Summary of the political Meeting which was organized by the Arab Thought Forum on 21 February 2004 on Israeli decision To withdraw From Gaza Strip. The following participants attended the meeting. Mr. Haidar Abdel Shafi, Mr. abdallah Hurani, Mr. Ghazi Sourani, Mr. tayseer Mhisin, Mr. Nabil Tarazi, Mr. Akram Abu Umar, Engineer Raja I Abu Sha ban. The ATF was represented by Mr. Salah Al-Saqa and Mr. Midhat Hilis.Mr. Abed Ai Karim Ashour , member of ATF Board of Trustees, moderated the meeting. Mr. Midhat Halas amd Mr. Nasr Yaqub prepared the minutes and Mr. Abdel Rahman Abu Arafa edited it.
The Israeli decision to withdraw from Gaza Strip is considered a significant turning point which has its important indications and effects. The least of what can be done is that this decision considers it essential to have a unified vision of all Palestinian forces in order to deal with this decision and face the Israeli challenges resulting from this decision. It is clear that the Israeli decision was surprising and relatively unexpected in light of the Israeli goals behind it. It would have been possible for the monitors to superficially expect that this new attitude is sudden but the content of the premises and the basic Israeli projects aim at lessening the intensity of the demographic situation between Israelis and Palestinians and this comes within the framework of the Israel perspective within a political context based on swapping Gaza for the West Bank. The essential question for discussion is the nature of the Palestinian position and the attitude to be adopted. What is the fate of the Road Map especially when speaking about the withdrawal from Gaza strip as part of the Map
1. Settlements in Gaza Strip
The Palestinian arena is being influenced by fast developments at a large degree of sophistication and complexity between the sides of the Israeli and Palestinian conflict since land and inhabitants are the core of conflict. Sharon has declared his readiness to alter the route of the Separation Wall and later declared his plan which is a unilateral withdrawal from Gaza Strip as a political solution based on his vision which is separation between the two people. It is worthwhile to shed light on the reality of settlements in Gaza Strip and point out the issues and matters relating to it. Israeli settlement in Gaza strip came within the context of the great Zionist Project which aims at settling in all Arab lands and settling immigrant Jews there. Ever since Israel occupied the Palestinian lands in 1967, the planning to settle in Gaza strip started. The Israeli pretext to build such settlements was an accumulation of the Israeli military forces in one place near the borders with Egypt on one hand and have settlement centers on the other hand in order to guarantee full control of most of the eastern regions in Gaza strip; moreover, it aimed at tearing Gaza Strip apart and controlling it especially following the increase in suicide attacks and the public uprising against occupation. In 1992, the Labor party under the leadership of Ishaq Rabin assumed power and issued a decision to freeze settlement activity in Gaza Strip and West Bank as a result of international pressure exerted on the Israeli government at that time. It has also embarked on the peace process with the Palestinians, but the decision was cancelled during the era of Netanyahu in 1996 when the Likkud government resumed confiscation of land and expansion of settlements. An analysis of the different forms of settlement in Gaza Strip is considered an essential step to understand the Israeli settlement mentality.
Israel has built nineteen settlements on an area of 23 thousand donums which is the constructed area of settlements. About another 23 thousand donums were allocated for security belt for these settlements. Hence Israeli settlements occupy 46 thousand donums about 41.8% of the total area of state owned lands which is about 110 thousand donums and 12,6% of the Gaza strip area which is 365 thousand donums inhabited by a population of one million people, whereas, about seven thousand people inhabit the nineteen settlements.
In general, Gaza settlements are located in two belts: First, the western belt stretching along the beach of Gaza except Gaza city beach and Jabalia area since construction preceded Israeli settlement there; the belt consists of 16 settlements namely: Nitsariym, Qatif, Yakal, Nitzr hazani, Gani Tal, Neve Idkalim, Gadid, Gan Ur, Bani atsmona, beit sidah, Kfar Darom, Rafih Bam and Baduh in addition to three settlement locations namel : Yagul, Tal Qatif, and Slafiy( Slau).
