Gaza disengagement; West Bank “consolidation”

The Gaza disengagement is being completed, without the armed resistance from settlers that had been feared. Reports AP: “Israeli troops dragged sobbing Jewish settlers out of homes, synagogues and even a nursery school Wednesday and hauled them onto buses in a massive evacuation, fulfilling Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s promise to withdraw from the Gaza Strip after a 38-year occupation.” In one apparent effort to derail the disengagement by sparking a general conflagration, a Jewish settler shot dead three Palestinians in the West Bank. The assailant was reportedly a driver who had taken Palestinian workers to jobs in the Jewish settlement of Shiloh. Once there, he snatched a security guard’s gun and turned it on his passengers. He was arrested, and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon called the attack a “Jewish terror act.” Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas branded it “a terrorist incident.” Both leaders agreed it was intended to disrupt the pullout from Gaza, home to 1.4 million Palestinians. (AP, Reuters, Aug. 17)

But this unaccostumed unity between Israeli and Palestinian leaders condemning “Jewish terror” may prove somewhat illusory. We have already noted the deep Israeli double standard on what constitutes “Jewish terror.” Perhaps less obviously, the Gaza disengagement is concomitant with a “consolidation” of Israel’s illegal de facto annexation of large areas of the West Bank–a far more valuable and (significantly) fertile piece of real estate. The US media are largely ignoring this reality, but it is noted in a commentary by Martin Asser for the BBC Aug. 17. First Asser turns his attention to what will become of the lands left behind by the Gaza settlers:

When the settlers have been removed from Gaza, the Israeli army will demolish their mainly suburban-style homes and Palestinian and Egyptian contractors will help clear up the rubble.

This is at the request of the Palestinian Authority, which needs multi-storey buildings to deal with densely populated Gaza’s housing crisis.

Heavily fortified army posts that protected settlements, controlled Palestinians’ freedom of movement and segmented their territory will be dismantled and removed.

The army is expected to complete this task by October, when Palestinians will be allowed into the evacuated territory.

Palestinians will be able to use the whole of the Gaza Strip – less than 400 sq km – for the first time in decades.

The Palestinian Authority says about 5% of settlement land was taken from private owners and will be returned to them. The remaining state land will be developed for housing, industry and agriculture with a massive injection of international aid.

A 10-person committee – including members of the main Palestinian factions like Fatah and Hamas as well as independent politicians – has been set up to prevent graft and misuse.

However, continued Israeli control of Gaza’s borders mean that Palestinian sovereignty in the crowded, impoverished Strip will be, at best, highly conditional:

Israel, meanwhile, will stay in control of Gaza’s borders – with itself and with Egypt – and says a loosening of that grip will depend on whether the PA is doing enough to prevent arms smuggling to the militants.

There is an agreement for the deployment of 750 Egyptian troops to guard along the Philadelphi route, amending the Israel-Egypt peace treaty which dimilitarised the Sinai peninsula.

But if Israel keeps control of the Philadelphi route – turning Gaza into a “big prison” in the words of Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahhar – Hamas is threatening to resume attacks.

So the vicious cycle could well continue: as long as Gaza remains militarily surrounded, with Israeli troops controlling all access and egress, armed resistance will be practically inevitable–providing the justification for maintaining the Strip as an armed camp.

Worse still, Asser notes that some of the evacuated settlers will be given new lands–on the West Bank! The Gaza pullout is aimed at appeasing pro-peace sentiment in Israel. But:

Then there is the other plank of his unilateral disengagement policy – consolidation of settlement blocs in the West Bank and East Jerusalem

Israel says the barrier is a temporary security measure, but to most analysts it looks like the drawing of Israel’s border to annex more Palestinian land and shore up a Jewish majority in the Israeli state.

Such a move could put the possibility of a return to peace talks on hold for a long time to come.

In fact, some of the money the US is putting up for the Gaza disengagement may actually go towards further colonization of the West Bank:

The [Israeli] government is providing [the evacuated settlers] compensation and assistance to start their new lives in a financial package costing about $0.5bn. It has asked the US to help pay this as well as other pullout expenses.

Although hundreds of families will have broken the law by not leaving by the 17 August deadline, the authorities are not saying how they will be dealt with.

There seems little point in criminalising part of an important Israeli constituency while the government is hoping to heal wounds as quickly as possible.

In retrospect, both the tears of the Gaza settlers and, alas, the celebrations of the Palestinians over today’s events may wind up looking slightly ridiculous…

See our last post on the Gaza disengagement.