End the fake evacuations

22 June 2003 — The operation to evacuate the West Bank outposts undertaken by Ariel Sharon’s government is a farce that is bad for the peace process. It would be better to stop this charade as soon as possible, because its damage is immeasurably greater than any good it might be doing.

The only ones gaining from this absurd eviction performance is the prime minister, the right wing and the settlers. The losers are the Palestinians and mainly, the peace process. The Americans, who are full partners to this deceit, should also pull themselves together and realize that this absurdity is no good for peace.

If I were a Palestinian I’d hasten to declare - no, thank you. This is neither evacuation nor a confidence-building measure; it is a deception with a heavy price. This is not the evacuation of real settlements and more importantly, not the evacuation of settlers. This is a farce in which all the actors understand the rules and are playing their role on the stage only to accumulate more power and more sympathy, rather than advance any political process.

The first one to gain from this false spectacle is of course the prime minister. Half the nation is again tempted to believe that here is “a new Sharon,” a “complex” and “fascinating” figure which has undergone “a historic change,” an Israeli de Gaulle, the only one who could make peace.

Sharon has evacuated a few caravans and evicted a few dozen radical settlers from one point to another in the occupied territories, and already he is enjoying the best of all worlds. His one hand appears to be evacuating while the other is assassinating.

His only goal - pleasing the American administration - is achieved in full at zero cost. The right wing is a little angry, but it is clear to it too that this is all make-believe - the right wing knows full well that Sharon will never evacuate a proper settlement. Thus the prime minister can go back to being the evil old Sharon, who orders the assassination of Hamas leaders in the middle of an international political effort to achieve a cease-fire agreement with them.

Thus, in exchange for the pseudo-evacuation, the Palestinians got 24 people killed in three days, in a series of assassinations whose harm to peace far surpasses the good of the fake evacuations. If these are the first of the “painful concessions” Sharon had talked about, it is not clear at all on whom the pain is being inflicted.

The outposts’ evacuation is good for the settlers, too. They have paid nothing, but already they are once again the victims, the robbed, the usurped. The sound of their wailings and whinings for every rusty caravan moved from its place is especially cynical. They know that the louder they holler, the smaller the price they will be asked to pay in the future and public sympathy toward them will grow. This has always been their way - let out a wail, never mind about what, and extort the price.

The pictures of settlers being dragged on the earth are good for them. Most Israelis don’t like seeing their people forcibly dragged. The settlers’ semi-violent resistance to the evacuation of the outposts, most of which were built only as stage scenery for this play, may also convince many that there is no chance of ever evacuating the settlements, without terrible bloodshed. If it is so difficult to evacuate the “Bachelor’s Hill” outpost, how will we evacuate Ofra? And Ma’ale Adumim? Ariel?

In the sidelines of the evacuation, it is good to find out that the IDF, Border Police and police still know how to clash with demonstrators in the territories without shooting them dead with firearms. When have they ever done so when confronting Palestinian demonstrators? It is also good to learn that at least when the demonstrators are Jews, the High Court of Justice becomes more active and issues temporary injunctions, and the attorney general even holds a hearing, in contrast to the custom of dismissing out of hand most of the appeals of Palestinians whose homes are about to be demolished. When it comes to Jews, the High Court fulfills its duty.

Evacuating all the settlements is a crucial stage on the way to a just peace. Last week’s evacuation of outposts is on no account a step on the way to evacuate settlements but the opposite, it is an obstacle to it. If Israel sincerely aspired for peace and building confidence with the Palestinians, it would have evacuated a few real settlements, those whose removal is supported by a broad public consensus.

For example, Gaza first - evacuating all the scandalous settlements in the strip, which only exact a bloody price from Israel and the Palestinians, could have been an appropriate start. The United States should have demanded this of Sharon long ago, the Israeli public would accept the evacuation with understanding and the Palestinians would find out that they have a real partner.

If even this is too difficult for the prime minister, but he wants progress anyway, as the heralders of the “new Sharon” claim, he should have sought for the confidence building measures elsewhere - in significant alleviations of the disgraceful living conditions of the Palestinians.

Removing the hundreds of road barriers from their way inside the territories and releasing a large number of their prisoners, would have helped Abu Mazen establish his position, as the United States and Israel wish him to do. It would have infused hope in his people and signaled real intentions for peace.

Road block or caravan? In the present conditions it is better to remove the road block first and let the “hilltop youth” continue running rampant as much as they want, until Israel decides that it really wants to evacuate the settlements.