Gaza Pullout: Sharon Says Shalom To Palestinians 


Nduka Uzuakpundu

 It could be tempting to see the historic pull out of Israeli settlers from the Gaza Strip as a response to recent spate of violent resistance by Palestinians. Yes, what seems to have divided the Israeli polity – as Palestinians watch – some of them pleasantly surprised, others with guarded optimism, that a first major, and promising move towards the establishment of independent Palestinian State was well afoot – was a decision by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to meet the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas halfway – as a partner in the shaping of peace in the Middle East. About a month ago, when Sharon made the intention of his administration to dislodge the Gaza settlers, it was widely held – amongst Palestinians – as a hollow attempt at image laundering – by the same Sharon, who had ordered the demolition of Palestinian settlements – Jenin, say – and treated Chairman Yasser Arafat like a prisoner in a Palestinian territory. But all that does not seem to count anymore, especially for those Palestinians who were, understandably, impatient as they trooped in to plug – in a lively celebration marked by an expansive waving of their national flag – the slack left by the Israelis. They’re better forgotten, now that Palestinians, and their Arab brethren elsewhere in the Middle East are beginning to see another Sharon – a Sharon that is pretty well distinct from a certain Israeli Defence Minister, who was widely seen as the blood-thirsty hand behind the slaughter of Palestinian refugees in Sabra and Chatilla camps, in Lebanon – in the early ’80s: an incident that cut a gash on the soul of Israel. Some Israeli religious leaders, then, wondered whether the Jews shouldn’t have protested against their political leaders because of the massacre, given their own experience of the Holocaust.

The Gaza pullout has been tagged a form of renaissance within Israel – in recognititon of the fact Israel – as a state – cannot enjoy durable peace and purposive human development when it’s at war with an industrious race with which it ought to be in a harmonious and symbiotic co-existence. An aide to Professor Naomi Chazan, who’s of the left-leaning Meretz Party and the deputy leader of the Knesset, called the pullout a revolution designed for a comprehensive peace between Israel and her Arab neighbours – for which all hands must be on deck to sustain the unimaginably fervent zeal with which the Likud Party was pressing a modern day exodus of Israelis from the Occupied Territories. For Sharon and his deputy – Ehud Olmert – it was “a painful, but necessary, process,” to help the cause of political dialogue and security co-operation between Tel Aviv and the Palestinian Authority.

For most of the Israeli settlers at Neveh Dekalim – the largest of the more than 150 settlements erected in Palestinian Territories, and scene of both disorderly and civil resistance to the unarmed operatives of the Israeli Defence Force (IDF), who were detailed to effectuate the eviction exercise – it was a revolting surprise that, in spite of the fossilised view that Gaza – like the West Bank – was part of Eretz Israel, which was given to the Jews by the Supreme Being, because they were His chosen people, that the Knesset could not restrain the Sharon administration from pressing paragraph 22A of the Implementation of the Disengagement Plan Law 2005 – somewhat rudely against them.. These were the Israelis who torched their belongings or barricaded the entrance to their settlements – before the security agents rammed in with bulldozers – in protest against what they felt was treachery by the State of Israeli; that they had been used as a pawn in what – in their own estimation – had been an unrewarding show of strength with the Palestinians.

These, again, would be the same Israelis – “evacuation refuseniks,” they are called by the local press – who would keep offering resistance – even in the face of a clear threat of a harsh descent from some 15,000 IDF and policemen and women – in the next fortnight, by pressing the religious touch to their case. Their diaries and private recollections would be read in newspapers and heard on air – no thanks to the extreme right religious parties like the Shas, which has a knack – at a time of national disquiet – for angling for political capital. The exercise is expected to cost $25 million in tax-payers’ money. This amount does not include a token of compensation that the Sharon administration says it would offer the evacuees for the inconvenience of quitting Gaza. And it is far from likely that – as the Israeli society remains inequitably divided, a greater part in support of the Sharon shove – these opponents of the pullout would merit any front page sympathy.

At best, they would be regarded as a misguided lot: a group of obedient – some say nationalistic – Israelis, whose voluntary response to be shepherded into peopling of the conquered territories, in pursuit of Israel’s expansionist policy; who’ve stubbornly refused to face today’s political reality in the Middle East – the pressing need to allow the Palestinians to enjoy – as a matter of right – all that they, too, as Israelis, want for themselves – an independent state living in peace and security. Their sense of betrayal sinks helplessly deep that, as some of them are planning, it would be a lot more honourable never to live in Israel any longer but elsewhere; probably in Central Europe or North America or in Argentina – where there is a genuine state effort to curb anti-Semitic effusions.

