Fifteen years ago, after the polical upheaval that followed the Knesset elections of 1992, the new Israeli Labor-Meretz-led government recognized the PLO as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, and signed the Oslo Accords as a first step in a process that was supposed to lead to the conclusion of peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Although it signed the agreement, Israel was not really prepared to meet the commitments as stipulated by the Accords, nor indeed to implement the relevant international resolutions pertaining to the Israeli-Palestinian question.
Under the leadership of former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon during the past five years, Israel's policy shifted from the search for a solution to the conflict to a new strategy that focuses on "conflict management," predicated solely on its own interests - the strategy of "unilateral disengagement." It is the contention of this article that Israel has moved to this new stage in managing the conflict with the Palestinians essentially to contain the demographic danger to the Jewish state and, at the same time, to solve the problem of a protracted occupation without having to pay the price expected by the Palestinians, or, at least, as demanded by the relevant international resolutions.
Sharon depended on broad public support to pursue a gradual, long-term interim solution, judging that the time hadn't yet come for achieving a comprehensive peace with the Palestinians. Following the failure of the Camp David summit in the summer of 2000, he estimated that the international community recognized that rapid solutions usually led to failure. He also realized that retaining control over the Palestinians of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip would add an economic burden to Israel and make it vulnerable to the many international and Israeli-Palestinian peace initiatives, like the Geneva Initiative by Yossi Beilin and Yasser Abed Rabbo, and the Nusseibeh-Ayalon initiative, both of which gained significant Israeli public support. Sharon was faced with the basic dilemma that Israel has been unable to resolve since its occupation of the Palestinian territories in 1967: the contradiction between the Zionist tendency to expand and annex new territories, and the need to preserve the Jewish character of the State of Israel (Ghanem, 2005a; Kabha, 2005; Muhareb, 2005; Mansour, 2006; Nofal and Shalhat, 2006).
Sharon's new approach allows Israel to arrive at some sort of settlement with the Palestinians while bypassing all the commitments of the Oslo agreement and, at the same time, to safeguard Jewish demographic superiority within the internal borders of the state up to the Green Line. This way Sharon could satisfy his public's demand for a long period of calm, without having to pay the hefty price of compromising to the Palestinians as required by international resolutions. Not surprisingly, this approach found a good deal of public backing, since the majority of Israelis support the establishment of a Palestinian state with a limited sovereignty and independence.
For Sharon, unilateral withdrawal became the only viable course for dealing with the Palestinian issue. It is largely based on his age-old vision of the need to annex large areas of the West Bank along the Green Line and the Jordan Valley, while concentrating the Palestinian population in segregated enclaves, connected, at best, by narrow strips of land. Gaza was the first enclave established along these lines. The substantive change in Sharon's stance here is not the acceptance of the need to divide the land of Israel, but rather the readiness to call the Palestinian enclaves a "state."

Components of the Israeli 'Post-Oslo' Stand

The goal of the Israeli post-Oslo policy is essentially based on the following points: the drawing of Israel's permanent borders unilaterally and not through bilateral agreements; the preservation of a Jewish numerical superiority within the borders of the State of Israel; the establishment of a cooperating authority on the Palestinian side to cater to Israel's security and basic economic and services needs. To accomplish this, Israel would have to annex all of the land along the Green Line and in the Jordan Valley, and additional large swaths of land to achieve contiguity between the Jordan Valley and the Dead Sea.
Furthermore, Israel would expand settlements that are to stay in the Palestinian territories by stepping-up building and encouraging Jews to settle there. This suggests that Israel would have to cede control over densely populated Palestinian areas to a Palestinian authority and remove the Jewish settlements in those areas. Consequently, eight to nine Palestinian enclaves would be established, each hemmed in by settlements and military structures. Israel would have no objection should the Palestinians choose to call these enclaves a "Palestinian state."

