Israel: Sharon's Plan - The Road to Peace?

Yossi Schwartz looks at Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's "disengagement" plan and why George W. Bush, and now Tony Blair, as well as many inside Israel support it. The unilateral plan is presented as a means to solve the endless crisis and bring about peace and stability in the region. But beneath the road to the implementation of the Sharon Plan there lie two big landmines - the settlers and the Palestinian masses.

Prime Minister Sharon has been in the world news for three reasons - his plan of unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, the assassination of Sheikh Yasin, and his indictment for personal corruption.

Sharon's plan is presented as a way out of the endless diplomatic crisis of the policies of the US and its attempts to solve the relationship between the Israeli ruling class and the occupied Palestinians, which has been a cause of instability in the region for many years.

In the beginning of January this year Sharon surprised many people when in Herzliyah he read his text outlining his plan for unilateral withdrawal from Gaza.

The idea behind this plan is very simple: most of the West Bank area will become de facto a part of Israel, and the rest of the 11-12 % of historical Palestine - or less than 50 % of the occupied land in 1967 - will remain in the hands of the Palestinians, who will be enclosed in isolated enclaves. The settlements will be removed from these enclaves. This includes the settlement blocs of Karney Shomron, Elkana, Ariel and Kedumim, the Modi'in Road and the territory south of it up to the Green Line, all of the Greater Jerusalem area already annexed in 1967, and the new neighborhoods around Jerusalem up to Maaleh Adumim. The Jewish settlement in Hebron and Kiryat Arba, the settlements in the Hebron area, all the Dead Sea shore, all the Jordan Valley, including about 15 km of the banks will be annexed to Israel. Gaza, the most populated and one of the poorest places on earth will be left as well for the Palestinians.

Sharon began implementing his plan by erecting the "separation fence". What he envisions is a very wide no entry patrol zone along with a very high, fortified and electrified fence, and he wants the working people of the US to pay for it. The Palestinian territories (Areas A and B under the Oslo agreement) will be surrounded on all sides. There will be about a dozen isolated pockets, connected by special roads, bridges, and tunnels under the control of the Israeli army.

In this scheme there is no place for Arafat who has been associated with the pipe dream of a Palestinian capitalist state created on most of the land occupied in 1967. Sharon does not want a Palestinian central power. To prevent a mass uprising he would prefer the old British system of local rulers like the Maharajas' system in India created by British imperialism for this purpose - a system that was imposed later on South Africa known as the Bantustans.

The execution of the plan is scheduled to take place on the eve of the presidential elections in the US. This will be presented as a gift to the American people for the great efforts their governments have made to solve the difficult relationship between Israel and the Palestinians. Bush, taking into account his dropping popularity as a result of the Vietnamization of Iraq supports it.

It is not only Bush who supports the plan - no bourgeois US politician will dare to oppose it. The Democrat and the Republican candidates need the pro-Zionist lobby in control of Jewish votes and money. The Republicans also need the votes and the money of the 60 million Christian fundamentalists, who support the most extreme right in Israel.

According to an Aljazeera report of April 7: "Sources familiar with the negotiations on Tuesday said President George Bush was expected to back the withdrawal as an interim step."

"There are understandings on key components," a diplomatic source said, adding: "the remaining issues would be worked out just before or during Bush's meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in Washington on April 14."

In this meeting the two bandits are going to iron out the details of how to present this robbery as a great advance of peace and freedom in the Middle East. Bush wants a few concessions from Sharon such as the removal of a few isolated settlements in the West Bank, and Sharon, in great agony, will of course agree. On the other hand he will want a great deal of money from the US, which he will receive due to the fact that it is an election year. Sharon wants $5 billion in loan guarantees that would be used to resettle the settlers in the Negev.

The US-Israeli agreement was hammered out last week in talks in Jerusalem between Sharon and senior US officials.

According to Aljazeera "one non-governmental source close to both the Israelis and the Americans said the White House planned to announce agreement on the 'conceptual framework' for the withdrawal."

The White House has already announced that it sees the withdrawal as a "positive" and potentially "historic" interim step to help jump-start the stalled peace road map for the region.

