Leading up to Sunday's presidential election in the Palestinian Authority is the sort of frenetic activity characteristic of every election campaign - the quarreling and prognostications, the rumors and mudslinging. Discussion of the differences between the candidates - mainly Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) and Mustafa Barghouti - is even finding its way into children's conversations.
Yet everyone knows that Abu Mazen is a shoo-in to be elected. Not only because he is the representative of Fatah, which wants to prove it still wields the most influence, and not only because of the lack of a candidate endorsed by Hamas, the other major movement. But also because of the common political assessment that those players that really count - the United States, Israel and, to a certain degree, the European Union - seek his election.
People mostly dream of "removal of all the checkpoints." Not a checkpoint here or a checkpoint there. The Israeli army's assurances of "withdrawal from the cities" on election day and an easing of restrictions at the checkpoints might make an impression on Israelis. But as for the Palestinians, they yearn for an immediate restoration of their freedom of movement, in all areas of the West Bank, at least as it was in September 2000. Which is why they think that if they deliver the goods the West is expecting and vote for Abu Mazen, they will reap the reward - genuine Western pressure to remove the checkpoints and cordons.
In Israel, as well, everyone knows that Abu Mazen is a sure thing. In Israel, as well, his election is raising expectations of some sort of shift: that he will act against terror, that he is moderate, that America supports him.
Along with the anticipation of disengagement, there has been a revival of the sort of optimistic atmosphere that reigned back in the days of the signing of the Oslo Accords. Once again the belief in a "dynamic," in constructive precedents (evacuation of settlements), in economic improvements that the Israeli "gestures" will facilitate, thereby weakening Palestinian public support for terror, against which Abu Mazen will in any event take action.
There is something in common between these longings for a "dynamic" that would be jump-started mainly by external factors (the West, in the eyes of the Palestinians; America and Abu Mazen, in the eyes of the Israelis). Both sides minimize the significance of the checkpoints specifically and the restrictions on movement in general.
The Palestinians often speak of the checkpoints as a method intended to humiliate them, as collective punishment, as an expression of Israeli cruelty. The Israelis are aware of what they believe to be the occasional aberration in the behavior of soldiers at checkpoints. But aside from these uncharacteristic occurrences, Israelis are certain that the checkpoints are intended to ensure their security.
Most Palestinians and the vast majority of Israelis discount the checkpoint's function, seeing it as the primary means developed by Israel in the past four years for facilitating the process of chopping the West Bank into separate Palestinian-territory units cut off from one another, surrounded by ever-expanding and ever-consolidating blocs of settlements.
The backbone of the checkpoints policy is a bureaucracy that restricts human movement, orchestrated by the civil administration: movement of Palestinians from one territorial unit to another is conditional upon Israeli permits, hindered by mobile military roadblocks at which one may wait for hours, and diverted to narrow and dangerous side roads. Most checkpoints are not meant to guarantee Israeli security. They are intended to establish full Israeli control on the ground and in the consciousness - to the extent of de facto sovereignty - over Area C, which constitutes 60 percent of the West Bank.
The uproar over the arrest of a soldier who refused to evacuate caravans near the settlement of Yitzhar makes one forget the fact that through a completely legitimate, above board process - in other words, one with permits issued by government ministries - Ariel Sharon is continuing to build Jewish territorial continuity from Itamar and Elon Moreh in the northern West Bank to Kiryat Arba and Maon in the south. Therefore, the "dynamic" of the elections and the disengagement will be stifled as soon as it comes into contact with the reality of the settlements in the West Bank.
As moderate and pro-American as he is, Abu Mazen will not be able to agree to the solution that Ariel Sharon is devising, in the form of Jewish territorial continuity. All of Abu Mazen's talk against the armed intifada will not help him, so long as Israel continues to expand its separation regime in the West Bank: The settlement blocs are an inseparable part of modern Israel, as opposed to the pale of settlements of the Palestinians, which are strangled and cut off, and create slum conditions. Blatant discrimination, draconian restrictions, indirect control and continuation of the conflict: these are the synonyms, framed by reality, for "leaving the settlement blocs in place."
Is there a solution? Of course. Evacuation of all the settlements and all the settlers. With the emphasis on all. Return to a slogan that Peace Now espoused until conceding it during the Oslo period, because the movement concluded (justifiably, in large part) that the Palestinian leadership had discarded it: "No peace with the settlements." The slogan should be a handbook for action - not a handbook for faith - for anyone who wants peace for Israel, who wants to live as a normal citizen and not in a barracks inspired by biblical promise; and for every Palestinian who yearns to taste independence in his lifetime - and not in a vague future promised by the Koran.
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