[Marxism] The contradictions of "unilateral disengagement"

Marvin Gandall marvgandall at videotron.ca
Thu Jul 13 18:15:34 MDT 2006

Whatever the Israeli government's immediate objectives - it seems mostly to
be responding in panic to resurgent military and right-wing pressure within
the country in the wake of the kidnappings - the lasting significance of
this episode may well be the abandonment of its plans for unilateral
withdrawal from the Palestinian areas of the West Bank. In fact, this
project - which brought the governing Kadima-led coalition to office -
already appears to be dead in the water. The latest incidents highlight that
the policy of unilateral disengagement, first from Lebanon and then from
Gaza, has not brought Israel the hoped-for stability on its borders.
Palestinian and Hezbollah militants can still fire rockets and stage raids
inside Israel. Missiles can also arc over concrete walls.

Nevertheless, the overriding fact is that the occupation still remains
militarily, politically, economically, and demographically untenable for
Israel. That hasn't changed. It wasn't belated recognition of the historic
injustice to the Palestinians which motivated Sharon/Ohmert and their new
allies to decide on a pullback, however incomplete and unsatisfactory to the
victims. From the standpoint of most Israelis, a pullback is a matter of

In order to effect any kind of withdrawal, though, Israel needs security
guarantees, ie. that cross-border raids and shelling will cease. If it
hasn't been apparent to it's political and military leadership that these
need to be negotiated rather than imposed, it's been made abundantly clear
in the latest incidents. In other words, what Israel paradoxically requires
most is a strong Palestinian Authority - one which is both willing and able
to rein in the militants who want to continue the struggle.

In current circumstances, that can only be Hamas. Fatah was willing but
unable to perform that role. It will be interesting to see over the course
of the next weeks and months whether (1) the Israelis stop trying to
overthrow Hamas and quietly approach it instead with a view to negotiating
what can be described as a a very extended ceasefire or de facto peace
settlement and (2) whether the Israelis can offer enough territorial,
economic and other incentives to persuade the Hamas leadership to undertake
and police such an arrangement.

At any rate, this is the course being pressed on the Israeli government by a
former foreign minister under the Barak government, Shlomo Ben-Ami. His
opinion piece in today's Financial Times is reproduced below. Though it may
be hard to see through the current fog of war and high emotion, it's not to
be ruled out that the logic of a mutually exhausting stalemate will push
both parties in the direction he outlines.

*    *    *

Only deal with Hamas can bring peace
By Shlomo Ben-Ami
Financial Times
July 13 2006

Regardless of whether or not Israel's incursion into the Gaza Strip and its
massive retaliation against Lebanon achieve its military objectives, one
thing is clear. Israel's two-front war has dealt a mortal blow to the
"convergence plan" for the West Bank, the raison d'être of Ehud Olmert's
government and Kadima, his ruling party. Three months after its inception,
the Israeli government has been left without a political agenda. Oddly
enough, only Hamas can save it from prospectless political agony. The case
of Hiz­bollah is different. In Lebanon, it is the credibility of the
international community that brokered and legitimised Israel's withdrawal
that is at stake.

Disengagement and the dismantling of settlements in the West Bank is a far
more formidable task than the uni­lateral withdrawal from Gaza of Ariel
Sharon, former prime minister. But if disengagement in Gaza - a compact
strip whose border with Israel was never questioned - ushered in such a
state of war, what are the chances that a similar undertaking would succeed
in the West Bank? Here, a much more subtle, fluid and ambiguous division of
responsibilities with the Hamas government - which has been discarded as a
partner - is required.

Operation "summer rain" in Gaza has dramatically exposed the fallacy of
Israel's strategy of unilateral dis­engagement from Palestinian lands, and
the first to take notice are the Israelis themselves. An opinion poll by the
Reut Institute in Tel-Aviv conducted during the current flare-up showed a
sharp decline in the public support for the convergence plan. Only 38 per
cent would back it now, while 49per cent would strongly oppose it.

The sad lesson of the Gaza disengagement is that the spectre of Kassam
missiles being launched from a new frontline in the West Bank against big
urban centres in the Tel-Aviv area can no longer be seen as far-fetched. If
Mr. Olmert wants to save his convergence plan, he will have to co-ordinate
it with Ismail Haniyeh's Hamas government. This means using the current war
in Gaza as an opportunity to reach a settlement that goes far beyond the
issue of the abducted Israeli soldier. An Israeli government ready to
abandon incursions and targeted killings could draw strength from the Reut
Institute's poll indicating that 45?per cent of Israelis would now support
direct negotiations with Hamas.

Hamas is more susceptible than Mahmoud Abbas's Palestine Liberation
Organisation to a long-term interim agreement with Israel. What the PLO,
obsessed as it is with the endgame, refuses to contemplate - a temporary
settlement - is something Hamas would probably be ready to consider. But,
for a settlement with Hamas to be more enduring and reliable than one with
the PLO, Hamas must return to being a disciplined, hierarchical organisation
that is capable of observing a ceasefire. For both the collapse of the logic
of Israel's disengagement from Gaza and Hizbollah's assault on the
understandings that accompanied Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000 are
a sad reminder that Arab democracy is not necessarily the key to peace and
stability. The question is one of order and authority. The current two-front
war was, after all, triggered by independent militias over which the elected
governments have no authority. To be a reliable partner, Hamas must avoid
descending into Fatah's disastrous brand of institutionalised anarchy. Nor
should it become a state within a state like Hizbollah.

But the main rationale for a deal with Hamas over the convergence plan lies
in the fact that Israel and Hamas are united by a profound scepticism for
the peace process. Neither believes in the feasibility of an immediate
negotiated peace, nor are they possessed by past dreams of a celestial "end
of conflict". Israel is not ready to pay the price of a final settlement.
Hamas is not yet capable of compromising its core ideology by unequivocally
endorsing the two-state solution and the 1967 borders, and practically
waiving the right of return of Palestinian refugees.

An agreement over the convergence plan serves Israel's interest to have a
stable, albeit temporary, border in the West Bank. It suits Hamas because it
would end the international ostracism its government has endured since it
came to office and allow it to reconcile its ideological rejection of Israel
with a big step towards the "end of occupation". It would also give it the
breathing space it needs to address the domestic agenda that was, after all,
the main reason people voted it into office.

The writer is a former Israeli foreign minister and the author of Scars of
War, Wounds of Peace: The Israeli-Arab Tragedy

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