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Double trouble

Double trouble

Double trouble

Two new political initiatives emerge from the Israeli right: both aim to destroy the Palestinian cause and prospects of a Palestinian state, writes Saleh Al-Naami




"You will hit several birds with one stone," asserted Tzachi Hanegbi, chairman of the Knesset's Foreign Relations and Security Committee, when discussing the plan by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman to detach Israel from the Gaza Strip. Despite political sparring and disparity between Hanegbi, who is a member of the opposition Kadima Party, and Yisrael Beiteinu leader Lieberman, the advantages of the foreign minister's plan were convincing to his opponent.


According to the proposal, which was formulated at the Israeli Foreign Ministry's Political Research Council, Israel must completely separate from Gaza, both economically and politically. This separation must be recognised internationally, and according to Yediot Aharonot newspaper the scheme includes the following:


- Economic separation embodied in the construction of a power station, desalination plant and a sewage treatment facility through international funds, in order for Israel to stop providing Gaza with energy.


- Israeli seaports should stop receiving all ships heading to Gaza. Security checks of these ships should take place in the Cypriot port of Limassol under EU supervision.


- Sending European forces to the border crossing between Egypt and the Gaza Strip, as well as the crossing between Gaza and Israel.


- International recognition -- including of the UN -- that the Israeli occupation of the Gaza Strip has ended.


- Israel would undertake diplomatic efforts to convince the US administration and other countries to adopt this plan and transform it into a working plan.


Lieberman will present the proposal to his European counterparts, some of who are suspicious of the Israeli minister's intentions. Experts on Israel and Palestine point out that the proposal essentially aims to achieve the following:


- Terminate issues that arise from the connection between Gaza and Israel, which have caused Tel Aviv to come under heavy world pressure to end the siege on Gaza.


- Stifling any chance of creating a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, because in essence it will institutionalise a final separation between the West Bank and Gaza.


- Provide a conducive political atmosphere for Israel by giving Israel a free hand in the West Bank and occupied Jerusalem, especially in terms of settlement plans.


- Terminally bonding the Gaza Strip to Egypt, transferring political, security and economic responsibilities from Israel to Egypt.


No doubt, Lieberman's initiative dealt a strong blow to the Palestinian Authority (PA) because it inadvertently recognises Hamas's control over the Gaza Strip, at a time when conditions are ripe to undermine the credibility of the PA and Salam Fayyad's government. Accordingly, the PA summarily rejected the proposal.


Nabil Abu Rudeina, spokesman for the Palestinian president, asserted that the initiative would revive the "conspiratorial plan of a temporary state". "Lieberman's scheme aims to divide the land of Palestine," Abu Rudeina argued. "It means abandoning Jerusalem, and hence we vehemently reject it because it also contradicts signed agreements and international legitimacy. Lieberman presented a new old plan which is a return to the idea of a temporary state, which we have rejected in the past and continue to do so in the name of the Palestinian people."


Abu Rudeina further believes that the proposal puts an end to any chance of creating an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital. He warned any Palestinian or international party from considering this proposal, because it contradicts the ambitions of the Palestinian people for unity, freedom and independence, and only meets the goals of the Israeli extreme right.


Hamas also has rejected Lieberman's plan, saying it refuses the notion of separating Gaza and the West Bank. "We reject any attempt to detach Gaza from any part of occupied Palestine," asserted Sami Abu Zahra, the group's spokesman, saying that the occupation must be held accountable as long as it continues occupying Palestinian land. "Although Gaza was liberated on the ground from the presence of the military and settlements, legally and practically it is under occupation," Abu Zahra stated.


Abu Zahra urged that a connection should not be made between the Israeli proposal and the lifting of the siege on Gaza, including an end to the closure of border crossings, roads and ports and extending electricity and fuel supplies to Gaza.


