Israel, Gaza and the Seven-state Solution

Instead of still grousing about the disengagement from Gaza, the Israeli right wing should thank Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for it.

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
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Opponents of the disengagement battling security forces in Kfar Darom, August 2005.
Opponents of the disengagement battling security forces in Kfar Darom, August 2005.Credit: Reuters
Amira Hass
Amira Hass

Although I haven’t been asked for my opinion, I’ll give it anyway. The disengagement, the dismantling of settlements in the Gaza Strip in 2005, was a brilliant maneuver on the part of the prime minister at the time, the late Ariel Sharon. It was designed, successfully, to carry out what might be called the seven-state solution. The Israeli right wing (the center-right Zionist Union and Yesh Atid parties and the messianic right, which is all the others on the right), should be grateful to Sharon for his ingenuity. By unilaterally evacuating the Gaza Strip, he solidified the hold that Yeshastan (the settlers’ conglomerate) has in the West Bank and in Israel proper. That’s because this was the flip side of his primary goal – perpetuating the prevailing reality of West Bank Palestinian enclaves (which was his long-time vision).

It is customary in Israel to portray the settlers as being responsible for the Israeli policy of creeping annexation, as having “fixed” the government, but the opposite is true. Every government since 1967 has used the settlers as a political tool to scuttle the Palestinians’ exercise of their right to self-determination, i.e., an independent state. Usually this has coincided with the settlers’ own personal desires, and their numbers grew as the government offered them more enticements. (Due to lack of space, I won’t comment on previous expulsion and settlement methods and aims).

In the case of the Gaza Strip, however, contradictions surfaced between the two sides. The Israeli settlers in the Gaza Strip came there seeking sea and fun, very cheap Arab labor, single homes on plots of land and farms. If they had agreed to live in densely populated communities like the West Bank settlements of Betar Ilit and Modi’in Ilit, Sharon would not have been forced into the simple calculation that there were too many soldiers for every settler in Gaza. In other words, the investment needed to protect the Israelis and suppress the Palestinians there wasn’t worth the price.

In this case, the dream of rural settlement was at odds with the vision of the Greater Land of Israel. The ratio in Gaza of 7,000 superior race Israeli settlers to 1.5 million inferior race Palestinians was unknown even in South Africa of the Bothas.

When you come to establish settlements in one of the most densely populated territories in the world, just a few steps from refugee camps teeming with people yearning for normality and justice and the homes that they lost, when you come to rob 20 percent of the open land in the narrow territory, when you come to steal the remaining potable water from a million and a half people, you need to think in terms of dense urban settlement rather than rural expanse. So you un-dear settlers (who cost us so much), in the end, you paid for your fervor to establish plantations at such a distance from Alabama – and in the 20th century.

Sharon hadn’t intended to vacate the Gaza Strip as an initial step in a new gradual process – not even a fake gradual process such as that of the Oslo Accords, which was halted after delegating limited authority over 40 percent of the West Bank. If he had been thinking about a gradual process, he would not have left Gaza without any negotiations with the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Palestinian Authority.

Sharon’s failure to negotiate a withdrawal is what enabled Hamas to portray the disengagement as a victory resulting from its “armed struggle.” And the four tiny West Bank settlements that were also vacated as part of the disengagement in the Jenin area would have reverted to their rightful owners, the Palestinians, rather than remaining part of “Area C” under full Israeli control.

If he had been thinking about the Palestinians, he would also have evacuated the West Bank settlements of Mevo Dotan and Hermesh and the soldiers guarding them, which until today disrupt the territorial continuity of the Jenin district. But Sharon followed his prior path and that of his predecessors.

The Israeli leadership has always been negotiating compromise among itself and with the Israeli public. The compromise that has been taking shape over the past 35 years is between the desire to see the Palestinians evaporate and the understanding that a repeat of 1948 and the expulsion this time of all of them is not possible. As a result, the “vision” of Palestinian enclaves arose.

The difference among various Israeli leaders is over the size and number of the enclaves that they propose, and on that basis, the “seven-state solution” is a temporary moniker, subject to change. The number of “states” or enclaves or bantustans that the Israeli compromise would permit the Palestinians depends upon the quality of the “transportational contiguity” among them (a term that the Israelis raised with World Bank officials during negotiations with the bank at the time of the disengagement). Whether seven or 10, the principle remains the same: division and fake sovereignty within small, fractured areas, leaving Israel capable of cutting off contact among the enclaves at any given moment.

We cannot know whether Sharon envisioned the internal Palestinian political split that was created after the disengagement was carried out. A plan that in substance disengaged the Gaza population from the rest of the Palestinians in the country. (Yitzhak Shamir, Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres paved the way for this severance. Sharon simply completed it).

There are calamities for which the Palestinian leaderships are also responsible, and one of them is the establishment of two Palestinian governments that are hostile toward each other. Hamas is entrenching itself as the regime for the “State” of Gaza. (The periodic bloody wars are necessary for Israel and Hamas to underline the cutoff of contact and the separateness from the West Bank. “Security” and “resistance” provide convenient cover). Fatah is entrenching itself as the regime in the other mini-states. The Israeli right therefore not only has Sharon to thank for this, but also Hamas and Fatah.

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