the Disillusioned kid
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Monday, June 07, 2004

After a cabinet meeting described by Ha'aretz as "dramatic" the Israeli government passed Sharon's revised withdrawal plan by 14-7. The Israeli PM had been through various machinations in order to achieve support for the plan, including firing two ministers from the far right National Union, Benyamin Eilon and Avigdor Lieberman. This lead to an almost amusing situation with Elion responding by going into hiding in order to prevent his dismissal letter being delivered to him. As a result, officials had to be sent looking for him to deliver the document. Bizarrely even his dismissal did not prevent him participating in the vote as Israeli law requires 48 hours notice before ministerial dismissals become effective.

It is difficult to be sure how to respond to the decision. Clearly as the only thing on the table it should not be dismissed out of hand, but equally it is important not to get carried away about its significance. While
Appendix A states clearly that "the state of Israel will evacuate settlements in the Gaza Strip... and with the completion of the move by 2005 in the areas that are to be evacuated in the land area of the Gaza Strip there will be no permanent Israeli military presence." (Ha'aretz, 7/6/04)
The first clause of the decision states that "nothing in this decision involves the evacuation of settlements." Additionally Absorption Minister Tzippi Livni noted that "the decision we took does not include agreement to evacuate settlements. Another vote will be needed before evacuation, which will be examined on the basis of the progress of the Palestinians" (Ha'aretz, 7/6/04). It could in the end all amount to little more than hot air, an allegation leveled by some critics.

It seems to me that despite the qualifications inserted into the plan (largely to placate the hardliners) Sharon is quite genuine about his wish to withdraw from Gaza. This should not, however, be mistaken for a sudden attack of conscience, his reasons are strictly pragmatic. In the aftermath of the decision Sharon argued that it "would contribute to [Israel's] security, its political standing, its economy, and to the demographics of the Jewish people in the land of Israel" (Ha'aretz, 7/6/04). The reference to demographics brought to mind Jonathan Freedland's article in the Guardian last week where he argued that the withdrawal plan was driven by concerns about the growing Palestinian population within Israeli controlled territory. He interviewed Sharon's deputy, vice-PM Ehud Olmert who
was pretty explicit about the strategic thinking behind the Gaza plan. It is all about demographics. Within a few years, he explained, there will be an equal number of Arabs and Jews living between the Jordanriver and the Mediterranean Sea - the combined area of Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, all currently under Israeli control. In 15 years, thanks to their faster birthrate, the Palestinians will be a majority. "I want to live in a Jewish state," Olmert told me. "I don't want to live in a non-Jewish state." (Guardian, 2/6/04)
The response to this not irrational fear is to attempt to impose a settlement on the Palestinians. Additionally
there would be a second benefit. The world would see what a "painful concession" Israel had made by giving up Gaza, and therefore would look kindly on its retention of key settlement blocs on the West Bank. Olmert told one rightwing Israeli newspaper last week that he saw his role as "trying to guard" those blocs: the implication being that Gaza is the necessary price. (Guardian, 2/6/04)
As ever in the calculations of the powerful the needs of the Palestinians are more or less irrelevant.
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