As the date for the start of the withdrawal of the Israeli occupation forces from the Gaza Strip approaches the campaign being waged by Israeli rabbis and colonial settlers against Sharon’s plan for a unilateral withdrawal escalates. The campaign of the rabbis has focused these days on issuing a religious edict forbidding the occupation soldiers from following government orders to evacuate the settlers.
This contradiction between the Israeli government and the settlers might deceive many who have not examined the disengagement plan, and the goals Sharon aims to achieve through the implementation of this plan.
Sharon presented this proposal of his after his propaganda campaign against Yasser Arafat, calling him “an obstacle to peace” and an unsuitable partner in the peace process, was exhausted.
Sharon used this pretext to persuade the US administration to boycott Yasser Arafat and accept his plan of withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and four settlements in the north of the West Bank.
Sharon’s statements as well as facts indicate however that the true goal Sharon is seeking to achieve through this plan is for him and his government to define the borders of Israel as they please in a way that will, according to Sharon’s statements, guarantee Israel’s security.
As Sharon’s position is unchanged with regards to annexing 48% of the lands of the West Bank, he proposed this project in order to deceive Europe and the international community into seeing this withdrawal as an expression of an honest desire to establish peace in the region.
Since the West Bank was occupied in 1967 Sharon has been one of the most prominent and active advocates of settlement in the West Bank and confiscating its lands. All that he says in terms of removal of settlements from the West Bank is a smokescreen.
This was his position before, and it is a position he continues to hold until now. In addition he attempts to blackmail the US administration more and more through propaganda tricks, as he did when he obtained pledges from President Bush that contradict international resolutions and contradict the United States’ declared positions.
In exchange for the disengagement plan Sharon received a strange pledge from President Bush stating that Security Council resolution 242 will not be implemented; that is, Israel would not be pressured into withdrawing back to the June 1967 borders. The pledge also included canceling UN resolution 194 related to the right of return for the refugees, thus eliminating the possibility of having the Palestinian refugees return to their lands and villages which were confiscated by Israel.
In 1989 I met with Sharon indirectly (the Knesset had banned any meetings between Israelis and members of the Palestine Liberation Organization). This took place at the Plaza Athenee Hotel in Paris. A French lawyer acted as a shuttle delivering messages from my room to Sharon’s and vice versa.
Sharon was accompanied by the known Israeli businessman Yakov Nimrodi. Sharon began his talk (through the lawyer) by requesting help in recovering the missing Israeli pilot Ron Arad. He was very eager for this, even if the recovery was of the bones of a dead Israeli pilot.
The discussion later turned to the political agenda approved by the Palestinian National Council in 1988, and to the peace initiative launched by President Yasser Arafat in December of the same year.
In short, Sharon’s reply was: “Take the Gaza Strip. You can establish a state there, but Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) are Israeli lands”.
This was the position of Israeli Prime Minister Sharon at the time, and it is his position now.
Sharon’s plan aims at drawing Israel’s borders with the Israeli government’s hand alone, outside of the framework of international legitimacy, and away from the foundations of the Madrid Conference and the roadmap (the foundations being international resolutions). This means that Sharon is seeking to destroy the idea of an independent Palestinian state which, according to international resolutions, should be established on lands occupied by Israel in 1967, including East Jerusalem.
Through his plan Sharon also aims to turn the Palestinian cities and countryside in the West Bank into a source for the labor Israel uses to develop its economy and destroy the Palestinian economy.
Sharon’s plan gives him the freedom and ability to continue confiscating Palestinian lands in the West Bank, and imposing harsh circumstances that force the Palestinians to leave their lands.
According to Sharon’s statements, these lands will be ready for settlement by one million Jewish immigrants he seeks to bring from countries in Latin America, especially Argentina. Indeed, the first wave of these immigrants arrived last month (December) at Ben Gurion Airport.
I include the disengagement plan so everyone may become acquainted with it. This is a portion of the revised disengagement plan presented by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to the cabinet.
Appendix A – Four-stage disengagement plan – Key principles
I. Background – Diplomatic and security significance
The State of Israel is committed to the peace process and endeavors to reach an agreed arrangement based on the vision presented by U.S. President George W. Bush.
The State of Israel believes it must take action to improve the current situation. The State of Israel has reached the conclusion that there is currently no partner on the Palestinian side with whom progress can be made on a bilateral process. Given this, a four-stage disengagement plan has been drawn up, based on the following considerations:
A). The stalemate embodied in the current situation is damaging; in order to break the stalemate, the State of Israel must initiate a process that is not dependent on cooperation with the Palestinians.