The Middle second belt is located at the main high way to Gaza strip which is Salah Addin 4 Road. It consists of three settlements Airez- Kfar Darum and Morag. As for the third belt, it is located inside the green line about 500-2500m away from the eastern borders of Gaza strip. It consists of twelve settlements from north to south are as follows: Ishdorot, Nir am, Gibat Nizmit-Miflasaim, Kfar azza, saad, Nahaal Uz, ain hash Losha, Niyrim, Kirim Shalom in addition to three settlement locations inside the lands of Gaza strip namely: Mintar, Mirav, Doron Shoshan.
The first belt represents a security belt on population agglomerates from the west and cuts it off from the sea shore, yet there is a gap which is Gaza city beach and Jabalia area so this gap is subject to strict surveillance of Israeli war ships since they can be seen by the naked eye even Palestinians sometimes witness pursuits of Israeli ship of Palestinian fishing boats. The second belt controls the main road Salah ad Din which starts from Airez and faces the northern entrance to Gaza Strip from Israel. Kfar Darom settlement was built to separate between Der Balah city and Khan Yunis while Morag settlement was built to control the road between Khan Yunis and
Rafah. The best indication of how dangerous are these settlements is what was concluded from
1996 incidents when the Israeli army split the Strip into three parts using the strategic locations of this belt in carrying out this partition.
The third belt which is located inside the Green line was established to strengthen the other two belts through gathering military forces near the strip to be exploited in fighting any threat. This was very clear at the time of Aqsa Uprising since these settlement were the main source of supplies for the Israeli forces which were ready to deploy into the Strip in order to protect the settlement and oppress Palestinians.
By looking at the distribution map of settlements in Gaza Strip and its influence on the Palestinian population clusters in Gaza strip, we notice the nature of this distribution. The Israeli settlements are located near the main population clusters in Gaza strip for a number of goals:
1. Easy monitor and follow up of different Palestinian activities inside these clusters.
2. Obstruction and interception of communication route between these clusters
3. An attempt to stop and obstruct any expansion of Palestinian housing and construction projects and preventing Palestinians from utilizing state-owned land.
4. Providing chances for a direct friction between Palestinian citizens and settlers to guarantee the break out of clashes and confrontations to be used as pretexts by the Israeli authorities to confiscate more lands on the basis of security reasons.
5. Imposing a settlement belt adjacent to the beach in order to lock up Gaza Strip between two western and eastern belts which are not far from the 1967 borders.
6. Full control of the main road in Gaza which is Salah ad Din Road.
7. Full control of sweet water resources and wells.
In light of all this, there is a conviction that the proposed withdrawal if implemented would not be complete, yet we should not underestimate the significance of Sharon s proposal since it sets a precedence for a right wing government to announce its intention to withdraw from settlements in the Palestinian territories and this matter in itself is considered an Israeli recognition of the illegality of these settlements and Palestinians should deal with this new development and push toward reinforcing and executing it.
2.Illusion of withdrawal
The Zionist Movement did not show any expansionist intentions in the Strip. In spite of the numerous settlements in Gaza, its demographic size is still too little; this makes one believe that the Zionist movement deals or tackles the issue of Gaza Strip as a negotiation tool of acceptance and refusal until it fulfills its real goals all over Palestine. Accordingly, it would not be possible to achieve Palestinian rights without carrying out a careful evaluation of the Israeli goals. The Israeli position will always be uneasy and unprepared to give up anything. Building on this, the Israeli government wills only under pressure give something to Palestinians. The only way to force Israel to give up its programs is to provide a number of conditions for the Palestinian Struggle.
3. Withdrawal: A possible reality
In order to understand the premise of withdrawal, there is a counter argument which sees withdrawal as a kind of deceit and maneuver. Irrespective of the preliminary statements which characterize the Israeli policy whether in holding fast to settlement in Gaza Strip or some thing else. In the final run, Sharon is a politician who exploits suitable conditions and tries to create suitable climates to implement his programs. It is also possible to intercept his political tactics and
confront them and this solution is not restricted to Gaza settlements only but also fully integrates with the issue of the separation wall i.e. he formulates the Israeli solution in its entirety according to his conceptions, the current period and its requisites. According to the Israeli point of view, these conditions whether at the Palestinian level, Arab level or world level are the most appropriate to implement the solution within the context of the Israeli perspective.
