Palestine since Gaza ‘disengagement’


This month marks the two-year anniversary of Israel’s ‘disengagement’ from the Gaza Strip. Professor Alan Dershowitz of Harvard Law School wrote the following in September, 2005: “Israel’s successful evacuation of the Gaza Strip demonstrates the desire and ability of the Israeli government to make and implement tough decisions necessary for a pragmatic peace based on a two-state solution.”[1]

Dershowitz is right. Although his article misrepresents the Israeli government’s intentions as benign, the Gaza ‘disengagement’ can only be understood as the first step in Israel’s long-term objective of imposing what they call a ‘two-state solution’ on the Palestinians. Many analysts sympathetic to the Palestinian cause have written, correctly, that the Gaza withdrawal has coincided with settlement expansion in the West Bank. Few, however, define the political endgame Israel is moving toward.

The purpose of this article is to outline, briefly, the long-term objectives of the ‘disengagement’, to show how they’ve been implemented in the West Bank during last couple of years, and to describe current conditions in Gaza. Doing so can help provide a framework for interpreting the recent and upcoming diplomatic summits in the region, including the renewed talk of moving toward a final settlement.[2]

Ephraim Sneh, a member of the Israeli Labor Party who has held several senior posts in the Israeli military and government, has summarized the purposes of the ‘disengagement’ plan. “The goal is to perpetuate Israeli control in most of the West Bank, and to repel any internal or external pressure for a different political solution,” he writes. When the construction projects are complete, “The Palestinians will be left with seven enclaves connected by special highways for their use”, and Israel will be left in control of eighty percent of historic Palestine.[3] The enclaves created by the Wall and settlements will, if the Sharonists have their way, form the basis of a Palestinian “state”.

Sneh’s calculations jibe with Sharon’s past announcements that he would tolerate a Palestinian “state” on 42% of the West Bank.[4] (The 42% figure is most likely based on the percentage of land Palestinians were given full or partial control over during the Oslo years). In December 2004, Zalman Shoval, then a senior advisor to Sharon, told The Boston Globe that “Sharon wants to wait until the [West Bank Wall] is completed” before negotiations on Palestinian independence can begin. “That way, [the Wall] would be more or less a line of reference for negotiations on the final border” of a Palestinian state, consisting of half the West Bank.[5]

Ehud Olmert, the current Israeli Prime Minister, has said that he is committed to the same goals as his predecessor, including use of the Wall to designate Israel’s “final borders.”[6] If the government views the borders as permanent for Israel, of course, then they must also be permanent for their Palestinian neighbors and any future “state”.

This is a useful backdrop against which to interpret current Israeli activities in the West Bank.

Presently, some 450,000 Israeli settlers live in the West Bank.[7] Since the Gaza ‘disengagement’, their overall population has continued to expand some three times as fast as that of cities in Israel proper.[8] In the first half of 2005, the year the ‘disengagement’ was carried out, “there was a twenty-eight percent increase in settlement housing starts compared to the same period in 2004″, according to the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics.[9] The leading Israeli newspaper, Ha’aretz, recently reported on a “population boom” in non-East Jerusalem settlements, resulting in a 5.45% growth rate for the colonies in 2006.[10] Currently, three thousand new housing units are under construction in the West Bank.[11]

The two major documents driving Likud/Kadima settlement policy, to which Olmert is an heir, have historically been the Drobless Plan and the Sharon Plan. Both define the objective of settlements as to incorporate Palestinian land into Israel and to defeat the possibility of viable Palestinian statehood by fragmenting the West Bank into isolated chunks. According to the Drobless Plan, “The best and most effective way to remove any shred of doubt regarding [Israel's] intention to hold Judea and Samaria [i.e., the West Bank] forever is a rapid settlement drive in these areas.”[12]

As Minister of Agriculture in the first Likud government, in 1977, Ariel Sharon said of the settlements: “We have to physically dominate the entire West Bank….We have to establish wedges of Israeli/Jewish settlement between centers of concentrations of Arabs on either side of the green line [i.e., the border between the West Bank and Israel]… And we have to make physically impossible the creation of any territorial contiguity on the part of the Palestinians.”[13]

In a recent report, Amnesty International writes: “By building a network of settlements and a network of ‘bypass’ roads around all the Palestinian towns and villages, Israel has removed the possibility of Palestinian territorial contiguity in the West Bank…and ensured effective control of the entire [area] – and of the lives of more than two million Palestinians who live there.” This is part of what they describe as “Israel’s policy of dividing the Occupied Palestinian Territories into disconnected and non-viable fragments”, which “continues to be implemented at a growing pace.”[14]

In a major May 2002 report on Israeli settlement policy, “Land Grab”, the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem writes: “The drastic change that Israel has made in the map of the West Bank prevents any real possibility for the establishment of an independent, viable Palestinian state as part of the Palestinians’ right to self-determination” (p.133).

