What happened was this: A cabal of young Kahanists had descended on Gaza from illegal West Bank outposts, setting up in an abandoned hotel, which they dubbed “the Song of the Sea.” They sat undisturbed for a month, writing obscene graffiti about Muhammad to provoke the nearby Arabs. They were determined, they said, to stay in Gaza until the cancellation of disengagement or death. Pundits trembled at the prospect of civil war.
The turning point came on a day when other opponents of disengagement blocked the country’s highways. The Kahanists had a brawl with the Arabs they had managed to provoke. At zero range they stoned – on camera –a young Palestinian who had already been knocked unconscious. The public backed away in revulsion. Feeling new wind in his sails, PM Ariel Sharon took action the next morning: the army surrounded the “Song of the Sea.”
The rest was anticlimax. Finding no support from their settler colleagues, the Kahanists turned in their weapons. Then elite army units entered the hotel and carried them to buses. No Masada. The threat of civil war evaporated. De-gunned, the settlers turned to sheep.
On the following day (July 1), in Yediot Aharonot, Gideon Maron and Oded Shalom wrote: “The right-wing extremists who barricaded themselves in Gush Katif could have been reined in a month ago. The army knew this but turned a blind eye, acting only yesterday, after blood was spilled.”
The month-long wait served to build up the drama, which Sharon needs. In order to serve his long-range policy aim, disengagement must take on mythic proportions. The greater the resistance against it, the more impossible it will seem to follow it with any Act II. That’s why he doesn’t do what Charles De Gaulle did with the French settlers in Algeria, fixing a date to pull out the army and saying that any settler who wants to remain in Gaza may apply to the Palestinian Authority. Rather, he needs the brouhaha as a doorstop: ‘This far we shall go, no farther. We can’t. Look how traumatic it is! Even this much has torn us apart!’
The financial aspect reinforces our suspicion. Dan Ben David, a lecturer on Public Economics at Tel Aviv University, has written that the purely civilian costs of the disengagement plan amount to 5.5 billion shekels, or an average of $611,000 per family. The 7000 Gaza settlers are 3% of the total settler population (not including occupied Jerusalem). At sums like this, how could the State afford additional traumas? Never.
But there is also a new round of fighting at the door. The political situation is clearer now – and worse for the Palestinians – than during the Oslo years. Then they signed an agreement that was open-ended, assuring them nothing. The accord was full of holes that each side could fill as it wished. Israel could claim that it had not yielded on the issues of settlements, Jerusalem or the right of return. The Palestinians could claim the opposite. It took each seven years to understand where the other side stood. Even now the Oslo agreement is obscure enough to inspire the most varied interpretations. The Disengagement Plan, on the contrary, leaves no room for doubt: Sharon repeatedly brandishes the promise he got from US President G. W. Bush: that the major settlement blocs are off the agenda. Thus he advances toward his real program: to separate Gaza from the West Bank.
The left-wing parties in the Knesset drift, meanwhile, toward oblivion. This applies both to Meretz-Yahad, which gives Sharon a parliamentary umbrella from outside his government, and also to Labor, which is inside. Professor Shlomo Ben Ami, who was part of the Israeli team at Camp David in July 2000, criticizes the Disengagement Plan as a patchwork leading nowhere: “Its backers don’t see it as a component in a broader plan for a political arrangement that will bring Israel to permanent recognized borders. In the final analysis, two senior politicians in Israel today, Ariel Sharon and Shimon Peres, are partners in the concept that Israel does not need to advance toward a permanent arrangement and an end to the conflict.” (Haaretz June 30.)
Laborites like to boast that Sharon is implementing their platform, but that is at best an illusion, at worst sheer fraud. Labor is merely preparing its seats in the next government, which it hopes Sharon will assemble – and not Binyamin Netanyahu. It has backed away from the challenge of building an alternative to the Likud.
The army waits eagerly for the first Kassam rocket that will fall after disengagement. It will then demonstrate that by getting rid of the settlements, it has improved its military position. It will be able to invade the Strip by land, sea and air without having first to take account of a vulnerable Jewish population there.
It is not just Israel, however, that will undermine Abu Mazen. Hamas has rejected his call to join his government. Thus it expressed its annoyance with him for delaying the parliamentary elections. Hamas understands why Abu Mazen wants it inside: so that he can avoid the moment of truth at the polling booth. Hamas also knows where its power resides. It is waiting for disengagement so that it can pluck the fruits by taking command of the Strip. There is a whiff of historical dialectic in this: Sharon, it would seem, is improving the position of Hamas!
The proponents of disengagement are wrong. The US is wrong in telling Abu Mazen to refrain from making conditions and simply allow Israel to leave. Abu Mazen is wrong to sit on his hands while Israel secures the tools it needs to continue ruling the West Bank. And finally, Sharon and his supporters are wrong. Their Disengagement Plan contains the seed of the third Intifada. The Palestinian people will not accept the new reality imposed by Israel: the imprisonment of millions, without means of livelihood, behind a fictive border of separation enhanced by actual fences and walls. The flames of the third Intifada will overcome all fences and walls.