The Palestinian condition especially the Palestinian official position has become very weak besides the absence of an adopted strategy by the Palestinian leadership. By the same token, this state of weakness negatively influences National and Islamic forces which did not come into agreement on a unified political program in which the means, methods and timing of resistance are determined. It is noticeable that the Arab regimes which previously tried to establish its presence in Palestine are now detaching themselves from any link or relationship with the cause. The Arab situation and the weak Arab nation in addition to the current international situation especially that of the Americans and the British have been established to enable Sharon to dictate his political vision on all parties. The European position should be looked at on the basis that the European policies do not oppose the American policy. Due to the clear American backing and support of Israel, the issue of the Middle East crisis and the Israeli Palestinian conflict do not have a priority in the American policy due to their preoccupation in Iraq, Afghanistan and elections.
There is a strong basis for the belief that all American political and diplomatic moves, contacts with all parties and sending of delegations are unreal tactical efforts since they are only there to serve the elections. In light of this data, the project of building the wall or withdrawal from Gaza has become the solution. The American remarks will not change a thing in the essence of the Israeli programs. Thus it is doubtful whether the Israeli withdrawal will truly come into effect without the framework of an agreement. The Arab regimes will most probably exert pressure on the Palestinian side in order for the Israeli plan to become part of the agreement which determines the ceiling of Palestinian negotiations especially at a time when the current Palestinian condition is most vulnerable to any pressures to this effect.
4. Strategies to exit from the crisis
The required Israeli reply is a refusal of the Palestinian leadership to sign such an agreement. If a withdrawal from Gaza was decided then let it take place with out signingan agreement or a contract agreement. The presence of a unified Palestinian political position and a unified leadership which is based on a unified program of resistance on one hand and political action on the other is also part of the reply which is in addition to crystallization of a plan of action to move at the Arabic level and lift the ceiling of the Palestinian political address towards a criticism of the Arab position.
There are no true hopes to exit from this crisis, but there is a prospect to launch realistic initiatives which might ease the burden of the course of events. This requires an address of the internal situation especially in light of the freeze in political negotiations which comes side by side with the accumulation of crises for more than decades.
The absence of law, the weak societal values and the instability within the framework of the Palestinian political action make the political horizon limited regarding the possibility of reaching a political solution within the minimal level aspired by the Palestinian people. Nevertheless, hope should not be lost. There are forces and factions who realize that the future of the Palestinian people requires the presence of a joint vision representing the interests of the Palestinian people and the minimal political level for any future solution is the establishment of a Palestinian State on
the Occupied Lands of 1967. As for the minimal requirement for the society, it is a political system which respects the rule of law and abides by its democratic implementation, holds elections on time and respects plurality, multiplicity and participation. The current internal political map is concentrated in Fattah movement. Practically speaking the concept of national unity and the embodiment of pluralism are not being practiced in a way that stops any kind of real attempt towards political participation and plural work which will lead to a joint national program especially when the second side in the political map represented by the religious movements proved to be greatly significant. It is noticed that the religious movements are inclined to negotiate with other Arab and international parties. Negotiations with American and European sides have actually started in an attempt to find a way or an exit in order to prove its political role in what is coming or to study the nature of this role.
As for the third part of the political map, it is represented by the opposition which is known as Left Opposition or Nationalism ; it is a weak part as a result of many reasons and factors it could not surpass. Thus this trend is facing two tracks of pressure, the Authority and its party on one side and the religious movement which is represented by Hamas and Jihad on the other. These forces cannot be prejudice to the views and visions they hold, yet this situation does not forbid the
reproduction of the same slogan which was commonly used over the last eight years namely: National Unity, Political Pluralism and Participation. Nevertheless the demand to have such slogans has clashed with the Authority who did not show any inclination towards dealing with such slogans. This requires the Palestinian forces to adopt a democratic policy of firmly confronting the performance of the Authority. The way to exit from this crisis is in returning to the right slogans which are summarized in the implementation of the principle of political participation according to the concept of pluralism and formulation of a national program which shows the general principles which must be followed as a national internal political societal and joint program whose main goal is the establishment of an independent state, the implementation of a law abiding democratic political system within the framework of a unified leadership who has a clear vision of political negotiation and the nature of internal life which is linked to a democratic political system. It is possible to consult all documents in the possession of those concerned persons over the years in order to reformulate major issues in an up to date manner.
