The Gaza Pullout: A Step Towards Peace
LEMONDE.FR | 15.08.05 | 16h12 • Mis à jour le 16.08.05 | 16h20
What political interests does Ariel Sharon have vested in the evacuation?
This is a question which many Israelis are asking. Ariel Sharon has switched his political position. After promoting force, now he promotes concession. Once cannot help but notice that the move wins him time in avoiding the moment of truth when he will have to engage in a genuine political process as expected by the international community.
Is this a genuine step towards peace or only a way of rooting himself on the West Bank?
The Palestinians, who are very skeptical about the intensions of Ariel Sharon, believe that any Israeli pull-back is a good thing. It is true that the questions being asked about the West Bank are legitimate when one considers Ariel Sharon’s statements or, yesterday, those of Shaoul Mofaz, his Minister of Defense.
Is the evacuation a victory for Hamas?
It is taboo for the Palestinians to suggest who the real winner is. Public opinion seem to believe that that it is beyond question that Hamas has proven that armed struggle is superior to any negotiation strategy.
Can the Israeli Left recover from this situation?
The Israel Left saw a part of its platform for the 2003 legislative elections stolen by Ariel Sharon. Since then, the Left gives the impression that it is no longer capable of distancing itself from Sharon or to make any serious proposals which do not compromise security in the eyes of the Israelis. The Israeli Left does not have a real leader. The difficulties that it is experiencing in its daily activities, beginning with the phony voter registration scandal, are but another sign of its weakness.
Is the evacuation going to cause a lasting split within Israeli society?
There is a genuine, deep split, including among the colonists, between those who believe that at the end of the day the decisions of the State are binding on everyone and those who believe that the State has betrayed the ideals of Judaism—because it is a question of Judaism and not of Zionism, which that must be resissted. However, those who adhere to this radical interpretation are a minority within the minority—certainly they are very active and are trying everything to cause the evacuation plan to fail.
Will the majority of Arab states feel some gratitude towards Israel?
Arab states made a proposal to Israel during their March 2002 summit in Beirut: normalization of relations in exchange for a return by Israel to its 1967 borders in the Gaza Strip as well as on the West Bank. Arab states will not be satisfied with the evacuation from Gaza and four isolated colonies on the northern West Bank.
What is being offered to the colonists to allow them to reintegrate themselves into Israeli society?
In theory, an indemnity plan for the colonists who have lost their homes—and those who have lost their jobs—is supposed to help them reintegrate. But in reality, the consequences of the evacuation plan have so far shown that this is very limited in terms of the payment of the indemnity and of temporary housing for the evacuated colonists. Even if their number is quite small, it is certain that many among them will pay a very high price for the evacuation plan.
Were the settlements the only way to provide housing for foreign Jews immigrating to Israel? Is the State of Israel going to find itself short of construction space for all those immigrants?
The Israeli authorities are counting on welcoming another million immigrants over the next few years. In theory, they won’t want to live on the West Bank, which will remain the last settlement area in the aftermath of the Gaza evacuation. In the past and in particular during the big wave of immigration from the former Soviet Union, the Israeli authorities have shown their ability to make room for more and more immigrants inside their formal, recognized borders.
When we hear Europeans use the term, colonists, is it misplaced?
Semantic questions are often explosive in the region. It is true that the English term, settler, does not have the same connotation in French. In the past, the colonists often preferred to call their colonies “settlements”. Is the term, “settler” necessarily more poetic? By the way, all of Europe does not share the same colonial past.
Do the forces of the Palestinian Authority have the means to control Gaza following the evacuation?
Palestinian “Authority” is a misnomer. It is profoundly disorganized and the Israeli evacuation is going to present a real challenge to it. Everything depends on the abilities of the two main political factions, Fatah and Hamas, to find common ground.
Would the Palestinians like to live in the houses abandoned by the colonists?
Once the settlers leave, the Israeli Army is supposed to raze every house. The fate of the rubble has not yet been decided. Theoretically, the space to be used by the Palestinian Authority for reconstruction should be completely vacant.
Is the evacuation a good thing for Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip since many of them were employed by the Israelis?
The number of Palestinian workers inside the colonies was very small. Especially when compared to the numbers who were permitted to work in Israel before the most recent Intifada. The evacuation is not going to have a particularly negative impact on the job market, which, by the way, was very bad. Reconstruction-- the numerous projects planned by the Palestinian Authority—should provide jobs for a large majority of the unemployed for months and years to come--if the situation stabilizes.
