‘To begin the real process of healing’

The discussion in Israel over the Gaza disengagement plan reminds to a certain extent of the Israeli spin over the failure of the talks at Camp David in the summer of 2000. In both cases, the Israelis create a point of view and corresponding terminology and idioms and then circulate them locally and around the world as undisputed truth. The irony is that in both cases, what the Israelis are talking about is the land, lives and future of someone else, namely the Palestinian people and land.

At Camp David, Ehud Barak’s spin machine cooked a meal (mostly alone), offered it to the Palestinian negotiators and then screamed foul when the Palestinians didn’t take a bite. When Yasser Arafat demanded a more equitable solution, one that was closer to what international law had demanded, he and the Palestinians were named ungrateful for rejecting this Israeli unprecedented "generous offer".

While Palestinians were symbolically represented at Camp David, this time they are not even part of the act. In fact, the entire theatrical production is based primarily on the fact that this is a unilateral Israeli act that doesn’t need, nor does it require, Palestinian approval, acquiescence or blessing. Some might want to argue that in the same way that the Israelis occupied the Palestinian lands unilaterally they plan to withdraw unilaterally. Unfortunately, things are not so simple.

If the Israeli withdrawal were being done as a late recognition and acceptance of the demands made by the UN Security Council, which says it is "inadmissible to occupy land by force", and reverse it, this would indeed be a very happy day. Of course, this withdrawal would then need to be comprehensive (to include the rest of the occupied territories, including all the West Bank and East Jerusalem) and would need to come up with, as United Nations Security Council Resolution 242 stated, "a just resolution of the Palestinian refugee problem".

Some left-wing members of the Israeli body politic are privately explaining to Palestinians that the importance of the withdrawal and the evacuation of the settlements is in the precedent it sets. They argue that if a hard-line Likud leader like Ariel Sharon, who is often described as the father of the settlements, agrees to the evacuation of any Jewish settlement, the rest will be politically and ideologically easier. This Nixon in China argument recalls how the Oslo Accords, which were negotiated by the centre-left Israeli peace camp, would not have happened if hard-line Likud leader Yitshak Shamir had not gone to the peace conference in Spain.

The group that opposes the Israeli withdrawal is even more confusing to me. If they are against the Sharon plan, what are they for? Are they for a one-state solution, a state where Arabs and Jews have equal rights? Or do they expect the present apartheid-like situation, whereby Israeli Jewish settlers living in Gaza have rights and Palestinian Arabs have none, will continue for ever?

Palestinians, of course, are not against any settlement evacuation or Israeli withdrawal. The opposition is to the premise, which continues a century-old process of negating the Palestinians. Except for a short period of time in the 1990s, Israel, and before it the Zionist gangs, acts in our land as if we don’t exist. The myth of non-existence of the Palestinian people and a legitimate leadership takes on various forms and justifications. The latest version of this negation, that there are no Palestinian partners, was exposed by some patriotic Israeli politicians and army generals who proved, with the Geneva Accords, that there is in fact a partner and that there is something to talk to them about.

In the 1970s and 1980s, when the Israelis were refusing to talk to the PLO, the world told Israel that one negotiates with one’s enemies not with one’s friends. The French foreign minister and the EU have been saying the same thing this week, but it all falls on deaf ears.

Another major fear is that the Gaza withdrawal plan will, as Sharon’s senior adviser Dov Weisglass remarked recently, be at the expense of a West Bank pullout and thus demolish the chance of an independent Palestinian state alongside the state of Israel.

The bottom line is that since the Palestinians are not party to this discussion, they are not bound by it. Like a sick person who needs to recognize his illness before being able to get treated, the Israelis are slowly recognizing that their occupation of Palestinian land is the source of their (and our) sickness. This recognition of the disease, however, is partial, because it excludes recognizing the victim of this disease. And as much as Israel hates it, they need to recognize the Palestinians and deal with them equitably and fairly in order to begin the real process of healing.