The unilateral disengagement plan is also progressing in the West Bank. And, just as in the Gaza Strip, it is less a security disengagement between Israel and the Palestinian areas than it is a political plan for isolating each Palestinian area from every other via a network of fortifications that includes fences, walls, enclaves and settlement expansions.
Gaza's isolation from the West Bank is a geographic fact. But the process of disconnecting Palestinian areas from each other within the West Bank constitutes a brutal change in both the natural geography and the political geography determined by the Green Line. It destroys the natural and national fabric by insulating each Palestinian district from every other, the suburbs from the cities, the villages from their urban centers, the cities from their land reserves, the villages from their agricultural land.
Consistent supporters of peace with the Palestinians view this isolation plan as a means of thwarting any chance of establishing a viable Palestinian state, which constitutes the only basis for a fair and secure arrangement in our region. But they are discovering, with deep frustration, to what degree even the most stubborn of protests are impotent to stop the planners and the implementers.
The frustration has given birth to efforts at self-consolation. Some overcome their feelings of helplessness with the belief that roads and settlements are reversible. Just look at Yamit, and perhaps also Gush Katif, they say. Others warn that the Palestinians will not be able to accept this reality of internal geographic, economic, social, familial and cultural isolation: they will feel suffocated, and will revolt.
Such comforting prophecies merit investigation. There is no doubt that the Palestinians, who have suffered for years from this isolation, will continue to suffer, both as individuals and as a national collective. The question, however, is whether, and how, they will manage to persuade the Israeli public that this injury they are suffering is unfair, and therefore offers no guarantee of security. In other words, that what is unjust to the occupied and the ruled is also not worthwhile for the occupier and the ruler.
"Occupation" here serves as a code word for a regimen of coercion, the systematic theft of land, a system of laws that discriminates on the basis of ethnic affiliation, the denial of the other's national rights and the sabotage of its chances of development. The Palestinians tried in various ways to persuade Israelis that the occupation is not worthwhile in the long term: by force of arms and by dialogue, by mass demonstrations, by guerrilla warfare and by terrorism. They failed. The height of their failure came during the Oslo years: Under the cover of peace talks and a willingness to negotiate, Israel continued, at a dizzying pace, to steal the physical infrastructure needed for the Palestinians' national existence - the land - and to use it to expand the settlements.
How, if so, can the Palestinians, in pockets of isolation within the West Bank, convince the Israelis of what they have failed to convince them of until now?
The physical and geographic compartmentalization and isolation that the Israeli authorities are currently implementing reinforces certain flawed characteristics of the Palestinian society and leadership: "localism" and tribalism, meaning loyalty to the tribe, to tradition, to the village and to one's origins at the expense of national ties and social solidarity; a multiplicity of tactics and protest methods, with no coordination; a lack of centralized planning; the aloofness of the elites; the lack of communication between the alienated leadership and the public.
The geographic, physical and economic isolation will exacerbate the process whereby each Palestinian unit - each family, each village, each region - is compelled to cope alone with immediate existential challenges: food and other necessities, caring for the children and the elderly, medicine and education, whose quality has deteriorated because of the isolation. The increasingly narrow horizons of the space that people inhabit will reduce their expectations of life. Anyone who can - members of the middle class - will leave. The majority will remain, but the basic necessities of existence will steal all their time and energy. Emotionally, people will rebel. In practice, they will behave as if they have adjusted. And there is no sign of any national Palestinian leadership on the horizon that will be capable, under conditions of internal isolation, of doing what it could not do under less difficult circumstances.
The Palestinians' ability to persuade Israelis to give up their privileges as an occupier by means of guerrilla warfare within the occupied territories was always limited. The physical and military isolation will reduce it to zero. It will be hard to translate anger at the strangulation into guerrilla operations. Here and there, roadblocks between Palestinian enclaves will be removed as a reward for good behavior. But the minute someone exploits these "abatements" for guerrilla action, the Israeli siege on all the enclaves will be tightened. The achievement of the few will result in loss for the many. And terror attacks within Israel have never in any case persuaded Israelis that the root of the problem is the occupation.
Before the Palestinians turned to the use of firearms, in the current round of bloodshed, they tried the weapon of mass protest. From time to time, they try to return to this weapon - primarily along the separation fence. But the Israel Defense Forces prove to them time and time again that mass protests will result in deaths, injuries and arrests. And most of the Israeli public proves that the mass protest message does not reach them.
These facts have not been overlooked by Israeli advocates of isolation. They have good reason to believe that their plan - disintegrating the Palestinian national community into small, weakened, quasi-tribal communities that will accustom themselves to the situation - will meet with success.
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