Don't Disengage

The agreements in Washington will heighten frustration among the Palestinians and lead to violence on their part. How should a Palestinian feel when he sees an American president and Israeli prime minister deciding whether he should have a state and what its borders should be?

The extreme right is correct in its conclusions (though not in its motives): The disengagement plan is bad for Israel. At first, the program was deceptive. When the prime minister presented it for the first time, it seemed that, despite all the doubts and suspicions, every peace-seeker should support the program. Acre by acre, any proposal for any withdrawal from the territories under occupation is good for Israel and good for peace. It's true the proposed withdrawal is only a minimal and unnecessarily unilateral one, an initiative by someone who until now has only been a warmonger. Nonetheless, in these days, which are perhaps the most difficult ever for the chances of peace, one cannot lightly dismiss any signs of withdrawal or of dismantling settlements, however modest these signs may be.

But this was a false illusion. The results of Ariel Sharon's visit to Washington put an end to this faint hope. It is now clear the plan will bring much greater damage than benefit, including the blessed benefits of withdrawing from the Gaza Strip and dismantling the scandalous settlements there. The assumption that the precedent of evacuating settlements in Gaza would serve as leverage for evacuating the West Bank and returning to the 1967 borders also now appears to be refuted. On the contrary, the plan would only strengthen most of the settlements.

The only benefit that would derive from the disengagement is that it would make life a bit easier for the residents of areas adjacent to the Gaza settlements (whose lives became unbearable due to their uninvited neighbors) and for Israel Defense Forces soldiers (who would be relieved of the burden of protecting a handful of settlers in Gaza, with the danger this entailed). The infuriating division of Gaza would also be ended. But the list of disadvantages is much longer and more fateful.

First, let's consider the fate of the Gaza Strip residents. Israel will maintain complete control of the international crossing points and the land border between the Strip and Israel and Egypt, as well as the air and sea space. And while effectively imposing a siege on the Gaza Strip, Israel has already announced its disengagement will obviate it from any responsibility for what happens there. So, the residents will continue to live in a giant prison. Surrounded on all sides by IDF forces, their motivation to struggle against the occupation will not weaken - and rightfully so. The occupation will continue to abuse them, this time from outside. It will be even more difficult, or perhaps impossible, to travel beyond the borders of the Strip, the cut-off from family members in the West Bank will continue in all its cruelty, as will the shameful poverty. When the besieged residents take desperate actions of violence, they'll say in Israel: "See, we left Gaza and what did we get in return? Just more terror." And the conclusion will again be: "There's no one to talk with." Any chances of further withdrawals and peace would suffer critical damage.

The full extent of the detrimental impact of the disengagement became clear in the agreements Sharon reached in Washington. If someone still harbored any doubts, it was proven that Sharon indeed wanted - and succeeded - in perpetuating Ofra and Ariel, Ma'aleh Adumim and Gush Etzion, despite Secretary of State Colin Powell's subsequent attempt to soften the message emanating from Bush's letter. This message indicates a change in the administration's position from one opposing settlements (with the contention that their future should be determined in negotiations between the sides) to a unilateral recognition of Israeli population centers in the territories. Whoever wishes to perpetuate these settlements is cutting off the last chance for peace. There can be no independent Palestinian state between Ofra and Etzion. There can be no just solution with Ariel and Ma'aleh Adumim.

Thus, Police Commissioner Shlomo Aharonishki, who serves as a political commentator when needed, was right in saying this is "an historic achievement." It is indeed an historic achievement - for the settlers. The anguished cries of this handful of settlers in Gaza are tainted, as usual, with more than a bit of cynical manipulation. In their hearts, they know that by evacuating this small group of settlers in Gaza, Sharon will guarantee the future of the rest of the settlements for many years to come. Could there be a greater reward for the crime of the settlements than Bush's declaration that the future borders must recognize the "realities on the ground" (which, from his perspective, apparently includes only the tens of thousands of settlers and not the millions of Palestinians)? This will lead to more and more changes in the "realities on the ground" in the form of more and more unauthorized settlements. The fact is that this method has proved itself effective. As part of this program, the unjust route of the separation fence also wins American recognition, and again Israel proves that what is taken by force and created in iniquity is perpetuated.

The agreements in Washington will heighten frustration among the Palestinians and lead to violence on their part. How should a Palestinian feel when he sees an American president and Israeli prime minister deciding whether he should have a state and what its borders should be, whether there will be a right of return and to where? What should a resident of the Muasi area in Gaza feel in light of the fact that the decision on whether his property and some measure of freedom will be restored to him is to be made by members of the Likud party, who postponed their vote due to a basketball game?

The abysmal American-Israeli contempt for them, completely disenfranchising them from determining their own future, returns the Palestinians to the days of Golda, who declared that they are not a people. Thus, another nail is driven into the coffin of the Palestinian Authority and another significant boost is given to Hamas, Islamic Jihad and others who reject negotiations. After all, what will the Palestinians negotiate about if everything is already decided between Sharon and "the leader of the free world?"