B). The aim of the plan is to bring about a better security, diplomatic economic and demographic reality.
C). In any future permanent arrangement, there will be no Israeli presence in the Gaza Strip. On the other hand, it is clear that some parts of Judea and Samaria (including key concentrations of Jewish settlements, civilian communities, security zones and areas in which Israel has a vested interest) will remain part of the State of Israel.
D). The State of Israel supports the efforts of the United States, which is working along with the international community, to promote the process of reform, the establishment of institutions and improving the economic and welfare conditions of the Palestinian people, so that a new Palestinian leadership can arise, capable of proving it can fulfill its obligations under the road map.
E). The withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and from the northern part of Samaria will reduce interaction with the Palestinian population.
F). Completion of the four-stage disengagement plan will negate any claims on Israel regarding its responsibility for the Palestinian population of the Gaza Strip.
G). The process of graduated disengagement does not detract from existing agreements between Israel and the Palestinians. The relevant security arrangements will remain in force.
H). International support for the four-stage disengagement plan is widespread and important. This support is vital in ensuring that the Palestinians fulfill their obligations in terms of fighting terror and implementing reforms, in accordance with the road map. Only then will the sides be able to resume negotiations.
II. Key points of the plan
A). The Gaza Strip
1. The State of Israel will withdraw from the Gaza Strip, including all Israeli settlements, and will redeploy outside the area of the Strip. The method of the withdrawal, with the exception of a military presence in the area adjacent to the border between Gaza and Egypt (the Philadelphi route), will be detailed below.
2. Once the move has been completed, there will be no permanent Israeli military presence in the evacuated territorial area of the Gaza Strip.
3. As a result of this, there will be no basis to the claim that the Strip is occupied land.
B). Judea and Samaria
1. The State of Israel will withdraw from northern Samaria (four settlements: Ganim, Kadim, Sa-Nur and Homesh) as well as all permanent military installations in the area, and will redeploy outside the evacuated area.
2. Once the move has been completed, there will be no permanent Israeli military presence in the area.
3. The move will provide Palestinian territorial contiguity in the northern parts of Samaria.
4. The State of Israel, along with the international community, will help improve the transportation infrastructure in Judea and Samaria, with the goal of providing continuous transport for Palestinians in Judea and Samaria.
5. The move will make it easier for Palestinians to live a normal life in Judea and Samaria, and will facilitate economic and commercial activity.
C). The Process
The withdrawal process is slated to end by the end of 2005.
The settlements will be split into the following four groups:
1. Group A – Morag, Netzarim, Kfar Darom
2. Group B – The four settlements in northern Samaria (Ganim, Kadim, Sa-Nur and Homesh).
3. Group C – The Gush Katif bloc of settlements.
4. Group D – The settlements in the northern Gaza Strip (Alei Sinai, Dugit and Nissanit)
The necessary preparations will be undertaken in order to implement the four-stage disengagement plan (including administrative work to set relevant criteria, definitions and preparation of the necessary legislation.)
The government will discuss and decide separately on the evacuation of each of the above-mentioned groups.
D). The security fence
The State of Israel will continue to construct the security fence, in accordance with the relevant cabinet decisions. In deciding on the route of the fence, humanitarian considerations will be taken into account.
III. The security reality after the evacuation
A). The Gaza Strip
1. The State of Israel will monitor and supervise the outer envelope on land, will have exclusive control of the Gaza airspace, and will continue its military activity along the Gaza Strip’s coastline.
2. The Gaza Strip will be completely demilitarized of arms banned by current agreements between the sides.
3. The State of Israel reserves the basic right to self defense, which includes taking preventive measures as well as the use of force against threats originating in the Gaza Strip.
B). The West Bank
1. After the evacuation of the northern Samaria settlements, there will be no permanent military presence in that area.
2. The State of Israel reserves the basic right to self defense, which includes taking preventive measures as well as the use of force against threats originating in the area.
3. Military activity will remain in its current framework in the rest of the West Bank. The State of Israel will, if circumstances allow, consider reducing its activity in Palestinian cities.
4. The State of Israel will work to reduce the number of checkpoints throughout the West Bank.
IV. Military infrastructure and installations in the Gaza Strip and the northern Samaria region
All will be dismantled and evacuated, except for those that the State of Israel decides to transfer to an authorized body.