As for the Arab regimes, they are unreliable since they are currently moving away from a state of subordination which may be called Containment State under the American and Israeli policy. The Arab regime seeks very diligently to get rid of its huge burden which is the Palestinian question; this system is no longer capable of drawing up its policies nor is it capable of making any independent Arab decision.
5. Israeli Project: Right moment and timing
The Palestinian project is being exposed to a serious, systematic and continuous attempt to terminate it whether as a result of Occupation policies or the weak performance and address of Palestinians. This problem in question, however, is to discuss Sharon s project in light of significance, timing, content and future implications.
It can be inferred and recognized that the mentality which was behind the Zionist project is a systematic one which uses all energies and potentials. It is a kind of mentality which follows all forms of tactic and adopts suitable strategies; it also includes Sharon s plan. The matter can be viewed from a different perspective; it is right that the Palestinian performance was characterized by an absence of a strategy, yet there are two important factors which influence performance: The first was referred to by the late Professor Edward Said regarding the presence of a real Palestinian existence on the Palestinian land and is highly capable to absorb, adapt and impose its simple daily reality on the ground in order to effectively take part in deterring and stopping the Zionist project by making this project come to the conclusion that it is unable to fulfill its allegations. This is a crystal clear truth; the human existence which expresses its existence on a daily basis by offering sacrifices and attempting to absorb and contain repeated aggression on means of sustenance, dignity and security is an act which deserves appreciation and a moment of contemplation. Along side this legendary existence which is called now in the political jargon demography , it constitutes a big threat to Israelis who started expressing it in all aspects and perspectives of the Israeli policy.
The second factor is seen in part of the impractical Zionist allegations which can never come true as the historian Ben Morris indicated like the huge transfer Operations which have become impermissible in spite of the pitfalls of this world. Morris Ben Gorrion states that history ommitted a mistake by not dislocating more Palestinian than it already did; today s world does not allow the implementation of huge transfer policies; consequently, the Zionist project faces two obstacles: On one hand it is unable to uproot Palestinians from their Palestinian land to have a pure Jewish state and on the other hand it cannot adapt to this Palestinian existence and presence.
The Israeli mentality is in agreement on the solutions; first solution is in the options which were made following 1967 which were developed by the Left wing the last of which was in Barak s Government; it is the physical separation which is greatly embodied in the apartheid wall.
Now the Palestinians face two big questions:1. Why this plan now What is its fate What is the Palestinian position regarding it From an optimistic point of view it is an expression of the failure of the Zionist project due to the cost of occupation which has become very costly both materially and morally; and this has influenced the Israeli security military establishment. Others see that Sharon s plan come under the category of mere propaganda, time gaining , maneuver and fraud. The fate of the plan is uncertain. There are two possibilities for its implementation and timing which inevitably influence its fate; the first possibility is that it is an attempt to gain time which is an attempt to save Bush following what he is suffering from in Iraq and the new revelations concerning his allegations and his unlawful war there. The second possibility is that Sharon is seriously seeking to implement the plan and actually withdraw from Gaza strip or from large parts
of the settlements but keeping some basic settlements for security and strategic considerations. The question that needs an answer is that in the case of an Israeli withdrawal whether in the form of a deal as viewed by analysts which is a source of danger or without any deal. How could Palestinians deal with the new situation the day following the withdrawal and the disassembling of settlements in Gaza There are four bets in this regard: First, Palestinians are caught in a civil war, Second a disagreement takes place between security apparatus and establishments, third, forces and factions start fighting one another in order to control land. Everybody deals with this subject with great caution. The situation requires a rational and collective position to contain all new development s and changes.
