“Unilateral Separation” is the buzz phrase fashionable in Israel these days. Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak launched the curious notion that Israel could draw lines between occupied land it holds and the pockets under Palestinian control and reinforce these lines with walls, electronic fences, military posts, the usual paraphernalia of separation. The idea has now been taken up by the current Industry Minister Dalia Itzik, Haim Ramon of Labour and Dan Meridor of the Centre Party which has just joined the right-led coalition.
But what does separation mean? Where does Israel put its fences without pulling out of West Bank and Gaza settlements the government is determined to maintain?
There are at present 150 Israeli settlements housing 200,000 settlers in the occupied West Bank and Gaza, plus a dozen settlements in the Greater Jerusalem area with another 200-250,000 inhabitants.
The object of these colonies was to make it impossible to separate Israeli from Palestinian, so that Israel could not be called upon to withdraw from the land. Israel has succeeded all too well. Separation is just not possible without wholesale evacuation of Israeli settlements. Or, massive ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian population.
The settlements were sited strategically, established on hilltops, allowing the Israeli army to dominate Palestinian villages and towns, located in valleys. Settlements flank most of the larger towns – Jenin, Nablus, Ramallah, Bethlehem, Hebron, Rafah and Khan Younis. A wedge of urban settlements east of Jerusalem extends to the edge of Jericho, nearly bisecting the West Bank. A wide belt of settlements in the Jordan Valley forms a buffer between Palestinian-controlled areas and Jordan, while settlements in the south of the Gaza Strip cut the Palestinians off from Egypt. Settlements also sit on top of West Bank and Gaza aquifers allowing Israel to draw on the water resources of these occupied areas, in violation of international law. And, to further complicate matters, Israel has crossed the landscape with settler-only road networks and settler-only utility infrastructure.
The current configuration of Palestinian-controlled enclaves has been determined by the settlements, most of which are already fenced stockades. Are the proponents of unilateral separation proposing fencing Palestinians into “Area A,” territory under full Palestinian rule, or “Area A” plus convenient portions of “Area B,” land under Palestinian administration and Israeli security control?
What happens to Palestinians living within areas Israel retains? Will they be “transferred,” to use the word for “ethnic cleansing” coined by Tourism Minister Revaham Zeevi?
Will settlers living in outposts and colonies Israel decides not to defend, be brought back across the Green Line, or relocated in large settlements planted on the Line? Or, left to their own devices in vacated territory?
“Unilateral separation” is seen by its proponents as the equivalent of Israel’s “unilateral withdrawal” from southern Lebanon last year. And they point out that for the most part the border with Lebanon has been quiet since the “clean break” made by the “unilateral withdrawal.” But they ignore the hard fact that a “clean break” with the Palestinians is not feasible as long as the settlements remain in situ.
In the past few days, thoughtful Israeli media commentators have ridiculed the “unilateral separation” camp. Shlomo Gazit, a former head of military intelligence, makes the point in The Jerusalem Post of Aug. 21, that Israel would be better served if it negotiates the withdrawal of its settlements with the Palestinians within the context of an overall agreement than by unilaterally evacuating some settlements. He says that the shift of settlers requires careful preparation which cannot be made if there is to be an early “unilateral separation.” In the view of Gazit, “separation is nothing but an illusion. The sooner we separate ourselves from it, the better.”
Yoel Marcus, writing in Haaretz on the same day, calls the concept “unilateral foolishness”: “In our present situation, there is no unilateral solution. We are among them, they are among us. And nothing will be solved without rapprochement, agreements and understandings between two neighbours who are destined to live side-by-side.”
The “unilateral illusion” is, apparently, only on of several so-called “peace plans” being floated by various Israeli worthies. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is speaking of an “armistice” (“hudna”) during which Israel would hold onto its “assets” in the territories and enter mediated final settlement talks with the Palestinians. Foreign Minister Shimon Peres is suggesting an Israeli pull-out from large tracts of “Area C,” the 70-odd per cent of the West Bank and the 40 per cent of Gaza under Israel’s full control, and the resumption of final status negotiations on all but the Jerusalem and refugee issues, which would be postponed.
Former leftwing Meretz minister, Ran Cohen, proposes pulling out of all of “Gaza first” and recognising it as the initial instalment in a Palestinian state. Under the Cohen plan, Palestine President Yasser Arafat would impose control on all armed elements in order to bring an end to the war and Israel would implement outstanding provisions of the Oslo accords.
These plans are also “illusions” because Arafat is not in a position to accept less than a full Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank, Gaza and Arab East Jerusalem. Too much Palestinian blood has been spilled – at least 560 killed and 15,000 wounded since last September.
These illusory plans are being hyped at the present moment because the Israeli government has no peace proposal. Sharon is waging a war without a clear political objective other than comprehensively defeating the Palestinians. But driving the current crop of activists from the West Bank and Gaza and eradicating the Palestine National Authority will not solve Israel’s security problems or end the conflict.
Some Israelis should formulate a plan acceptable to the Palestinians, pretty smartly. Time is not on Israel’s side. According to Professor Arnon Sofer of Haifa University, by 2020 the Jewish population in geographic Palestine will constitute 42 per cent of the total, while the Palestinians will be 58 per cent. Therefore, if Israel is to remain a “Jewish state”, it must “separate” from the Palestinians by making precisely the sort of “clean break” Israel made from southern Lebanon. By retreating to the lines of June 1967, Israel would achieve precisely this end, while, at the same time, it would provide the Palestinians with just about enough territory to form a viable state of their own.
Mr. Michael Jansen contributed this article to the Jordan Times.