Sharon's plan at this point is quite popular among most Israelis who were fed the lie that this plan will bring peace and security at the price of great concessions to the Palestinians - in spite of the fact that there is no partner with whom to sign an official peace agreement.

The great majority of Israelis are united at the moment around two points: (a) The longing for peace and security, and (b) the distrust of Arabs. They support Sharon's plan that promises peace and security, and the fact that it is entirely "unilateral" - no negotiations with Palestinians are required.

Unlike those who have no clue as to why the working masses think the way they do, we do not blame the working class for the crimes of the capitalist state, the position of the left in Israel, or the criminal policy of reactionary individual terror.

The capitalist class owns and controls not only the economy, but also the school system, and the mass media. In days of social stability they help to shape the ideas and conceptions of the masses. The schools and the mass media pour out an endless stream of racist, anti-working class ideas in order to try and prevent the class struggle against the capitalist class. Hate and mistrust of the Arabs is one of their major tools.

The left, and here we are referring to the Zionist left as well as to the Communist party, have told the Israelis that the imperialist's plans, such as the Oslo accords, would bring peace. In reality the oppression of the Palestinians continued under the Oslo accords - more land was stolen and more settlements were built. It was only a question of time before a new Intifada would break out. When it did break out most Israelis were shocked and were pushed to the right.

Unlike the previous Intifada, which was a popular uprising, this Intifada has been characterized mostly by reactionary individual terror aimed at the working class. The effect of such terrorism was to push the Israeli masses further into the hands of the reactionaries.

The working class learns and reaches conclusions by lessons learned in the fire of the class struggle. Such struggles have taken place in Israel over the last two years. However, the Histadruth (the General Federation of Jewish Labor) leadership has managed to isolate the struggles and defeat them. The same left parties that told the workers to trust in the imperialist peace plans did not act at all on the side of the working class in this period. Either they support the government attacks, or like the CPI (the Communist Party of Israel, which was a part of the bureaucracy of Histadruth), which instead of exposing Perez, the General Secretary of the Histadruth by introducing a program of mobilization of the class for its own interest, simply sang songs of praise to the existing leaders of Histadruth.

Thus the working class is in despair, knowing very well that there is no leadership the class can trust. For all of these reasons they see Sharon's Plan as a step toward peace and security.

But beneath the road to the implementation of the Sharon Plan there lie two big landmines - the settlers and the Palestinian masses.

The inhabitants of the settlements that are supposed to be "relocated" include some of the most extreme elements of the settlement movement. There is no chance that these will go away peacefully. Some settlers will have to be removed by force - for this reason Sharon needs US financial aid.

According to an informed estimate, some 5000 soldiers and policemen will be needed to remove just one small "outpost": Migron, near Ramallah, which Sharon was supposed to have removed long ago according to the road map.

The army cannot just leave these territories with the settlements remaining behind. As long as the settlements are there, the army will be there. In other words, the implementation of the plan will not be quick and tidy, like the withdrawal of the army from south Lebanon, but a process of many months.

While the deployment in the areas that will be de facto annexed to Israel will be quick and effective, the transfer of the territories that will be turned over to the Palestinians will be very slow.

It is clear that the execution of the plan will be a device that destroys the illusion of a Palestinian capitalist state in all or most of the 1967 occupied lands.

If Sharon succeeds in executing his plan, Palestinians will be crowded into territories that will constitute about 10 percent of the original territory of Palestine before 1948. Therefore, the masses will fight against this plan, and their struggle will intensify the more it progresses.

Sharon and Bush want to make sure the withdrawal does not allow Hamas to cement its grip over Gaza. For this reason we are all of a sudden hearing of the unplanned Palestinian elections. Palestinian Foreign Minister Nabil Sha'ath said Thursday that militant opposition groups may also participate in the vote.

Speaking to reporters in the West Bank city of Ramallah after meeting with Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat, Sha'ath said, "We hope this [a withdrawal] will pave the road for a Palestinian general election with the participation of Hamas."

A State Department spokesman Tuesday called for Hamas to be ostracized and stripped of any power and influence as an organization. However, taking into account the strength of Hamas in Gaza, the Palestinian Authority, which supports the plan, does not have the strength to fight Hamas.

