What withdrawal?

The recent developments in Israel vis-a-vis what was once called the "unilateral disengagement plan," and which enjoyed the full support of United States President George W. Bush but failed to get the support of the Likud party, have generated nothing but confusion and the appearance of weakness. The plan has now been subjected to various modifications, but instead of helping Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to regain the initiative and the upper hand, the process has caused chaos in the Israeli political scene. Israel’s position has been weakened and its image damaged in the international diplomatic arena.

The main loser in these developments is Sharon. The prime minister appears unable to lead neither his party nor his government and unable to fulfill commitments for which he received quite remarkable international support–that is, if he was really ever serious in his intentions to get this plan implemented.

This latest plan, which has enamored neither Israel’s left or right, appears to include a new partner. A significant change from the original plan is a new Egyptian role of three dimensions: number one, Egypt will play a security role along the Gaza-Egypt borders; number two, it will rehabilitate and train Palestinian security forces in order to, among other things, introduce a quieting effect for the enacting of the plan; number three, Egypt will deliver the Palestinian side to the plan.

Of course, there are other modifications, most important of which is the graded nature of this plan, which will be based again on performance along the way. This has very little chance of success due to the fact that this plan deals mostly only with Gaza and leaves the vast majority of the occupied territories to the whims of the occupation and its practices, among them Israel’s devastating wall, the growing settlements and other debilitating measures.

The Palestinian side, which is quite unconvinced of both the seriousness of the Israeli leadership in pursuing this plan and the probability and practicality of the plan, is waiting to see if Israel really will commence a withdrawal or settlement evacuation. Palestinians are refusing as yet to celebrate these developments or to pay any price before the withdrawal happens. Meanwhile, they continue to express the view that if there is any seriousness to any of these plans, they have no objection to them. However, if the intent is also to end the violence, these steps should be coordinated and negotiated to include the West Bank, not only Gaza, and to be part of a wider package that is a continuous process towards gradually ending the occupation.

It is certain, however, that the political thinking that has been generated by the current right-wing extremist coalition in Israel will not allow any serious developments of the kind that will get us out of the vicious cycle of violence and on the way to peaceful negotiations based on international legality. At this time, efforts to achieve peace should concentrate on two objectives: a replacement of this government coalition of groups that oppose the basis of the peace process and its requirements, and serious international intervention of the kind that is able to influence developments in the region.