Their resistance was to have dug into the apparent immorality of Sharon’s disengagement policy; what with the fact that as they left, they did so fearfully unsure of whether they could still fit, appositely, into mainstream Israeli society. In their recalcitrance, some of them either perched on roof tops or took refuge in synagogues – as in Kfar Darom – prompting security agents to respond with water cannon. They were – to the shaping of an unforeseen development, which informs a sad commentary – a part of an initially popular experiment that no longer serves the constructive purpose of the State of Israeli that aspires to be an influential voice in the politics of the Levant. Besides, they would want a similar generous media coverage that their recalcitrance to the evacuation has drawn – within and outside Israel – extended to the exhumation of their long-interred, beloved ones in Gaza for reburial in Israel. Theirs is probably a psychological disorientation that would take a lifetime to heal. Never should they be reminded of the obvious misadventure that Israeli politicians have led them into. For others, it was an emotionally tearful occasion as they had to leave a unique Jewish community that they had – in the past three decades – grown to accept as their . . . permanent abode. It was a flashback to the scene, in April 1982, when Israeli troops, in respect for the Camp David peace treaty of 1979 with Egypt, vacated the Taba beach.

With other evacuees – who met the whole episode with profound sangfroid – they constitute a legion of Israeli ‘refugees,’ whose place, in just 20 percent of Gaza, would be rented, in the months ahead – by nearly two million Palestinian refugees, who have – since 1967 Six-Day War, when the strip – alongside the West Bank and Syria’s Golan Heights was taken by the Israeli army – been waiting for this auspicious day. Whatever the feelings of the “evacuation refuseniks,” the pullout is a deserved credit to the Israeli democracy – in its seeing to the imperative of responding to the demands of the Road Map to peace brokered by the Bush administration. The IDF and other security agents should be commended for being collected in spite of the hostile behaviour of the “evacuation refuseniks” – the stabbing of a woman soldier, the destruction of a military truck and two IDF bulldozers. The Palestinian resistance group – Hamas – deserves a pat on the back for its heartening good behaviour in the course of the pullout. For once, it saw with President Mahmoud Abbas that the sword no longer has a place in the new political thinking in their ‘moral fight’ against the Israelis.

The implication of the pullout is an added burden on them – if they are smart enough – to hand over their arms to the Palestinian Authority. From that pad, it may be a lot comfortable for them to thaw, seamlessly, into the new Palestinian society within which – you never can tell – they could graduate to the undisputed spokesmen for the release of their youthful brethren – including Marwan Barghouti – who’re still in Israeli jails. Still, the Road Map calls on both Israelis and Palestinians to cease violence, and particularly demands of Tel Aviv – under the Tenet Initiative – an end to the erection of settlements on the West Bank and Gaza. With the backing of Russia, the European Union and United Nations, the Road Map is directed at a final and comprehensive settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by 2005. In fine, the revendication of the Occupied Territories by Palestinians.

Two years ago, when the Bush administration launched the Road Map, it was Washington’s expectation that “a settlement, negotiated between the parties, will result in the emergence of an independent, democratic, and viable Palestinian State living side by side in peace and security with Israel and its other neighbours. The settlement will resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and end the occupation that began in 1967, based on the foundations of the Madrid Conference, the principle of land for peace, United Nations Security Council Resolutions 242, 338 and 1397, agreements previously reached by the parties, and the initiative of Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah – endorsed by the Beirut Arab League Summit – calling for acceptance of Israel as a neighbor living in peace and security, in the context of a comprehensive settlement.” But almost soon after – and no thanks to mutual recriminations: the Israelis said the Palestinian Authority, under the late Arafat, was not checking violence in the West Bank and Gaza; the Palestinians rightly accused the Israelis of constructing illegal settlements – throughout the Netanyahu years – against the run of the Road Map; distrust set in. And so, the second phase of the intifada started, during which nearly four thousand Palestinians and almost a quarter as much of Israelis died – most of them via suicide bombings by Palestinians. Perhaps, as Palestinians watch the Israelis vacate their territory, it may interest the Arab League – in a silent, but intense diplomacy – to caution against irresponsible acts that could sour the Sharon administration against the emergence of an independent Palestinian state. But, more than that, it should be their warm supplication that the winning peace-maker in Sharon is not assassinated – as were Anwar el-Sadat and Yitzhak Rabin – by the enemies of peace in the Middle East.

*UZUAKPUNDU is a journalist on the Foreign Affairs desk of a Lagos-based newspaper -- VANGUARD