What Kind of State Deserves to Exist?
Amidst the political storm in Israel regarding the "Gaza disengagement" plan, only one really meaningful fact emerges: Sharon received Bush’s approval to proceed with his plan for the wall in the West Bank.
With regard to the Gaza strip, the disengagement plan published in the Israeli papers on Friday, April 16th specifies that within a year and a half, the Israeli occupation there should be declared to be over. In every other aspect, the situation will remain as is. The Palestinians will be imprisoned from all sides, with no connection to the world, except through Israel. Israel also reserves for itself the right to act militarily inside the Gaza strip. (1) But since the strip will no longer be defined as an occupied territory, Israel will not be subject to the fourth Geneva Convention. Clause f of section I in the published plan states that "the disengagement move will obviate the claims about Israel with regard to its responsibility for the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip". In other words, what Israel does today in violation of international law will become legal: It would presumably become formally permissible to starve people and to kill whoever Israel determines–from a child throwing stones, to the successor of a spiritual leader, himself executed a month before.
The text of the plan also declares that Israel will evacuate the settlements and the army posts inside the strip. It is not clear how this could be accomplished given that the declared intention is to keep the strip under full Israeli "security control". After all, the isolated settlement of Netzarim (like the others) was founded precisely in order to divide the strip into separate parts, thus enabling control of it from the inside. Those who want to, may believe that Sharon will eventually dismantle Netzarim. In the meanwhile, however, Israel invests in its fortification. On channel 1 TV news on April 15, there was an interview with a pretty relaxed settler from Netzarim. "If the defense minister is building right now a new security fence for us"–he said–"then surely no one intends to evacuate us". In any case, the position agreed upon by Sharon and Netanyahu, and which was confirmed in the cabinet meeting of April 18, is that no settlement in the Gaza strip is to be evacuated before the wall in the West Bank is completed.
As for the West Bank, the innovation in the Bush-Sharon agreement is not found at the level of declarations. In the plans of Clinton and of Beilin-Abu Mazen, as well, it was clear that Israel was not offering return to the precise line of the 1967 borders, nor a full realization of the right of return. However, these were plans for negotiation–proposals awaiting the approval of the Palestinian people. Now the Palestinians are not even asked. Now it is Israel and the U.S. who are determining the facts on the ground. Israel marks the land that it desires, and builds a wall on that route.
In the Clinton plan, the Palestinian territory to be annexed to Israel consisted of 5-7% of the West Bank. But when the present route of the plan was first approved by the previous Sharon government, Shimon Peres, then foreign minister, protested that it robbed the Palestinians of 22% of their lands. Since then, the segment of the wall which is already under construction has been extended much further onto Palestinian land. According to a UN report from November of 2003, this segment, which did not include yet the region of Jerusalem, has already appropriated 14.5% of Palestinian land. Along this route, Israel is uprooting tens of thousands of trees, dispossessing Palestinian farmers of their land, and pushing them into small enclaves between fences and walls, until, at the final stage, the wall will surround them on all sides, as in the Gaza strip.
In 1969, the Israeli philosopher Yesayahu Leibovitz anticipated that in the areas of the occupation "concentration camps would be erected by the Israeli rulers… Israel would be a state that would not deserve to exist, and it will not be worthwhile to preserve it". How far are we from Leibovitz prophecy in the fenced Gaza strip?
In the West Bank, the situation is still different. Along the route of the wall, the internal struggle of the Israeli society is now taking place–between the self-proclaimed "land redemptionists" who, no matter how much land they have, will always want more, and those who want to live in a state that deserves to exist. Along that route, there are Israelis who, alongside the Palestinians, are putting their bodies in front of the bulldozers and the Israeli army.
Translated from Hebrew by Netta Van Vliet
TANYA REINHART is a Professor of Linguistics at Tel Aviv University and the author of Israel/Palestine: How to End the War of 1948. She can be reached through her website: http://www.tau.ac.il/~reinhart