Perhaps the most dangerous aspect of the Wall, from the standpoint of Palestinian survival, is its path around greater Jerusalem. Under the projected route, Human Rights Watch argues, the last remaining land corridor connecting the northern and southern West Bank – an area known as “E-1″ – will be surrounded and effectively annexed to Israel, thus cutting the West Bank into two pieces.[15] East Jerusalem – the historic center of Palestinian economic, cultural, and social life – will be isolated and virtually inaccessible from the rest of the West Bank, resulting in immeasurable hardship for Palestinians as a result.[16]

The Israeli settlement monitoring organization Peace Now has also strongly argued against building settlements in E-1, for similar reasons. They agree that doing so would cut the West Bank in half, and “sever access to East Jerusalem for Palestinians in the West Bank, and sever access to the West Bank for Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem.” “Both of these situations”, they write, “are antithetical to the achievement of any real, durable peace agreement and the establishment of a viable, contiguous Palestinian state”. They assert that “No serious analyst would support” the assumption that “Israeli-Palestinian peace and a two-state solution are possible without East Jerusalem being contiguous with and part of a Palestinian state.”[17] Although the Israeli government has not yet begun construction of settlements in E-1, they certainly intend to surround the area with the Wall,[18] so the effects will be the same.

B’Tselem contends: “The construction of the Separation Barrier is the final step in the almost-completely isolation of East Jerusalem. It finalizes the division of the West Bank into easily controlled portions, and renders social, commercial and family life untenable for Palestinians in Jerusalem and its environs”, dealing a “further blow to any chance of resolving the conflict through negotiations and agreement.”[19]

Israel is currently building a road which is said to ensure territorial contiguity for Palestinian after completion of the Wall. Yet, even Martin Indyk – a former AIPAC employee and one-time senior advisor to the Clinton administration – argues that Israel should give E-1 to the Palestinians. “E-1 is a critical issue in maintaining the territorial integrity and contiguity of the West Bank with East Jerusalem – it’s the only place where it’s possible to do that”, he recently told the New York Times.[20]

Meanwhile, two years after the ‘disengagement’, Gaza is “under the effective control of Israel” as a “sealed-off, imprisoned, and occupied territory”, in the words of the UN’s Special Rapporteur on human rights in Palestine.[21]

According to the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, Israel controls Gaza’s “air and sea space, movement between Gaza and the West Bank (also via neighboring countries), the population registry, family unification, and the crossing of goods to and from Gaza…Also, residents of Gaza rely solely on Israel for its supply of fuel, electricity, and gas.”[22]

Gisha: Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, an Israeli organization, asserts that “Israeli control over the lives of Gaza residents remains constant”, including the ability to control all imports and exports by virtue of its ability to “close all crossings into Gaza”.[23] Put simply, Gaza is still occupied, and Israel therefore retains obligations to its residents under the Hague Regulations and Fourth Geneva Convention, Gisha says. Human Rights Watch agrees: “Under international humanitarian law, Gaza remains occupied, and Israel retains its responsibilities for the welfare of Gaza residents.”[24]

Given these facts, it’s tempting to say that nothing’s changed in Gaza since the ‘disengagement’. Yet, things have changed; by many indicators, the humanitarian situation there is worse than it has ever been. The disaster has emerged as a consequence of Israel’s withholding of tax revenues to the PA, the boycott of the same institution by international governments, and the imposition of increased movement restrictions in the occupied territories.

Human Rights Watch writes that, in 2006, “The closure of Gaza was more complete than at any time since the outbreak of the intifada in 2000, with the Rafah international border, Erez crossing, and other crossings into Israel designed for the transport of goods closed entirely or opened only irregularly, with disastrous effects on Gazan exports and imports.”[25]

Amnesty International writes: “The extent of the blockade imposed on the Gaza Strip for most of 2006 has been unprecedented…the long blockade of [Karni commercial crossing] halted the export of Palestinian goods, causing waste of perishable agricultural exports and a loss of markets for these and other exports. The blockade resulted in the closure of 920 small factories, which in December 2005 employed 25,500 workers, as they were no longer able to export their products.”[26]

