'Disengagement': Just Another Brick in the Wall

Sharon's disingenuous game of bait-and-switch

Palestinian National Authority

This is a "fence"? More like another wailing wall.
Palestinian National Authority

Most of the world is distracted by the astonishing sight of Jews evicting Jews from illegally occupied land in Gaza. But don't think of Ariel Sharon's "disengagement" plan as a step toward peace.

While the cameras are focused on Gaza, Jerusalem is being rapidly expanded and walled off, shutting out not only Muslims but also Christians.

The occupation is far from over, which means that Israel's security worries will only increase.

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Americans for Peace Now (APN), the vibrant but little-publicized U.S. arm of a strong peace movement among Israeli Jews, recently noted plans to build a Jewish neighborhood inside the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem's Old City.

Judging by coverage in the U.S. press, you'd think that most Israelis are religious fanatics bent on flouting international law by using the Bible to claim land that is not theirs. Not true. They're like us—dominated by a government of zealots and ideologues.

As APN notes, a survey released in late July by Tel Aviv University's Herzog Institute indicated that 57 percent of Israelis believe the settlements in Gaza should have never been created, and 52 percent say those settlements have worsened Israel's security.

As for what's going on in Jerusalem, watch out. Here's an APN excerpt based on reports by the AP and Maariv:

    Jerusalem Councilman Peppe Allalo vehemently protested the political motives behind the [Jerusalem] project, describing it as a "virtual" plan that was merely geared as a provocation.

    "This plan is liable to cause a third Intifada," he said. "From the Muslims' point of view, it's like ascending the Temple Mount. Also in terms of planning, this is a disaster because the plan undermines all the principles of preserving the Old City and the municipal master plan."

    Allalo added that the municipality would have to rezone a "green" area to build the apartments. MK Ran Cohen went further in a protest letter to Housing Minister Yitzhak Herzog, writing, "The sole purpose of this plan is to insert a political divider in the Old City. The plan is a keg of dynamite [that] is liable to set Jerusalem ablaze, to tear the delicate membrane between Muslims and Jews in the city, and even to become the focus of an international political crisis in the Middle East."

    Informed sources said the project was pushed forward mostly by people from the Prime Minister's Office and the Jerusalem Mayor's Office.

But don't listen to just those in mad, sad Israel. Lindsey Hilsum writes in the latest issue of the New Statesman:

    While we are reporting the demise of the Gaza settlements, [Sharon] is presiding over the creation and expansion of settlements in more strategically important areas, where few are watching. According to Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics, 3,981 new "housing units" are under construction in the occupied West Bank. At the same time, the Israeli government is building apartments and infrastructure on the outskirts of Jerusalem, to consolidate its hold over the city both Israelis and Palestinians claim as their capital.

And the focus on Gaza, Hilsum writes, means that Jerusalem is off the negotiating table, as far as the right-wing Israelis are concerned:

    "We were stuck, so we decided to change the strategic equation," explained an Israeli general. Whatever the talk about the "road map to peace", after withdrawing from Gaza, there will be little pressure on Israel to negotiate on Jerusalem or anything else.

    The onus will be on the Palestinians to prove to the world that they can run Gaza. The Israelis will sit back and wait for them to mess it up. If the Palestinian Authority fails to stop Hamas from lobbing missiles into Israel, or if the factions fight among themselves in Gaza, creating a "failed state" before there is any Palestinian state at all, it will be more reason for Israel not to negotiate.

    "The significance is the freezing of the political process," said Sharon's senior adviser Dov Weisglass, in an interview last year so frank that his boss tried to distance himself from the remarks. "When you freeze that process, you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state and you prevent discussion about the refugees, the borders and Jerusalem. In effect, this whole package that is called a Palestinian state, with all that it entails, has been removed from our agenda indefinitely."

Analysts at the serious and sober International Crisis Group warned on August 2 of "The Jerusalem Powder Keg." Here's just one of many specific examples of what the Sharon government means to do with its horrific "separation barrier"—a wall that's already been condemned by the International Court of Justice:

    The separation barrier, once completed, would create a broad Jerusalem area encompassing virtually all of municipal Jerusalem as expanded and annexed in 1967 as well as major settlements to its north, east, and south. This new "Jerusalem envelope", as the area inside the barrier euphemistically has been called, incorporates large settlement blocks and buffer zones, encompasses over 4 per cent of the West Bank, absorbs many Palestinians outside of municipal Jerusalem and excludes over 50,000 within, often cutting Palestinians off from their agricultural land.

Again, don't be fooled by what's going on in Gaza. The ICG report adds:

    As virtually all recent Israeli-Palestinian peace plans, as well as Crisis Group's own 2002 proposal, recognise, Israel's future capital will include Jewish neighbourhoods of Jerusalem that were not part of Israel prior to 1967 and are home to over 200,000 Jews today.

    Moreover, Israel has legitimate security concerns in Jerusalem, where Palestinian attacks since the intifada have led to hundreds of dead and more than 2,000 wounded. Addressing them will require energetic steps, including Israeli but also and importantly Palestinian security efforts.

    But the measures currently being implemented are at war with any viable two-state solution and will not bolster Israel's safety; in fact, they will undermine it, weakening Palestinian pragmatists, incorporating hundreds of thousands of Palestinians on the Israeli side of the fence, and sowing the seeds of growing radicalisation. …

    Perhaps most significantly, current policies in and around the city will vastly complicate, and perhaps doom, future attempts to resolve the conflict by both preventing the establishment of a viable Palestinian capital in Arab East Jerusalem and obstructing the territorial contiguity of a Palestinian state. None of this is good for the Palestinian people, the people of Israel, or the peace process.

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