What does it mean that this event took place after the death of Arafat?
Ariel Sharon’s announcement to evacuate the Gaza Strip took place on February 2, 2004-- six months before the brutal death of Yassir Arafat. The conditions for the evacuation changed when Mahmood Abbas took power on January 9, 2005, because of his relationship with Ariel Sharon. But basically, the evacuation, from beginning to end, was the result of a unilateral Israeli decision with no involvement by Palestinian politicians.
What’s the latest on the “security wall” being built by Israel? Will there be any impact?
Absolutely not. To the contrary. The wall is presented by Ariel Sharon as an indispensable component to the Gaza evacuation. The Hebrew term for the evacuation, translated into French as “disengagement” or “severing”, is illustrated by the construction of the wall, of which the objective is to physically separate Palestinians from Israelis, even if—and this is not insignificant—the wall will leave 70,000 colonists “on the wrong side”. This represents an obvious contradiction.
What do you think of the kidnapping of the France 3 reporters in the Gaza Strip? Does this act create a feeling of insecurity among the press on the scene?
The kidnapping is due to the disorganization, rivalry and clannishness inside the Palestinian security forces. The reporters who work in Gaza—I was there a few days ago—rarely have a sense of insecurity. Nevertheless, the kidnapping should be condemned in the strongest terms.
How will Mahmood Abbas be able to restore calm in Gaza? Does the strategy of kidnapping used by armed groups have anything to do with his firmness or his desire to disarm them? Can he get the upper hand?
At the present time, there is no real strategy of kidnapping in practice by the main Palestinian armed militants. Any comparison to Iraq is inappropriate. The strategy of Mahmood Abbas is to come to an agreement with the armed groups and to integrate them into the political process is praiseworthy. That is, he wants to show that the strategy of negotiation with Israel—which he has done for the last 30 years--can pay of. However, it depends on the actions of Israel after the evacuation from the Gaza Strip. Is also depends on what Hamas will do: to participate in the electoral process, as it has done for the last six months, or to raise the stakes by armed resistance. Until now, kidnappings in Gaza have been carried out by tiny rogue groups which have splintered off from Fatah, the party of Mahmood Abbas, and not by Islamist groups.
Could Ariel Sharon lose the next elections? Will we expect to see a more conservative politician elected?
Ariel Sharon has only a minority position within the institutions of his party, which is more to the right and the Likud electorate. The situation could change if the Gaza evacuation goes off without major problems. If calm prevails over the next few months, Ariel Sharon could win his bet and come out of the Likud primary ahead of Benjamin Netanyahu. Should the opposite occur, he could be forced out of Likud and be compelled to form a more centrist party.
Do you think that the young generation of Israelis is more willing to make concessions toward peace?
Today’s Israeli youth is less interested in the dilemma of peace than that of the generation ahead of it, who were able to mobilize in the 80’s during the invasion of Lebanon and the first Intifada. The political position of young Israelis on the Palestinian questions is no different from that of the rest of the population.
Does the evacuation represent the starting point of a new and long-lasting phase of negotiations over the future of Palestine and Israel?
That’s what all the countries, near and far, involved in the conflict hope for, beginning with the United States. But we can already see that after the evacuation, Ariel will stake out positions far more inflexible in the hope that he can win back his party. There will be no breakthroughs over the next few months. We will have to wait until after the Palestinians elections, which instead of taking place in November 2005, have been moved to January 2006.
Who is going to finance the reconstruction in Gaza after the pullout by the Israelis?
The United States, the European Union and the Arab states will once again have to dig into their pockets. Proportionally, the Palestinians receive more aid than any other population in the world. This is because it is easier for the international community to give money than to give impetus to a genuine peace process.
What effect will the evacuation have on the colonies on the West Bank?
Over the last few weeks, the Israeli authorities have been announcing new construction programs one after another while the “Roadmap”, the only international peace plan acknowledged by Israel, provides for the freezing of new settlement activity. The decisions by Israel worry the Palestinians and the international community. In the end, the new construction, especially around Jerusalem, will lead to new catastrophes.
As thing are, what can put the breaks on the evacuation or transform it into a catastrophe?
Yes--A Palestinian attack causing many casualties or bloody anti-Palestinian attacks, especially in Jerusalem. The risks are very great, even if as time goes by the chances of them happening lessen.