Friday, March 25, 2005

Sharon 101: Trading Gaza for the West Bank

The "Gaza Withdrawal" plan proposed by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (right), a longtime champion of the settlement movement that has snatched up more and more Palestinian land since its inception in the late 1960s, has created a stir around the world. Could Israel really be willing to leave a substantial slice of Palestine to advance the peace process?

As recent reports have shown (http://www.reuters.com/newsArticle.jhtml?type=topNews&storyID=7741509), Israel's real goal has become apparent: give up Gaza, where less than 8,000 ultra-radical religious Zionists live, and try to hold on to as much of the West Bank as possible. With the de facto blessing of the United States, Sharon & Co. are ready to put this plan in motion. However, in another example of the confused U.S. policy on the issue of Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land, U.S. Secretary of State Condolezza Rice recently criticized Israeli plans to expand the huge settlement of Ma'ale Adumim, located just outside of East Jerusalem (http://www.iht.com/articles/2005/03/25/news/mideast.html.)

Large West Bank settlement blocs such as Itamar, Kiryat Arba, and Ariel are among the territories that Sharon wishes to keep a hold of. The goal of keeping as much of "Eretz Yisrael" or Biblical Israel under direct Israeli control is the clear goal of Sharon and others on the country's right wing. Of course, no mention is made of the fact that large swaths of the territory claimed as "Biblical" Israel was in fact conquered by successive Israelite dynasties, including the Herodians and the Maccabees, and originally was not part of the Kingdoms of David and Solomon. Samaria, for example, as the northern West Bank is called in Zionist-speak, is the traditional home of the Samaritans, a small group that broke away from Judaism thousands of years ago. So, Zionist history in many ways is revisionist history. The Jewish people, while they certainly have a long history within the region, including with Jerusalem, are not the only group to have close ties with the disputed land. What's even more ironic is the fact that despite its population being largely secular, the main argument for establishing a Jewish homeland in the Middle East is based on religious history or history that is based on a certain understanding of religion.

In short, Sharon is betting that he can give up Gaza, withdrawing from a sliver of land that is nothing but a headache, where over a million Palestinians live amongst several thousand Israeli radicals, and still keep much of the West Bank. The death of Yasser Arafat and the lack of a central Palestinian leader has allowed Sharon to push forward a self-serving vision of "peace" that ultimately will not lead to a real cessation of hostilities between the two parties. The current President of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), Mahmoud 'Abbas (left), a longtime member of the Palestine Liberation Organization leadership, is not the symbol that Arafat was. Thus, he has been unable to pressure all of the Palestinian political and paramilitary factions, such as HAMAS and breakaway groups from the PNA's main Fatah Party, into a formal ceasefire with the Israelis.

The increasing anger of radical factions amongst the West Bank Israeli settlers, which was a contributing factor to the 1995 assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and the murderous shooting spree of American Dr. Baruch Goldstein in 1994, is also clear proof that religious violence is not the sole area of Palestinian terrorists. In fact, people such as Goldstein and the deceased racist Rabbis Meir (left) and Binyamin Kahane (also Americans) are highly revered by an increasingly vocal radical right in Israeli politics.

The sanctification of religious violence, which is usually portrayed in the American media as the realm of HAMAS, is also common amongst the radical Israeli right. The Kahanes are the subject of numerous web sites that extol their racist ideology: http://www.kahane.org/main.shtml.

Sharon holds the upper hand in "peace" negotiations at the current time and the continued breakdown of Palestinian political authority and social institutions, coupled with the growing power of HAMAS and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, does not bode well for a two-state solution.