The West Bank Partition – Towards the Third Intifada
Fred Schlomka – 20th May, 2006, Tel Aviv
How can Prime Minister Ehud Olmert stand up in from of Israel’s Parliament as he did in early May, pronounce himself ready for “…..negotiations with a Palestinian Authority committed to the principals of the Roadmap…..”, and the very next day rebuff Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas when he called to inquire about a meeting? Meanwhile the new government continues to ‘thicken’ the West Bank settlement blocks with ongoing construction and prepare plans for the partitioning of the West Bank in a unilateral redrawing of Israel’s borders. The system of fortifications called a ‘Security Fence’ by the Israeli Government includes 24-feet high walls that often cut through neighborhoods and isolate Palestinian villages on the ‘Israeli side’. It is fast defining the new borders of the Israeli State despite repeated government statements over the past four years that the fence was a purely security consideration.
Security may indeed be part of the equation, but the term ‘Hafrada’ (separation or apartheid in Hebrew) has entered the mainstream lexicon in Israel and determined much of the government policies since the Oslo process began in 1992. Ever increasing restrictions on Palestinian movement and employment during the 1990s, combined with settlement expansion that doubled the number of Jewish settlers, set the stage for the eruption of the Second Intifada in 2000. The build-up to the revolt began during the mid-nineties when Israel initiated the policy of replacing Palestinian labor with migrant workers from Thailand, the Philippines, Eastern Europe, and African countries. These workers now amount to almost 5% of the population of Israel and have virtually eliminated the need for cheap Palestinian labor. The resulting economic hardship for Palestinian workers, combined with military incursions, an Orwellian labyrinth of permits, roadblocks, and Jewish-only roads, have paralyzed Palestinian society and made a mockery of the Oslo Agreements.
‘Hafrada’ has since entered a new state of development. Using Palestinian acts of terror as justification, successive Israeli governments deepened the already repressive restrictions on Palestinians and constructed the ‘Security Fence’, cutting a wide swath through the West Bank and effectively annexing hundreds of thousands of acres of prime agricultural land and key aquifers, in addition to the settlement blocks. During this ongoing land grab in the West Bank, Sharon pushed through last year’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, leaving behind the most impoverished enclave in the Eastern Mediterranean. Not content with withdrawal, Israel has largely cut off the area from the outside world though a sea blockade, a no-fly zone, and a border with Egypt subject to continuing Israeli control. Thus the ‘withdrawal’ from Gaza has only served to separate the imprisoned population from their Israeli guards while deepening their isolation. The recent promise of limited funds to the Palestinian Authority by the USA and Europe may be too little, too late, and not nearly enough to stem the humanitarian disaster.
Olmert’s refusal to engage the Palestinian Authority only continues pre-existing Israeli government policy. Keep in mind that there have been no serious negotiations since the Camp David and Sharm El-Sheik meetings between President Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak in 2000. The current Hamas controlled Palestinian Authority now provides a convenient pretext for Israel to continue their 5-year policy of no negotiation and unilateral action. Anger is once again building on the Palestinian street, and not against Hamas, but against the Israeli regime that is tightening its matrix of control. Once the new Hamas security forces have sorted out their differences with the Fatah controlled police, they might well bury the hatchet and turn once again to the common enemy. Hamas may yet cancel its year-long truce. Olmert would do well to learn from the experience of his predecessors. Maintaining a cauldron of resentment among an occupied population is a recipe for disaster, and continuing repressive measures designed to keep the lid on outbursts of protest by Palestinians will only serve to stir the pot. Israelis want peace and quiet, and are less interested in peace with justice, but the ongoing government tactics will bring them neither.
Without hope for a real peace in the horizon most Palestinians are turning inward, seeking ever-elusive ways to keep their families intact and put food on the table. But make no mistake, as conditions for Palestinians continue to decline, and Israel moves ahead with the partitioning of the West Bank, further revolts from the beleaguered population are inevitable. Israelis are also turning inward, but the Third Intifada could be looming in front of them like an approaching tsunami, and their ignorance of its arrival echoes the complacency prior to the Intifadas of 1987 and 2000.
Fred Schlomka (firstname.lastname@example.org) is an Israeli businessman and a board member of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD)
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