Sha'ath added that, "our hope is that once there is a withdrawal from Gaza there will be a real cease-fire. In a cease-fire, we have the commitment of Hamas and everybody when there is a reciprocated cease-fire [i.e. reciprocated by the Israelis]." He said the militant groups would be committed to such a cease-fire and the Palestinian security sources would go after those who violate the truce, thus avoiding a civil war.

Sha'ath also said in the interview that the US will have to be ready along with the World Bank and other donors to offer "massive" economic support for the Palestinians in the event of an Israeli withdrawal from territories. The reason for this request is to buy some time in order to prevent an uprising in Gaza. In return, he said the Palestinian Authority would step up their security activities in the territories.

Sha'ath is due to visit Washington on April 21, one week after Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. He is scheduled to meet National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of State Colin Powell for the first high-level American-Palestinian Authority meeting since before Mahmoud Abbas resigned as Palestinian prime minister last summer.

And what about Hamas? Hamas is ready to be a player in this scheme of betrayal of the Palestinian people's right of self-determination. A few days ago Hamas' new leader Abdel Aziz Rantisi announced that Hamas will not attack US interests in the region. Now we hear that leaderships of Hamas, Fatah, and Islamic Jihad in Gaza have prepared a draft "National Plan".

It is the first such document prepared by the Palestinians in response to the disengagement from Gaza, and broadly deals with the issues raised during the hudna (cease fire) talks last year between the PA, Hamas, Fatah and other armed groups.

According to the document, Hamas accepts the PA's supreme authority as representatives of the Palestinians. The document calls the PLO the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people and "the national framework unifying the Palestinians in their homeland and outside it."

It defines the joint strategic goals of the organizations as "ending the Israeli occupation of the territories captured on June 5, 1967 and the evacuation of the settlements and settlers from those territories, the establishment of an independent state with full sovereignty and its capital in Jerusalem on the areas of the aggression of June 5, and full sovereignty in Arab Jerusalem's neighborhoods and over the Christian and Islamic holy sites."

The document does not yet detail any division of labor or division of forces between Hamas and Fatah in Gaza following the expected withdrawal of Israel, but it already announced the acceptance of Sharon's plan as a step forward. "The forces support acceptance of security and administrative responsibility by the PA in evacuated territories in the context of an agreed national plan."

And of course this agreement to act as an instrument of Sharon's plan and as a US police force on the part of these organizations is presented as "a unification of all the forces to translate the achievements of the Intifada into political facts and to deal with the unilateral steps of the Israeli government."

The document of course "vehemently opposes, and warns against, any attempt to pay Israel for the withdrawal, or to turn [the withdrawal] into an alternative to the fulfillment of Israel's international obligations, or the granting of false legitimacy to the separation fence, or to the annexation or expansion of Israel's presence in the West Bank, or avoiding full withdrawal from all the territories occupied in 1967."

Sharon's plan is getting support from other sources as well. Sharon's office said British Prime Minister Tony Blair told Prime Minister Sharon on Wednesday that he would work toward enlisting international support for the disengagement plan.

Blair, Sharon, and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak are visiting Washington separately next week. They will meet U.S. President George W. Bush at his Crawford, Texas home. The following week, Jordan's King Abdullah will meet him as well.

And what about the left in Israel, such as the Communist Party and Gush Shalom? At the moment they oppose this plan and this is a good thing. However, history has shown that they may in the end support even this miserable betrayal of the Palestinian people as they did in the past when they accepted the Oslo agreement and Geneva accords. Of course support for this plan will be presented as tactical support and only as an interim step toward a mini-Palestinian state - even though the idea of "Peace without the other side" is a contradiction in terms. Eventually, the fate of this plan will be the same as the fate of all the other grandiose plans put forward by Sharon in his long career. One need only think of the Lebanon war and its price.

But are there other options? We Marxists have said it all along. There can be no peace and no solution to the problems in Israel/Palestine on the basis of capitalism. The only way out of this hell is the revolutionary class struggle of all the workers at the head of the peasants and the urban poor in the region for a Socialist Federation of the Middle East where all the nations will have the right of self-determination in the framework of national territorial autonomy. All the supporters of the imperialist order - who have learned nothing from the experience of the last 56 years - will tell us this is unreal, not practical, and not possible. It is however, the only road to peace.