Thursday, December 30, 2004


Sharon, Bush, and the generous offer of a Palestinian state

Azmi Bishara, a member of Israel's Knesset, has a fantastic (if a bit poorly edited) piece in the current al-Ahram Weekly, in which he discusses the recent talk by Bush and Sharon that expresses interest in the creation of a Palestinian state. Bishara writes:
But more importantly to Sharon, the state has now become a prerequisite for continuing negotiations over a final settlement. Yes, what since Rabin had been regarded as a distasteful inevitability of a permanent settlement has become an Israeli demand that must be fulfilled not just before a permanent settlement but instead of a permanent settlement To Sharon, a Palestinian state is another word for a protracted interim period. Whether this state is created on a little more or a little less than 40 per cent of the occupied territories is not the point; the point is to make it the cornerstone of a drawn-out interim phase after which negotiations will take place with a government that has demonstrated its mettle as a government, which is to say proven its ability to monopolize the means of violence and to organize its legal and social affairs. Once this state is in place, according to Sharon's way of thinking, everyone can relax, because then negotiations over a the outstanding issues of a final settlement can proceed in a nice, genteel pace until the end of time if the negotiating parties so desire, because then the nature of the conflict will have been transformed into a dispute between two states. And what outstanding issues might two states have to settle between them? Borders of course. Niggling details over borders. Certainly not national rights or other matters pertaining to national liberation. And certainly not the Palestinian right to return. Naturally, the Palestinian state established in Gaza and a portion of the West Bank will have the right to grant passports to Palestinian refugees if it wants. In fact, it can even grant them the right to return to the areas within its borders. That would be its right as a state, which Sharon would gracefully acknowledge or, if not gracefully, he would object and then grudgingly make another "painful concession."
Similarly, the Gaza disengagement plan (the plan, not the actual disengagement) has turned the predominant view of Sharon from a fairly negative one (ranging from war criminal to politically savvy bully) to a generally positive one (ranging from the guy you don't like personally but gets things done to courageous clairvoyant starting martyrdom in the eye). Sharon has managed, with the help of George W. Bush, 9/11, and the lack of a strong counternarrative, to engage the world on his own terms. And thus, he will give the Palestinians what even Barak, with his "generous offer," did not give them: a state. Sharon will offer a state and, coming from him, it will be seen as the generous offer to end all generous offers. And maybe, as Bishara points out, it will fulfill none of the needs and desires of the Palestinian people. But if they turn it down, this will also work to the benefit of Sharon. Once again, the greedy Palestinians will have missed an opportunity for peace. And once again it will be proven that what they (the murderous Arabs) really want is to destroy the state of Israel and drive the Jews into the sea.

Thus, Sharon is willing to take the short-term losses (removing settlements from Gaza, a few from the West Bank, allowing the Palestinians to vote) in order to achieve a greater strategic advantage over the Palestinians. And he has to skillfully play the others in the Israeli right who have a hardline mentality, where any small concession is a step toward the annihilation of Israel. This is why he must deny comments by Ehud Olmert that there is going to be more disengagement from the West Bank following the current disengagement plan. But if you really read what Olmert said, it fits together.
In the interview, Olmert was quoted as saying, "There is no option of sitting and doing nothing. Israel's interest requires a disengagement on a wider scale than what will happen as part of the current disengagement plan". Olmert declined to define the extent of the second pull back, but said it was necessary to prevent Israel being forced to give up all the lands captured in the 1967 Middle East war.

But Olmert, a Sharon confidant, said the second withdrawal would go ahead regardless of whether the expected talks are successful. [italics are mine]
And giving the Palestinians a state is part of this whole game of changing the terms of engagement. As Bishara writes:
This is Sharon's concept of a Palestinian state. It is his alternative to a fully sovereign state with a capital in Jerusalem, to the 1967 borders and to the Palestinian right to return. And not one word of the roadmap contradicts his "vision." It is also his alternative to having to negotiate with a national liberation movement. There is a vast difference between negotiating a final settlement with a state and with a national liberation movement. Dozens of states have borders disputes; there is nothing particularly urgent or unsettling about them, unlike national liberation causes.
Take for example, the issue of Palestinian Jerusalemites voting in PA elections. Israel has stood in the way of their participation in the upcoming presidential elections. Expressed in terms of national liberation, you have a people denied democratic expression, denied representation in government, because of their nationality. However, if there is a Palestinian state that does not include East Jerusalem, then it is simply a matter of absentee balloting. Israel can argue that it is hardly it's responsibility to provide polling places for foreigners. And so you have a dramatic shift in perceived responsibilities when you shift from a national liberation movement to a state-state conflict.

Okay, I realize that's a whole lot of reading, but I really enjoyed Azmi Bishara's piece and I won't be writing much of anything else until next week. I hope everybody has a safe and happy new year!

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