Wednesday, April 14, 2004

The wrong plan 

President Bush has expressed support for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plans to withdraw from the Gaza Strip and West Bank.

US President George W Bush has hailed Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon's plans to disengage from Gaza and parts of the West Bank.

Mr Bush called Mr Sharon's proposals "historic and courageous".

He restated his commitment to a Palestinian state, but appeared to rule out one which included the whole West Bank, saying realities on the ground had changed.

But Yasser Arafat said US backing for the plan would wreck all peace hopes.
Tony Blair supports the plan as well. A month ago, so did Arafat.

I'm not totally against withdrawal from the occupied territories, or even the retention of some settlements included in Sharon's plan. What I am against is lending support to the plan at this stage. Speaking of which, I would love to see details, because I know there have been several competing ideas kicking around about which West Bank settlements stay, and which go, and what the effect on the Palestinian population would be in each case.

A complete withdrawal to the pre-1967 lines, demanded by some Palestinian hardliners, is impractical at this point, and would leave large numbers of Israelis, and also Palestinians, on the wrong side of the border.

Even worse, though, would be a retention of West Bank territory by Israel that does not provide for a contiguous Palestinian area. If the six settlements that Israel will retain under the plan are able to be connected to Israel proper in such a way that Palestinian towns are not encircled or otherwise cut off from the rest of the Palestinian territory, then some of my concerns would be relieved. If I were in the President's shoes I would make sure to get Sharon's assurances about Palestinian territorial integrity before giving him American approval of his withdrawal plan.

The only realistic way to approach the peace process is to find the least painful partition for each side. The Palestinians will have to accept some settlements, but Israel should not cut Palestinians off from each other. So far I haven't heard that the Israeli withdrawal plan fits that condition.

The continued construction of the security fence (currently halted) and the line that the fence follows, will also play a big part in the dynamic.

So at this point, I think there are too many questions about the potential pitfalls of withdrawal for the American President to support it, and I believe that it is a decision which could come back to haunt the President and complicate American foreign policy.

UPDATE: Oops. (Thanks to Allah for the heads-up.)

MORE: Stratfor says this will kill any hope for a viable Palestinian state because it will cut off Palestinian populations from each other--precisely the fear I expressed above.

The Israeli government has no intention of limiting its "separation" to these six settlements. Ariel, Givat Zeev, Gush Etzion and Maale Adumim are deep within the Palestinian territories, and simply walling them off not only would divorce them from Israel proper, but also would render them indefensible. The only solution is for Sharon to secure wide support corridors running from Israel proper to these four enclaves.

Only Kiryat Arba and Hebron will be true Israeli islands sustained by nearby Israeli military bases. A (planned) side effect of such corridors is that they would restrict -- or even eliminate -- connections between Palestinian population centers, splitting them into five discrete segments with minimal direct contact.

With no hope for a sovereign Palestinian state, any factions in the PNA that still want to push for a negotiated settlement will be in no position to sustain a dialogue.
And the intifada will gain in popularity...
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