* Unilateral Withdrawal/Withdrawals
The failure of Camp David and Ehud Barak's declaration that "there is no Palestinian partner" prompted Sharon to draft his vision for a unilateral withdrawal plan. He presented it during the Herzliya conference on December 18, 2003, and which came to be known as the "unilateral disengagement plan." He rejected withdrawal to the June 4, 1967 lines. Fully aware of what Zionism calls the "demographic danger," Sharon sought the cantonization of historical Palestine when he adopted the strategy of swapping withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and 42 percent of the occupied West Bank in return for the annexation of the Palestinian areas where the Jewish settlements are established and as much land area of the West Bank as possible. (Ghanem, 2005a; Amara, 2005; Kabha, 2005; Muhareb, 2005; Mansour, 2006; Nofal and Shalhat, 2006).
During the campaign for the 17th Knesset elections held on March 28, 2006, Kadima's candidate for prime minister, Ehud Olmert, was unequivocal in his declared intention to forge ahead with the unilateral option, totally sidelining the Palestinians as negotiating partners. ("The Israeli View," Madar, Edition: 128, March 7, 2006).

* Partial Self-Determination for the Palestinians
One of the most important aspects of the post-Oslo Israeli stand is its evasion of the responsibility incumbent on an occupying power to cater for the daily needs of the occupied population (in this case the Palestinians), and its search, instead, to install a Palestinian authority that would shoulder this burden.
Since the onset of the Oslo negotiations, it was clear that Israel facilitated the establishment of the Palestinian Authority (PA), while at the same time it imposed its own concept of what form it should take and what mechanisms and tools it should have at its disposal. It went as far as to accept the introduction of legislative and administrative changes within the PA if this meant the latter would meet Israeli expectations and interests (Ghanem, 2001).
However, when the al-Aqsa intifada broke out in 2000, Israel took several measures to hamper the functioning of the PA. It waged a full-scale military offensive against the territories, and systematically destroyed all the PA infrastructure, rendering the extension of services virtually impossible. It crushed the Palestinian security forces and blocked any communication between the Presidency in Ramallah and the rest of the territories, and all but blocked diplomatic relations between the Palestinians and the international community, especially Europe and the U.S.
Despite all the measures aimed at disabling the PA, Israel stopped short of liquidating it on the official level. The intention was to claim that a Palestinian body exists that is responsible for taking care of the basic needs of the Palestinians, and to divest itself from any responsibility as dictated by international law.
Following Yasser Arafat's demise and just before the Palestinian legislative elections (January 2006), Sharon's government de-escalated its confrontation with the PA in response to a call by U.S. President George W. Bush. Israelis and Palestinians met to discuss arrangements for the legislative elections. Israel untertook to allow the Palestinian candidates to campaign and to ensure calm and order on election day. Furthermore, it promised to halt its incursions into Palestinian territories, to stop arrests and assassinations and to ease restrictions on movement, especially at checkpoints.
Although Israel publicly declared its intention to boycott any Hamas-led government, preemting the election results, it did not go as far as to dissolve the PA. This goes to prove that what Israel needs is a Palestinian administrative body that would relieve it of its responsibilities toward the Palestinians living under occupation, but that would not have any real powers so as to pose a threat to Israeli interests.

* Continued Settlement
In his declaration that he would take into consideration the "natural" growth of settlers," Sharon did not propose an innovative formula. The phrase "natural growth of settlers" has always been used as a pretext for the annexation of more Palestinian land, and for the enlargement of settlements and the construction of bypass roads. The area of land seized and the number of housing units added to the settlements largely exceed any "natural" growth of settlers. In some settlements, thousands of housing units have been built while dozens of flats remain vacant.
The official Israeli Sasson Report of March 2005, substantiates the validity of allegations that almost all the Israeli ministries and departments are engaged in funding what Israel itself considers as illegal settlement. The 300-page report reveals the existence of a steady official channel for providing services and maintenance to outposts that don't have government construction approval. Allegedly, several Israeli parties are accomplices in the establishment of these outposts, including the Ministry of Defense and the ministries of infrastructure, education, industry and trade, finance, and others, as well as the Israeli army, the police and the so-called Civil Administration. According to the report, officials in these ministries and departments turned a blind eye when settlers took over Palestinian-owned land or land considered by the occupation as "state-owned," in violation of the law. The settlers established 120 settlement outposts with a view of turning them into entirely new settlements or new neighborhoods within existing settlements that are only a few kilometers away.

