Sharon’s Dream: Gaza as Bantustan
Hat tip to Sol Salbe for finding another gem from Haaretz. This one from Akiva Eldar penetrates the usually opaque Ariel Sharon’s political machinations regarding the Palestinians:
If Ariel Sharon were able to hear the news from the Gaza Strip and West Bank, he would call his loyal aide, Dov Weissglas, and say with a big laugh: “We did it, Dubi.” Sharon is in a coma, but his plan is alive and kicking. Everyone is now talking about the state of Hamastan. In his house, they called it a bantustan, after the South African protectorates designed to perpetuate apartheid.
Just as in the Palestinian territories, blacks and colored people in South Africa were given limited autonomy in the country’s least fertile areas. Those who remained outside these isolated enclaves, which were disconnected from each other, received the status of foreign workers, without civil rights. A few years ago, Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D’Alema told Israeli friends that shortly before he was elected prime minister, Sharon told him that the bantustan plan was the most suitable solution to our conflict.
The right and the settlers feared that the disengagement from the entire Gaza Strip was no more than a down payment on a withdrawal from most of the West Bank. The left and the international community similarly believed that if the evacuation of Israeli soldiers and civilians from Gaza went well, the way would be paved for a two-state solution; but there were also some who feared that Sharon did not intend merely to sever Gaza from Israel, thereby erasing 1.4 million Arabs from the demographic balance, but also to drive a wedge between Gaza and the West Bank.
One aspect of Sharon’s tactical brilliance as a politician is that neither his enemies nor his allies knew precisely what his ultimate goals were, if any. As Eldar writes, was he preparing the way for further West Bank settlement withdrawals and a possible peace agreement with the Palestinians? Or was this his last best offer from which he intended no further bargaining?
So what is riveting about Eldar’s column is that it rips the veil off Sharon’s political agenda. His goal, apparently was to so divide and weaken the Palestinians that there could never be a viable Palestinian state, which in turn would ensure Israeli supremacy for generations to come.
Here is how Sharon’s bantustan policy played out in the West Bank:
Alongside the severance of Gaza from the West Bank, a policy now called “isolation,” the Sharon-Peres government and the Olmert-Peres government that succeeded it carried out the bantustan program in the West Bank. The Jordan Valley was separated from the rest of the West Bank; the south was severed from the north; and all three areas were severed from East Jerusalem. The “two states for two peoples” plan gave way to a “five states for two peoples” plan: one contiguous state, surrounded by settlement blocs, for Israel, and four isolated enclaves for the Palestinians. This plan was implemented on the ground via the intrusive route of the separation fence, a network of roadblocks deep inside the West Bank, settlement expansion and arbitrary orders by military commanders. The cantonized map that these dictated left no chance for the road map or the “gestures” that Israel promised to PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and the Americans.
Despite Sharon’s best machinations, Eldar reminds the reader of the ultimate outcome of the South African bantustan policy: total defeat and the imposition of a single, majority-ruled state:
the hope that Hamas’ thugs and Fatah’s good-for-nothings will finish the work of that well-known righteous man, Sharon, and his flunkies in the government and army is no more than a warped delusion. Eight years of rioting and terror ended in the liquidation of South Africa’s bantustans and their inclusion in a unified state governed by the black majority. This dream of Palestinian protectorates – Hamastan in Gaza and the Fatahland enclaves in the West Bank – is similarly the end of any solution based on dividing the land: Israel in agreed-upon borders based on the Green Line and Palestine on the other side. If we do not quickly wake up from this dream and rescue what remains of the two-state vision, we will truly be left with a choice between the plague – an apartheid regime – and the cholera: the Jewish state’s replacement with a binational state between the Jordan River and the sea. Including the Gaza Strip.
Eldar is warning that if Israel is not careful what might ensue is Israel being swallowed whole within a unitary state comprising Israelis and Palestinians in which the latter might very well hold the majority. Think long and hard about that eventuality. South Africa’s whites too thought they had it made. They couldn’t imagine any outcome in which they’d have to cede power or control to their inferiors. But that day did come. And it was not a day of annihilation as some whites had predicted. But it was a day on which the white dream of domination died.
I join Eldar in saying that if Israel wants to avoid such an outcome it must a partition into two states. The word from Olmert is dispiriting as he is thinking just what you might expect. Now that the Palestinians are in disarray there will be no pressure to negotiate. How can anyone in their right mind expect Israel to negotiate peace even with someone like Abbas who can’t even punch his way out of a paper bag:
Roni Shaked reported in today’s Yediot, “the Prime Minister’s advisers [declared] the Palestinian Authority dead, [saying] there is no one to talk to… and that the Bush administration will not put pressure on Olmert at this stage to come up with ideas for renewing the negotiations with Abbas and promoting a diplomatic horizon.”
Olmert reinforced this impression in a NY Times interview yesterday:
Mr. Olmert was expecting continued pressure from the Bush administration and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to maintain talks on a “political horizon” for a future Palestinian state with Mr. Abbas, but he was clearly feeling that his own pessimism about Mr. Abbas’s ability to deliver had been warranted.
He said that he and Mr. Bush agreed on the need for creating a Palestinian state, and he agreed with Ms. Rice’s “desire to push things forward rapidly.” But the Fatah collapse in Gaza changes the conversation, not only with Mr. Abbas, but also with the Americans, Mr. Olmert implied.
“The real aggravation we sometimes have is not in the basic perception of what needs to be done in the territories, between us and the Palestinians,” Mr. Olmert said of his talks with Washington. “I guess the only difference that sometimes exists is between the assessment of the real opportunities and how one can deal with these, and how difficult it is to change things when the main agent of change doesn’t have the willpower that he should have.”
Don’t believe any of what Olmert says about a bright new day emerging in which it will now be possible to do much with Abbas that couldn’t be done before. Olmert isn’t willing to concede on any significant issue that might move the process forward. His ultimate vision, at least as it appears to me, is of an ‘enlightened’ West Bank governed by “moderate” Palestinians willing to live with massive Israeli settlements among them in return for a decent economy, some freedom of movement, and a very limited autonomy. It will, however, be a Potemkin village concealing (poorly) the fundamental inequities the exist between Israel and the Palestinians. Gaza would be frozen out of Israel’s sights completely except as an area which the IDF has to suppress. Gaza and the West Bank will serve as two sides of the same coin. Israel will use the “bad” Gaza to point out to the world how impossible it is to negotiate with “terrorists;” while the “good” West Bank will be showcased as a model of what is possible working with “reasonable” Palestinians willing to accept maintenance of the status quo.
It is an utterly bankrupt vision which leads nowhere but backwards (if we can go any farther backwards than we already have this past week).