US president George W. Bush’s endorsement of Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon’s plans for redesigning and legitimising the political infrastructure of its occupation of Palestine has been widely decried.
US president George W. Bush’s endorsement of Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon’s plans for redesigning and legitimising the political infrastructure of its occupation of Palestine has been widely decried. In the Arab media it has been described as a new Balfour Plan, which is understandable perhaps but – purely in terms of its geopolitical implications for the region – must be regarded as something of an exaggeration. Although Bush’s statement does make the US’s traditional bias towards Israel blatantly obvious, abandoning all pretence of neutrality and of playing the ‘honest broker’, few informed observers took such claims seriously in any case. The Bush-Sharon plan is in truth a logical extension of the policies that Sharon has been working towards for years, and few observers can have expected the US to provide any genuine hindrance to them. The fact that Bush is facing re-election in increasingly difficult circumstances, and desperately needs the support of the the US’s powerful Jewish-zionist lobby if he is to survive for a second term in office, provided merely the opportunity for Sharon to grasp.
The details of the Bush-Sharon plan are well known: Israel is planning to withdraw from much of Ghazzah and parts of the West Bank, while making permanent and formal its annexation of six major settlement blocks in the West Bank, which would ensure Israeli control over areas east of Jerusalem. The plan has been described as a major departure from the ‘roadmap’ plan published in 2002, which is certainly true. The roadmap had called for an Israeli military withdrawal from Ghazzah and the West Bank, a freeze on settlements and for the so-called "final status" issues – refugees, settlements, permanent borders and the status of Jerusalem – to be decided subject to negotiation. The Bush-Sharon plan explicitly pre-empts negotiation on the issues of the Palestinians’ right of return, on settlements, and on territory, and moves significantly closer to the annexation of Jerusalem, which Israel undoubtedly plans and the US has previously encouraged. In return, Bush has offered Palestinians only the assurance that the "security fence" that Israel is building in the West Bank should not be permanent or form the basis of a future border; he also spoke again of supporting Palestinian aspirations for "a viable, contiguous, sovereign and independent state." The fence is in any case a new and illegal development, so it is hardly any concession to declare it to be temporary; while the realities on the ground in Palestine, as well as the key elements of the Bush-Sharon plan, preclude a viable Palestinian state.
None of this is particularly surprising. In both general terms, and in terms of detail, it represents a logical advance and development of previous US-Israeli plans for Palestine, moving as it does towards a greater Israel, with Jerusalem as its capital and a subordinate and emasculated Palestinian pseudo-state as a sop to Palestinian aspirations, and a place to absorb Palestinians currently living in areas that Israel has either already annexed – including areas occupied in 1948 – or plans to occupy in the future. (Remember also that the demographic realities of Israeli society make the expulsion of Palestinians from Israel essential if it is to survive as a Jewish state.) For all the high-faluting talk of establishing a sovereign Palestinian state, this is the unacknowledged, unadmitted vision that actually underpinned the Oslo peace process from its outset.
As in the past, the details of the Bush-Sharon plan have been widely analysed as though they represent the possible basis of a future permanent settlement. This is precisely how the roadmap was analysed two years ago, and how every previous proposal going back to Oslo has traditionally been greeted. Israel’s record, however, suggests that this is the wrong approach. For all Israel’s protests that they have found no "partners for peace" on the Palestinian side, from the very outset of the Oslo process (and not only under the leadership of Ariel Sharon), it has always been Israel that has consistently abandoned every agreement made with the Palestinians. At every stage, Israel has reinterpreted agreements to its own advantage, consistently increasing settlements despite repeated commitments to freeze them, and constantly imposed new conditions on the Palestinians. And always it has acted in the assurance that the US and international bodies will never take any effective action against them.
The conclusion is obvious and inescapable: for Israel, despite its claims and rhetoric, none of these plans is permanent or final. Each should be understood as part of this process towards a final settlement on its own terms, fulfilling the vision of a greater Israel as outlined above. One can only suspect – on the basis of Israel’s record and the statements of Sharon and other zionist leaders of Israel – that this one too is only a step towards further expansionism in the future.
Many western observers argue that, even if all this has an element of truth, the Palestinians have made it easier for the Israelis to pursue this process by their resistance to it. The assumption is that, had the Palestinians accepted any one of the plans offered in the past, Israel’s subsequent expansionism would have been pre-empted. This is to ignore the fact that Israel has regularly moved to further its war agenda even when Palestinians have tried to deal with them. Most of the 1990s provide an example; then, militant Palestinian resistance was minimal, as Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority tried to follow the terms of the Oslo process and agreements; Israel used the calm to exploit its dominant position politically, rather than do to same. Even Israeli commentators admit that since the outbreak of the al-Aqsa intifada – fuelled by Palestinian disillusion with the peace process and sparked by Sharon’s deliberately provocative invasion of the Haram al-Sharif (September 2000) – Sharon has consistently chosen to maintain the war whenever there has been any possibility of reducing it, despite the losses Israel has suffered.
Under these circumstances, and in the absence of any neutral outside power to ensure that any agreement is fulfilled, it would be folly for the Palestinians to abandon their resistance; their only alternative is effectively to surrender, accepting the apparent inevitability of Israeli domination in the short term and the total ‘ethnic cleansing’ of Palestine in the long term. The Palestinian problem is that their military resistance can be maintained at some level regardless of whatever force Israel brings to bear; but without a solid basis for political assertion of Palestinian rights no alternative vision for the future of Palestine can be realised. As long as the Palestinians are left alone, without any effective support from the rest of the Ummah, their resistance, though not pointless, must be endless. The onus is on Muslims the world over to find ways to turn their rhetoric about Palestine being an Islamic cause, rather than a nationalist one, into effective political action in support of the Palestinian struggle, insha’Allah.