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Israeli PM Ariel Sharon delivered his long awaited speech last week concerning his new "plan" for dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian impasse. The bottom line of the speech is that if there is no progress in implementing the quartet road map. Israel will "move" some settlements that are difficult to defend and withdraw to as yet undefined borders that are secured by the famous and infamous security fence-wall-barrier and other physical barriers.
When Ariel Sharon announces that a retreat, Palestinians and Sharon-watchers figure there has got to be a catch somewhere, but nobody is quite sure how to react to the unilateral initiative or what it means. Earlier today, a Ha'aretz story about the initiative carried a headline speculating that the plan will stop employment of Palestinians in Israel, an important source of income. The same story was expanded later in the day, and carried a headline announcing that the plan will mean evacuating tens of thousands of settlers. The story was essentially the same, but the same plan that was bad news for the Palestinians in the afternoon had become bad news for the settlers by evening. Maybe it is bad news for everyone, or good news for everyone. Who knows?
There was nothing new in Sharon's speech relative to previous hints by Sharon and announcements by Deputy PM Ehud Olmert, except that Sharon explained that Sharon explained:
- the policy could be implemented if there is no progress within a "number of months"
- the new redeployment will not form a political border,
- and road map negotiations could be resumed whenever Palestinians are ready.
- Israel remains committed to the road map.
- as agreed, Israel will remove any 'unauthorized' outposts.
Sharon expects Palestinians to comply with the roadmap by dismantling Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other terrorist groups. Palestinians show no signs of intending to do so, but instead are trying to put together an offer of a truce: the organizations would remain intact, but would call a halt to terror operations in return for Israeli concessions. Hamas is demanding that Israel stop assassinating and arresting their personnel. In fact, Israel announced that it was suspending the assassination policy, but arrests and pinpoint operations will continue. Today, the IDF arrested the Hamas spokesman in Nablus, a top Hamas official, Adnan Asfur. Hamas will also ask for other concessions, such as ending the European and American prohibition on contributions to its "charitable" organizations. Hamas is in principle opposed to any peace with Israel. Its spiritual leader, Sheikh Yassin, recently announced that Jews could have an independent state- in Europe. The Hamas Charter calls for an Islamic state in all of Palestine, and cites the forged Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
So far it has proven difficult for the Palestinians to even put together this truce offer, and it is unlikely that the Palestinian Authority or PLO will put itself into the business of trying to dismantle groups like Hamas, which have a substantial following and relatively great military capability. Suppression of these groups could evoke a Palestinian civil war. Thus, Sharon can claim that the road map is at an impasse.
There has been "quiet" between the Israelis and Palestinians since the beginning of October, when a suicide blast killed Jews and Arabs at the Cafe Maxim in Haifa. But the quiet is deceptive. Israeli security forces have intercepted over 20 suicide bombing attempts in that period, and on the other hand, Israeli incursions and "preventive security" have continued on an almost daily basis, and have exacted a toll of civilian dead and wounded as well as arresting or killing terrorists.
In reality, the impasse is created by mutual nonfeasance of Israelis and Palestinians. The Palestinians have not fulfilled their part of the roadmap, and the quartet have done little to encourage progress in ridding Palestinian political life of domination by terror groups and extremist ideologies. The Israelis have not really budged an inch since the beginning of the roadmap, and despite some symbolic concessions, Israeli troops remain where they were for the most part, the roadblocks remain in place, and the illegal outposts that Sharon promissed to dismantle are nearly all still in place.
Given the Israeli-Palestinian impasse, and spurred by pressure generated by the Geneva Accord as well as pressures from the US and from Israelis suffering from the economic as well as the military effects of the uprising, Sharon had to announce some policy. Opposition politicians pointed out that Israel had lost the initiative, and was reacting to Palestinian and American moves, without any announced policy of its own. The unilateral "plan" is that policy. In effect, the plan coopts an earlier proposal by defeated Labor party PM candidate Amram Mitzna, and reshaping it in the image of the Likud and Ariel Sharon.
The truth is that nobody is quite sure what this speech means. Sharon described no borders at all except for references to the security fence, which is incomplete, and has not named any settlements that would be "moved." Will the plan remove at least all the illegal outposts? Even that is doubtful. It is hard to believe that Sharon will eliminate over 100 outposts in a brief time, when he has done virtually nothing toward "moving" them in all this time. Nonetheless, Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said today that the plan would involve moving tens of thousands of settlers, and that there was no doubt that this would be painful. Israeli police at Shefaram carried out an exercise involving evacuation of a settlement today, Israel army radio announced.
Shas party MK Eli Yishai remarked that it seemed to him that the difference between Labor and Likud was a matter of semantics. Labor's Ehud Barak was going to "uproot" settlements, while Ariel Sharon is only going to "move settlements, but the result will be the same. Settlers and hardliners were furious that Sharon had even mentioned giving up any settlements. They pointed out that the plan essentially rewards the Palestinians for intransigence, by announcing that Israel will retreat if the Palestinians make no move for peace, with no political consquences for the Palestinians.