According to Gisha, Israel’s “administrative control of civilian life has intensified since the completion of Israel’s disengagement plan”, and “Israeli actions since September 2005…have contributed to an economic and humanitarian crisis in Gaza not seen in the 38 years of Israeli control that preceded the withdrawal of permanent ground troops.”[27]

The UN refugee agency working in Occupied Palestine, UNRWA, describes Gaza as “locked down and imprisoned”, as “closure of the crossing points for commercial and construction goods…has reached unprecedented levels.” The “conditions of siege imposed on Gaza and the ongoing fragmentation of the West Bank are destroying the fabric of Palestinian society”. As a result, “Living conditions in Palestinian areas are now deplorable, slumping to levels unseen since 1967. Every aspect of life has been affected; the entire Palestinian population is suffering. The majority are now dependent on food and cash handouts.”[28]

Recently, a senior official of the UNRWA warned that, as a consequence of Israeli-imposed closures, “Gaza risks becoming a virtually one hundred percent aid dependent, closed down and isolated community within a matter of months, or even weeks, if the present regime of closure continues”,[29] while the World Bank has warned that the territory is in danger of an “irreversible” economic collapse.[30]

As a consequence of what B’Tselem has called a “protracted economic siege that forces on Gazans a life of poverty and want”, [31] eighty percent of Gaza’s factories have closed down, while the territory’s “local private sector, identified by international mediators as the well-spring of Palestinian economic recovery and thereby hopes for peace, faces terminal decline”, the Financial Times reports.[32]

Oxfam writes that, as a consequence of the financial boycott of the PA, “the number of Palestinians living in poverty has jumped by 30%, essential services are facing meltdown, and previously unknown levels of factional violence plague Palestinian streets.” The number of Palestinians living in deep poverty, on less than 50 cents a day, “nearly doubled in 2006 to 1 million”.[33] According to the UNRWA, 87.7% of households in Gaza, and 55.6% in the West Bank, live in poverty.[34] The UN has reported that half the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories are starving, or in danger of starving.[35]

Israeli military attacks, like the siege off Gaza, have intensified since ‘disengagement’. “Both air and artillery shelling increased throughout the year after the withdrawal,” according to the Palestinian human rights group Al-Haq.[36] The UNRWA has reported “daily shelling, ground incursions and air operations” into Gaza as part of the “Summer Rains” operation, “causing widespread damage and leading to high numbers of civilian casualties.”[37] Following ‘disengagement’, B’Tselem writes, “Israel increased its attacks on armed Palestinian activists, killing many bystanders in the process.”[38]

These killings are part of what Physicians for Human Rights (Israel) describes as “Israel’s policy of terrorizing the civilian population” of Gaza, including “the deliberate and conscious killing of civilians.”[39]

Israel and its apologists defend these attacks on “security” grounds. Yet, according to Human Rights Watch, there were fewer Palestinian suicide attacks in 2006 than any year since the al-Aqsa intifada began in September 2000. Two Israelis died from the much-publicized qassam missiles launched from Gaza.[40] And although the number of Israelis killed by Palestinians diminished by half, the number of Palestinians killed by Israel tripled, according to Amnesty International.[41] In all, according to B’Tselem, Israel killed 660 Palestinians, and Palestinians killed 23 Israelis, in 2006.[42]

So, two years after the Gaza ‘disengagement’, this is the tragic reality in Occupied Palestine. Although the Israeli government is attempting to move toward some kind of a ‘two state solution’, the “pragmatic peace” envisioned by Dershowitz is a long way off.

Jake Hess is a graduate student at Brown University. He welcomes feedback at JakeRHess(at)gmail.com

Sources

[1] Alan Dershowitz, “This time, peace may be the real thing”, Chicago Tribune, September 09, 2005.

[2] See, for example, Samuel Sockol, “Olmert, Abbas, Hold ‘Promising’ Talks Ahead of Proposed Summit”, Washington Post, August 07, 2007.

[3] Ephraim Sneh, “Sharon’s plan will perpetuate war”, Ha’aretz, October 11, 2004.

[4] Ari Shavit, “Sharon is Sharon is Sharon”, Ha’aretz, April 12, 2001.

[5] Dan Ephron and Farah Stockman, “Bush camp cautious on post-Arafat support”, The Boston Globe, December 19, 2004 .

[6] Greg Myre, “Olmert Outlines Plans for Israel’s Borders”, The New York Times, March 10, 2006 .

[7] Amnesty International, “Israel and the Occupied Territories”, annual report 2007.

[8] John Dugard, “Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967″, UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, January 29, 2007, para. 32.