There is a view which states that Sharon had made the right choice for the withdrawal from the Strip especially when he intends to depart to the United States to present Bush with a gift making him feel that he is implementing the Road Map and the that Palestinians have to follow suit and fulfill their part and commitment. What is feared most is that Israel will not withdraw from Gaza free of charge! No one knows exactly what is taking place behind the scenes. It seems that the element of surprise is a characteristic of the Palestinian arena and this is what had happened with
Oslo and Geneva Accords, so no one knows what will happen in light of this Israeli attitude! There is a crucial issue that needs to be raised at the internal level which relates to lands under control of settlements which are state owned lands which have an area of 46km equal to 40% of the total area of the Strip. This raises questions on how to utilize this area! Will this be a cause for internal problems to break out It is important to take this point into consideration especially when there were previous instances of trespassing and illegal exploitation of state-owned property; this constituted great challenges to security apparatus.
6. Implications of the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza Strip
It is well known that any architect carries out a housing project according to the available data he has. The valid question is what were the available data to the Israeli thinker and on the long run This comes after reaching a definite conclusion about the sincerity or insincerity of the new Israeli proposal and its intended goals in light of an Israeli controversy over why should we evacuate eventeen settlements and not totally get rid of the burden of Gaza strip and why settlements are evacuated and military bases are built instead! The Israeli controversy is still on. From a Palestinian point of view, there should be an understanding of the Israeli project in light of the Israeli and linking agreement with the American Administration. It is very crucial that Sharon crystallizes this project inside the Israeli society by making them feel at ease with it, and this is what is being discussed with the Labor party, military leadership and other parties. Careful examination of the above mentioned has to be carried out and every possible Israeli consultation with Arabs has to be traced since what really happens in the West bank and Gaza completely effects both Egypt and Jordan. It is also possible that the United States might impose new roles or force some states to carry out certain tasks to give the project an international dimension.
The reply to this challenge is to make Palestinian factions and forces have more detailed analysis of Sharon s goals concerning the elimination of the different components of state building and his conviction that the corruption of the Authority makes it ready to accept anything in order to survive. Authority in itself is an end to officials since they are ready to accept any project on the basis that they consider it a gain. It is important to keep an eye on the Authority if it tries to approve the initiative under other titles like Redeployment or any other justifications. In order to find an answer to what to do, there should be a Palestinian program with a clear vision.
The notion of withdrawal from Gaza did not come as one of the inspirations or dreams of Sharon. It is also worth noticing that the notion of other close parties to the government did not know about what is going on is to be ruled out. A decision in Israel is not passed this way especially those decision which are linked to issues with a strategic dimension. This decision is taken in a mature way by an establishment higher than governments. This means that a decision with a strategic dimension is taken by a team above the level of an establishment.
Zionist thought does not approve retreat; in fact, it advocates new development and modernization to fit the nature of changes that take place in the Arab world and the rest of the world. Although Israelis will not give up their dreams, the shape of occupation will change. Although they are unable to occupy the Arab world militarily, they have already occupied it intellectually and economically as the Zionist thoughts have been altered away from its mechanisms and shapes.
However, it is proceeding forward with the same spirits and the same program which was proposed 100 years.
The Palestinian national Project is passing through a stage of clear retreat and is living in real danger. This danger is gradually increasing as a result of the continuous presence of Israeli occupation and aggression and the existence of the Zionist project which is embodied on a daily basis and the weak Palestinian performance which includes more than one party. Having political courage and declaring the location of this danger are considered very essential to the process of what to do. Every project which does not cater for the minimal level of rights to Palestinians is categorically rejected.
Sharon s plan is an extension of the Zionist project but in a different embodiment, and it is also rejected. It is important to build on this understanding and to believe in the presence of internal and external factors and forces which can be fully exploited like the Palestinian steadfastness, International law, and the World public opinion which is increasingly becoming a means of huge pressure. Moreover, occupation is very costly and the Israeli society is paying a very high price; even suicide attacks whose timing and method might be rejected sometimes influence the Israeli society and raise the question: Where now and until when Factors of weakness in the Zionist project are numerous and varied; furthermore, factors of the Palestinian force are available and ready to build on. National unity in its simplest sense is one of these factors. This is what we should build upon if Israelis withdrew from Gaza in order to refute and reject the Zionist allegations and to prove that Palestinians deserve this life.