Palestinians see Sharon's speech as a threat to implement a de-facto unilateral solution. They would be left with enclaves or "Bantustans" and cut off from the rest of the world. If the security barrier is completed along the rumored paths, it would completely encircle two areas in the West Bank, one in the north ("Samaria") centered around Nablus and Jenin, and a second in the south ("Judea") centered around Hebron and the Judean desert. According to some commentators, the unilateral separation from the Palestinians will include tapering off of Palestinian employment in Israel, while allowing greater commerce with Egypt and Jordan if possible. There are not many employment opportunities for Palestinians in the Egyptian and Jordanian economies. However, it is unlikely that the security fence/barrier will be complete in the next few months. It is possible that it may never be completed, because the UN has referred the matter of the barrier to the Hague court, which will begin hearing arguments next year.
The truth is that it is too early to tell what Sharon's plan means, because we don't know what settlements will be evacuated, what the border will be, what land will be left to the Palestinians and how open the Israeli government will be to negotiations. It is clear that Sharon and Ehud Olmert are no longer afraid to say what has been painfully obvious for quite a while: Israel cannot stay in all of the occupied territories. It is madness to defend outposts of 10 settlers with twice as many soldiers, or to keep tiny groups of settlers in settlements like Izhar in the West Bank or Netzarim in Gaza. These settlements serve no security purpose, and that land will never become part of Israel. It is certainly silly to invest money in developing such places because they are a dead end. In the best case, the Sharon plan will really reduce friction between Israelis and Palestinians and bring about a period of real quiet, in which it will be possible to gradually move toward real peace talks.
In the worse case, the Sharon plan will constitute a de facto annexation of large portions of the West Bank and possibly the northern part of Gaza. Palestinians would be enclosed in two enclaves totalling around 50% of the area of the West Bank plus the tiny Gaza strip, with no free access to neighboring Jordan and Egypt. They would be unable to earn a living. Israel would act to prevent formation of a Palestinian state in these areas. In Jerusalem, where Arab and Jewish neighborhoods are intermingled, separation would have to mean hardship for the Palestinians. Sharon has already announced that Israel would never give up the tiny Jewish enclave in Hebron. There are probably some other such indefensible areas that will be kept for reasons other than security, ensuring a continuing source of Israeli-Palestinian friction.
It may seem absurd for Palestinians to insist that Israel must continue the occupation whether Israelis want to be occupiers or not. However, an occupying power has an obligation to the population of the occupied territories under the Geneva Conventions. In the worst case scenario, the Sharon plan would simply herd the Palestinians into reservations where they would have no real organized government and little opportunity for employment. Terror groups will be quick to claim a "victory" after the unilateral Israeli withdrawal, and then they will be quick to exploit the misery that would probably be created by that withdrawal.
In any case, it is hard to see however, what Ariel Sharon gains by announcing his plans in advance. He has, in effect, told the Palestinians that if they are uncooperative, he will reward them with an Israeli withdrawal. Thus, the Palestinians have no incentive to cooperate. But Sharon was facing pressure from the Geneva Accord and from the Shinui party within the coalition, that was going to propose a unilateral Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza strip. Sharon's unilateral initiative has blown both these plans out of the water. It has given the initiative back to the Israeli government.
Prime Minister's Speech at the Herzliya Conference
December 18, 2003
I congratulate the organizers of this conference for the important and
We are all entrusted with the duty of shaping the face of the Jewish and
This is the country we wish to shape. This is the country where our
I know that there is sometimes a tendency to narrow all of Israel's problems
Like all Israeli citizens, I yearn for peace. I attach supreme importance
Seven months ago, my Government approved the "Roadmap" to peace, based on
The Roadmap is a clear and reasonable plan, and it is therefore possible and
The government under my leadership will not compromise on the realization of
We began the implementation of the Roadmap at Aqaba, but the terrorist
Concurrent with the demand from the Palestinians to eliminate the terror
In addition, subject to security coordination, we will transfer Palestinian
Israel will make every effort to assist the Palestinians and to advance the
Israel will fulfil the commitments taken upon itself. I have committed to
Israel will meet all its obligations with regard to construction in the
I take this opportunity to appeal to the Palestinians and repeat, as I said
We wish to speedily advance implementation of the Roadmap towards quiet and
The purpose of the "Disengagement Plan" is to reduce terror as much as
We are interested in conducting direct negotiations, but do not intend to
The "Disengagement Plan" will include the redeployment of IDF forces along
This reduction of friction will require the extremely difficult step of
Israel will greatly accelerate the construction of the security fence.
In order to enable the Palestinians to develop their economic and trade
I would like to emphasize: the "Disengagement Plan" is a security measure
The "Disengagement Plan" does not prevent the implementation of the Roadmap.