[9] Cited by Human Rights Watch in “Israel: Expanding Settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories”, December 27, 2005.

[10] Nadav Shragai, “Ultra-Orthodox Jews deliver a population boom to the West Bank”, Ha’aretz online, August 14, 2007 . See also Peace Now, “Summary- Peace Now Settlement/Outpost Report 2006″, February 21 2007. Neither report deals with settlements in East Jerusalem.

[11] Tovah Lazaroff, “Peace Now: Israel is building 3,000 new homes in West Bank”, The Jerusalem Post, February 22, 2007.

[12] Quoted by B’Tselem in “Land Grab: Israel’s Settlement Policy in the West Bank”, May 2002, p. 14. B’Tselem cites: Matitiyahu Drobless, “The Settlement in Judea and Samaria – Strategy, Policy and Program” (in Hebrew), World Zionist Organization, September 1980.

[13] Quoted by Geoffrey Aronson (Director of Research and Publications at the renowned Foundation for Middle East Peace, as well as Editor of its indispensable “Report on Israeli Settlements in the Occupied Territories”), ” Sharon’s New Map”, FMEP, June 19, 2002.

[14] Amnesty International, “Enduring Occupation: Palestinians under siege in the West Bank”, June 2007, pgs. 20 and 32.

[15] Human Rights Watch, “Israel/Occupied Palestinian Territories”, annual report 2006.

[16] See UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, “Three Years Later: The Humanitarian Impact of the Barrier Since the International Court of Justice Opinion”, July 09, 2007; UNOCHA, “The Humanitarian Impact of the West Bank Barrier on Palestinian Communities: East Jerusalem”, June 2007; Human Rights Watch, “Israel: Expanding Settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories”, December 27, 2005; and Chris McGreal, “Secret British document accuses Israel; FO paper says international laws are being violated and peace jeopardized”, The Guardian, November 25, 2005.

[17] Peace Now, “Settlement in Focus: What is E-1?”, May 2005.

[18] Maps of the Wall around Jerusalem are available here: (go to page 9) and here:

[19] B’Tselem, “A Wall in Jerusalem: Obstacles to Human Rights in the Holy City”, Summer 2006, pgs. 29, 31.

[20] Steven Erlanger, “A Segregated Road in an Already Divided land”, The New York Times, August 11, 2007.

[21] Dugard, ibid.

[22] B’Tselem, “The Gaza Strip after disengagement.”

[23] Gisha, “Disengaged Occupiers: The Legal Status of Gaza”, January 2007. Also see Amnesty International, “Enduring Occupation: Palestinians under siege in the West Bank”, June 2007, pg. 31.

[24] Human Rights Watch, “Israel/Occupied Palestinian Territories”, annual report 2006. Also see HRW’s 2007 annual report entry on “Israel/Occupied Palestinian Territories” (January 2007).

[25] Human Rights Watch, annual report, January 2007.

[26] Amnesty International, “Israel and the Occupied Territories: Road to Nowhere”, December 2006.

[27] Gisha, ibid.

[28] UNRWA, “Emergency Appeal 2007″.

[29] UNRWA, “Press Statement by Filippio Grandi, Deputy Commissioner General, UNRWA”, Gaza City , August 09, 2007.

[30] “World Bank: Gaza Strip may face ‘irreversible’ economic collapse”, Reuters/Ha’aretz, July 12, 2007.

[31] B’Tselem, “The siege on the Gaza Strip”, July 26, 2007.

[32] Harvey Morris, “Industry in Gaza Strip near collapse”, Financial Times, August 03, 2007.

[33] Oxfam, “Poverty in Palestine: the human cost of the financial boycott”, April 13, 2007, pgs. 1, 3.

[34] UNRWA, “Emergency Appeal 2007″, p. 8.

[35] Donald Macintyre, “Half of Palestinians in West Bank and Gaza malnourished”, The Independent, February 22, 2007 .

[36] Al-Haq, “One Year after the ‘Disengagement’: Gaza still Occupied and under Attack”, p. 2.

[37] UNRWA, “Emergency Appeal 2007″, p. 11.

[38] B’Tselem, “The Gaza Strip after disengagement”.

[39] PHR-Israel, “Report: Harm to Children in Gaza”, November 08, 2006, pgs. 2, 3.

[40] Human Rights Watch, annual report, 2007, p. 5.

[41] Amnesty International, “Israel and The Occupied Territories”, Report 2007.

[42] B’Tselem, “683 people killed in the conflict in 2006″, December 28, 2006.

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