V. The nature of the security assistance to the Palestinians
The State of Israel agrees that in coordination with it, consulting, assistance and training will be provided to Palestinian security forces for the purpose of fighting terror and maintaining the public order. The assistance will be provided by American, British, Egyptian, Jordanian or other experts, as will be agreed upon with Israel.
The State of Israel stresses that it will not agree to any foreign security presence in Gaza or the West Bank without its consent.
VI. The border area between the Strip and Egypt (the Philadelphi route)
The State of Israel will continue to maintain military presence along the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt (the Philadelphi route.) This presence is an essential security requirement. The physical widening of the route where the military activity will take place, may be necessary in certain areas.
The possibility of evacuating the area will be considered later on. This evacuation would be conditioned, among other factors, on the security reality and on the level of cooperation by Egypt in creating an alternative credible arrangement.
If and when the conditions are met enabling the evacuation of the area, the State of Israel will be willing to consider the possibility of setting up an airport and a seaport in the Gaza Strip, subject to arrangements agreed upon with the State of Israel.
VII. Real estate
In general, houses belonging to the settlers, and other sensitive structures such as synagogues will not be left behind. The State of Israel will aspire to transfer other structures, such as industrial and agricultural facilities, to an international third party that will use them for the benefit of the Palestinian population.
The Erez industrial zone will be transferred to an agreed-upon Palestinian or international body.
The State of Israel along with Egypt will examine the possibility of setting up a joint industrial zone on the border between Israel, Egypt and the Gaza Strip.
VIII. Infrastructure and civilian arrangements
The water, electricity, sewage and communications infrastructures will be left in place.
As a rule, Israel will enable the continued supply of electricity, water, gas and fuel to the Palestinians, under the existing arrangements and full compensation.
The existing arrangements, including the arrangements with regard to water and the electromagnetic area, will remain valid.
IX. The activity of the international civilian organizations
The State of Israel views very favorably continued activity of the international humanitarian organizations and those that deal will civil development, which aid the Palestinian population.
The State of Israel will coordinate with the international organizations the arrangements that will make this activity easier.
The State of Israel suggests that an international mechanism (such as the AHLC) be set up, in coordination with Israel and international bodies, that will work to develop the Palestinian economy.
X. Economic arrangements
In general, the economic arrangements that are currently in effect between Israel and the Palestinians will remain valid. These arrangements include, among other things:
A). The movement of goods between the Gaza Strip, Judea and Samaria, Israel and foreign countries.
B). The monetary regime.
C). The taxation arrangements and the customs envelope.
D). Postal and communications arrangements.
H). The entry of workers into Israel in accordance with the existing criteria.
In the long run, and in accordance with the Israeli interest in encouraging Palestinian economic independence, The State of Israel aspires to reduce the number of Palestinian workers entering Israel, and eventually to completely stop their entrance. The State of Israel will support the development of employment sources in the Gaza Strip and in the Palestinian areas in the West Bank, by international bodies.
XI. The international crossing points
A). The international crossing point between the Gaza Strip and Egypt
1. The existing arrangements will remain in force.
2. Israel is interested in transferring the crossing point to the "border triangle," south of its current location. This will be done in coordination with the Egyptian government. This will allow the expansion of the hours of activity at the crossing point.
B). The international crossing points between Judea and Samaria, and Jordan.
The existing arrangements will remain in force.
XII. The Erez crossing point
The Erez crossing point will be moved into the territory of the State of Israel according to a timetable that will be determined separately.
The implementation of the four-stage disengagement plan will bring about an improvement in the situation and a break from the current stagnation. If and when the Palestinian side shows a willingness, an ability and an implementation of actions to fight terrorism, a full cessation of terror and violence and the carrying out of reforms according to the roadmap, it will be possible to return to the track of discussions and negotiations.
Everyone, especially the Palestinians, must therefore be aware and careful of what Sharon is planning. A unified Arab stand is needed to insist, and use all means possible to insist, on the implementation of international resolutions and the roadmap. This is not difficult. Israel follows the advice of the US Administration which gave Sharon the green light for a long time to wage his attacks against the Palestinian people.
After four years of the Palestinians’ steadfastness and patience the US administration should wake up to protect its interests in the Middle East. I am not talking here about principles, of which there are many. I am talking of US and world interests in the Middle East.
The time has come for the US officials to realize that there cannot be an independent peaceful Middle East unless an independent Palestinian state is established with full control over Palestinian lands occupied by Israel in 1967; that is, the West Bank (with East Jerusalem as a part of it), and the Gaza Strip.