* Building the Separation Wall
In mid-March of 2006, two weeks before the Israeli general elections, the Kadima candidate, Ehud Olmert, stated his intention to make the separation wall a permanent border for Israel. The idea of building the separation wall wasn't devised by the present or former Israeli government, but goes back to Labor Party leaders - mainly Yitzhak Rabin and Haim Ramon - who came up with the suggestion after the Beit Lid suicide attack in 1995. They proposed the idea of total separation between the two peoples as a solution that included sealed borders running along the Green Line, with some amendments based on Israeli security considerations. The Likud government developed Ramon's idea of "security amendments" to such an extreme that a clear-cut separation between Palestinians and Israelis became unfeasible. With the substantial land area confiscated in the name of security, not only has separation become impossible but the option of establishing a Palestinian state with geographical contiguity has become unrealizable.
The proposed route for the separation wall - both completed and planned - takes away large areas of the remaining Palestinian land and leads to its fragmentation by Jewish settlement blocs, where a Palestinian state is slated to be established as proposed by the Road Map that was drafted as a possible future solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. When the Palestinians approached the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the Hague, the Israeli media launched a campaign to foil their efforts, or at least to mobilize international support for Israel's stand so as to mitigate the effects of any possible unfavorable ruling by the ICJ. When the court ruled in support of Palestinian rights, the Israeli media roundly rejected it, fully justifying the Israeli government's pretext of security concerns (Ghanem, 2005a; Amara, 2005; Kabha, 2005; Muhareb, 2005; Mansour, 2006; Nofal and Shalhat, 2006).

* A De Facto Annexation of the Jordan Valley
Generally, the Israeli army prohibits the entry of Palestinians to the Jordan Valley in the eastern part of the West Bank, and restricts access to the area except to those officially registered as residents of that area. B'Tselem warned that isolating the Jordan Valley from the rest of the West Bank is a dangerous violation of the human rights of many Palestinian residents. Yet the step has been implemented without any formal government decision and without any public information (Nofal and Shalhat, 2006).
Israel erected seven permanent roadblocks along the area from the western Jordan Valley to the northern part of the Dead Sea. Four of these roadblocks encircle the Jericho enclave, where the Israeli army placed significant restrictions on the movement of the Palestinians in the past four years. A spokesperson for the Israeli army responded to the B'Tselem report of January 2006, saying that access through these roadblocks was confined only to the residents of the Jordan Valley based on their address in their identity cards, and provided their place of residence was one of the villages in the Jordan Valley. Other West Bank residents would be required to have a special permit issued by the Civil Administration.
The policy implemented by Israel in the eastern sector and the related statements of high-ranking officers indicate that the real motive behind Israel's policy isn't security or military, but political. What is taking place is a de facto annexation of this area to Israel, as happened in the case of the annexation of large areas falling on the western side of the separation wall, in flagrant violation of Palestinian right to self-determination.


Under the leadership of Sharon, Israel shifted from seeking to solve the conflict with the Palestinians to adopting a new strategy for conflict management based on Israeli interests - the unilateral disengagement plan.
It has now become clear that Olmert will follow in Sharon's footsteps initiated in the disengagment from Gaza, and will contemplate further unilateral withdrawals from parts of the West Bank without considering the need for bilateral discussions with the Palestinians, alleging that Hamas is a "terrorist" organization with whom Israel cannot negotiate. Consequently, Israel seeks to establish a "separation system" without achieving a historic settlement; as a result, an entity will be established which is "more than autonomy and less than a state." This situation will lead to a crisis among the Palestinians and force them to seek alternative solutions to an independent state, which might include placing on the discussion table the proposal for a binational state.
It is difficult at this stage to predict the path a future solution will take. However, as we distance ourselves from the two-state option, the possibility of a solution based on the concept of a joint entity cannot be ruled out.


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