control over water reservoirs in the West Bank, and reserves the right to implement any other measures he deems necessary for Israel’s security. As a final comment, Sharon throws in that by the year 2020, he aims to bring all Jews to Israel.
Excuse me: did I hear the prime minister correctly? Sharon’s “realistic” plan maps out, yet again, the Israeli government’s usual demands. When will the Israeli government recognize that resolution with colonization is simply not an option?
On its own, Sharon’s stipulation that the Israeli government maintain control over all borders automatically renders his plan non- viable: it is unrealistic to propose creating an “independent” state while denying it control over its own borders. The integrity of a potential state is destroyed even as it is created; the Israeli government’s control over borders will simply allow it to maintain its occupation of the Palestinian territories.
Another gaping omission in Sharon’s proposition is its failure to mention the dismantling of Israeli settlements, which demonstrates Sharon’s belief that he alone stands above international law. The UN Security Council, in article 1 of Resolution 446, determined that Israeli settlements erected in territories occupied since 1967 “have no legal validity and constitute a serious obstruction to achieving comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East.”
If this alone is not sufficient to demonstrate that Sharon’s proposition directly opposes peace, the facts on the ground — that is, the real effect of Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory — show plainly a plan that heads in one direction: straight to continued conflict. The reason is simple: the continued presence of settlements logically requires the continued presence of the bypass roads servicing those settlements, connecting to one another and to Israel proper. In turn, the settlements are used to justify the continued presence of the Israeli army, thus implementing Israeli military control over a supposed Palestinian state. The reality, then, is that, rather than having a comprehensive border between Israel and a real Palestinian state, the Israeli government upholds its system of creating borders around individual communities. These communities remain segregated through the network of Israeli-controlled highways to settlements, which naturally means that the Israeli government will always maintain ultimate control over Palestinian movement.
This is precisely what has happened in the past nine months: it is the Israeli government’s control over internal infrastructure that allows it to divide the occupied Palestinian territories into 67 separate clusters. In practical terms, this means that while a single border running between the West Bank and Israel would be only 200km long, Sharon’s plan aims to institutionalize, through this network of roads, a 3,000km border.
Sharon has pieced together yet another artificial plan, proposing an unreal and hollow Palestinian state, and ignoring the vitally important issue of settlements. What is he getting at? He is clearly not suggesting an agreement that will be founded on a two-state solution — although at the very beginning of the plan he claims to make room for a nominal Palestinian state. No; Sharon’s proposal is little more than another attempt to force the Palestinians to agree to a settlement that is dead even before it has begun. His plan, which requires also that negotiations with Palestinians continue under a long-term temporary framework, simply demonstrates his desire to buy time, during which his government will continue its annexation of the occupied Palestinian territories.
Such a plan indicates that Sharon is concentrating all his efforts on destroying any possibility of peace. How can real peace be achieved through an agreement founded on the Israeli government’s colonization of the Palestinian territories? The plan proposes nothing new. It is designed simply to maneuver the Palestinians into agreeing on the status quo. At the moment, the Israeli government controls every border around separate Palestinian towns and villages, in addition to all international borders. And at the moment, the existence of settlements throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip allows the Israeli government to sever the occupied Palestinian territories into Bantustans.
But at the moment, the Palestinians are at least resisting this colonialist endeavor. Signing an agreement such as the map Sharon is proposing will only make concrete the system of apartheid to which the Palestinians are subjected. With such a proposition, Sharon has killed any hopes for peace in the Middle East. He has failed, once again, to recognize that peace and colonization are incompatible.
Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi is President of the Union of Palestinian Medical Relief Committees.