Obviously, through the "Disengagement Plan" the Palestinians will receive
According to circumstances, it is possible that parts of the "Disengagement
Ladies and Gentlemen,
My life experience has taught me that for peace, as well as for war, we must
In the past three years, the Palestinian terrorist organizations have put us
I believe that this path of unity must be continued today. Whether we will
Let us not be led astray. Any path will be complicated, strewn with
We will always be guided by the words of Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion,
These days, our purpose is only to build the State of Israel with love and
I am also a great believer in the resilience of this small, brave nation
Thank you very much, and happy Hannukah.
Olmert: Tens of thousands of settlers may be relocated
Tens of thousands of settlers might have to move if Israel implements plans to separate itself from the Palestinians, Vice Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Sunday.
The initiative - which would be implemented if the Palestinians fail to keep to the road map to Middle East peace - is based on moves by the government to reduce Palestinian economic dependence on Israel and to strengthen economic ties between the territories and the neighboring Arab states of Jordan and Egypt.
But Olmert warned Sunday that any relocation of settlements - home to some 220,000 Israelis - would lead to a serious confrontation with settlers and their supporters.
"I have no doubt there be a very painful, difficult heartbreaking process and a confrontation of unknown proportion in the life of this country."
"It's a serious crisis," he said. "There's no doubt about it. I expect it to be very emotional and very confrontational."
The proposal also includes a plan to relocate isolated settlements and dismantle uninhabited outposts, as well as to speed up construction of the West Bank security fence, making it part of a makeshift border with the Palestinians.
"It is certainly a lot more than in the thousands. It's probably in the tens of thousands," Olmert, who also hold the communications and industry and trade portfolios, told a news conference in Jerusalem.
The minister was speaking after the weekly cabinet meeting, in which Sharon rebuffed calls from ministers to discuss the "disengagement plan," on the grounds that the issue had not been included on the meeting's agenda.
Agriculture Minister Yisrael Katz said Sunday, however, that he would demand a debate on Sharon's proposals at a Likud meeting early next month.
Under Sharon's initiative, in the event of a failure to move forward with the U.S.-backed road map, and the implementation of the "disengagement plan," Palestinians from the territories will be prevented in the future from entering Israel to work.
Sharon's plan is designed to reduce friction between Israelis and Palestinians; to allow the Palestinians to develop their economy, Israel will work toward keeping open the border crossings between the West Bank and Jordan, and the Gaza Strip and Egypt.
In his address, Sharon said, "We will consider allowing, in coordination with Jordan and Egypt, the freer passage of people and goods through the international crossings, while implementing the required security measures."
Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher will arrive in Israel on Monday, when he and his hosts will discuss ways to shore up the Palestinian economy.
Sharon has already announced a series of immediate steps aimed at boosting freedom of movement for the Palestinians within the territories, expanding activities at the Allenby Bridge and Rafah crossings, and allowing Palestinian merchants to enter Israel to conduct business. In contrast to the past, the list of steps to ease conditions for the Palestinians does not include permitting workers from the West Bank and Gaza into Israel.
In recent years, each time a senior Israeli representative headed for the United States, the government would hastily announce the granting of thousands of work permits to territory residents. The permits were restricted to older individuals and individuals with families, and were usually revoked a few days later for security reasons - after the meeting with the U.S. administration had ended.
At the Donors' Conference for Palestinians on December 10 in Rome, Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom presented a plan to boost economic conditions and employment in the territories that centered on the construction of industrial parks along the seam line.
For his part, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, during his visit to Washington last month, presented a plan to create jobs for Palestinians that was formulated by the coordinator of government activities in the territories, Major General Yosef Mishlav.
Mofaz's plan focuses on the employment of Palestinians at settlements and industrial parks along the seam line, as well as freer entrance into Israel for Palestinian merchants. The defense minister's plan does not allow for the entrance of Palestinian laborers into Israel.
Israel came under harsh criticism at the Donors' Conference, primarily because of the restrictions it has imposed on the movement of the Palestinians and the internal closures in the territories. U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Satterfield said Israel had done too little, too late to alleviate the distress in the territories, casting doubt on the security necessity of the roadblocks.
According to Israel's summary of the meeting, the Palestinians came away disappointed by the fact that they were unable to enlist financing to cover the Palestinian Authority's expected budget deficit.
U.S. warns against unilateral steps
Washington has also told Jerusalem that it rejects the idea of strengthening and expanding settlements as "compensation" for the evacuation of isolated Jewish communities in the territories.
The United States is also strongly opposed to "the eastern fence" plan raised by Sharon, fearing it would sabotage the chances of establishing a Palestinian state in the future and would "imprison the Palestinians in a big cage."
U.S. spokesmen have, however, stressed Sharon's commitment to the road map, as well as his public undertaking to ease economic conditions for the Palestinians, to dismantle unauthorized outposts, and to restrict construction activities in the settlements.
In another development, efforts to arrange a meeting between Sharon and Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia will be renewed this week.
Sharon's bureau chief, Dov Weisglass, will meet Wednesday with his Palestinian counterpart, Hassan Abu Libda, for a second discussion on the matter.
Sources in Jerusalem expect the Weisglass-Abu Libda meeting to lead to a meeting between the premiers - on hold for the past few weeks due to Palestinian opposition.
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