Lieberman's plan for Gaza's future is "dangerous and aims at institutionalising [the separation of] Gaza from the West Bank, and allows [Israel] to focus on consuming Jerusalem and the West Bank," according to parliament member and former Palestinian Information Minister Mustafa Al-Barghouti. Al-Barghouti, who is also member of the Central Committee of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, told Al-Ahram Weekly that this is an attempt to be rid of the Palestinian demographic load by separating the Gaza Strip from the remaining Palestinian territories.


Gaza represents no more than 1.3 per cent of the land area of historic Palestine, but jettisoning it gets rid of 30 per cent of the Palestinian population, especially now that the number of Palestinians living in historic Palestine is equal to the Israelis there, according to Al-Barghouti. He believes the process also aims to transform the Israeli occupation into "occupation through international funds", while Israel continues to control Palestinian territories.


"Lieberman's scheme reveals the true intentions of Israeli policies, which aim to eliminate the idea of national independence and the right to determine the future of the Palestinian people. It also makes Egypt responsible for Gaza, and transforms the issue of the West Bank into one about isolated citizens living in Bantustans, and transferring responsibility for them to Jordan. The final goal is to destroy any possibility of creating an independent Palestinian state," Al-Barghouti said.


Al-Barghouti further warned that Lieberman's initiative would relieve Israel of any responsibility towards the Gaza Strip, and "convert it into an independent and completely separate entity as part of Tel Aviv's efforts to prevent the right of the Palestinian people to an independent sovereign state." He continued that, "Lieberman wants to rip apart the Palestinian people and make them disjointed from each other, hence blocking any possibility of a political solution regarding a state or the return of refugees."


German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle voiced his concerns while attending an unofficial meeting of the foreign ministers of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe in Almaty, Kazakhistan. "We do not want the idea of a Palestinian state to be jeopardised by creating several regions for the state, and separating them from each other to some extent and perhaps making them conflict politically," he said. "We believe that this will not politically achieve a permanent peace."


The German official reiterated his support of a two-state solution, noting that, "We want Israel to live within secure borders, but also for the Palestinians to have a secure and independent state."


As soon as Lieberman dropped his bombshell, the former minister of defence and key Likud figure Moshe Arens, who was also once foreign minister, unveiled his own explosive idea. Arens suggested that Palestinians living in the West Bank should be given Israeli citizenship and granted equal rights within the framework of one state. In an article published in several Israeli newspapers, Arens stated that, "negotiations with Mahmoud Abbas are useless" and that "Abbas barely represents half of the Palestinians -- if anyone at all." He added: "If Jordan is willing to accept authority over more territories and peoples in the West Bank, it would be easy and seamless. But Jordan does not want that. Therefore, I believe that we should consider another option, namely that Israel takes charge of applying the law in the West Bank and grants Israeli citizenship to 1.5 million Palestinians."


Arens, who is a Likud Party hawk, urged that political alternatives to the status quo should be considered and that "taboos" in Israeli politics should be breached, such as making West Bank Palestinians into Israelis. He was unfazed by accusations that he is promoting the idea of a bi-national state incorporating Palestinians and Jews. "Bi-nationalism already exists in Israel, and it is also multi- cultural and has several ethnicities," he responded.


What is surprising is that this idea is acceptable to Knesset Speaker Reuben Rivlin, who said he "prefers giving Israeli citizenship to the Palestinians over breaking up the country." Likud Knesset member Tzipi Hotovely sponsored a campaign in the Knesset in 2009 under the banner "The alternative to a two-state solution" where she called for gradually granting Israeli citizenship to Palestinians.


It appears that some settlement leaders also approve the idea. Uri Elitzur, chairman of the Yesha Council of Settlements and Netanyahu's bureau chief in his previous tenure as prime minister, published an article calling for granting Palestinians an Israeli identity card and the right to vote in Knesset elections.


Meanwhile, Emily Amrusi, former spokeswoman for the Yesha Council of Settlements, who participates in meetings between settlers and Palestinians, openly speaks of "one country where the sons of settlers go with Palestinian children on one bus to school."


Both initiatives primarily aim to avoid the cost of reaching a political solution to the Israeli- Palestinian struggle.