Disengaging Resistance
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Disengaging Resistance

Sharon continues to push his ‘Gaza disengagement plan’ despite obstinate opposition from within the Likud. The defeat by his far-right constituency in the party referendum on May 2 was a further indicator that Israeli party politics is beholden to the extremists of the extreme.

Despite this early setback, Sharon’s plan retains the support of the majority of Israeli Jews and will continue rolling. On Saturday 29th May he launched the ‘revised’ version of his plan. Largely identical to the original proposals, this garnered the necessary cabinet support on June 6th by postponing the decisions on which settlements to evacuate.

Left-wing critiques have failed to call attention to the full implications of Sharon’s plan. Most critical commentaries on Sharon’s plan and the Likud party referendum have focused on the unilateralism and inadequacies within the small print. Others have concentrated on the extent to which Israeli politics remains hijacked by the fundamentalist settler movement.

Yet to understand the existential threat Sharon’s plan poses to a just resolution for the conflict, it must be seen as one of a series of Israeli ‘peace’ proposals intended to legitimize, reinforce and increase the efficiency of control within the Israeli sphere of dominance. While superficially the plan appears as a break with Sharon’s past, examining its deeper implications show that it fulfils many of the same principles and goals that have defined his military-political career.

In its finality, its discursive victory, its completion of occupation by remote control, Sharon’s disengagement plan threatens to unilaterally truncate the Palestinian struggle for freedom. Isolated and dependent on Israeli goodwill and humanitarian aid handouts for survival, Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza will remain imprisoned in their walled-in enclaves, with the world turning a blind-eye to a ‘successfully resolved conflict’.

‘Sharon takes a courageous step’

While few agree with Bush’s epithet for Sharon as a ‘man of peace’, there is a widespread acceptance that Sharon is a statesman who can make things happen. If it took red-baiting Nixon to go to China, and a ‘social democrat’ like Blair to follow the US in some of its most blatantly imperialist adventures yet, then maybe only the ‘butcher of Beirut’ is qualified to ‘lead Israel out of Gaza’. And as Sharon pursues his plan in the face of fierce internal resistance from the Likud party membership and his cabinet colleagues, he will garner further international respect for ‘going out on a limb’ in a search for ‘peace’.

Liberal Israeli writers are already beginning to compare Sharon with the man he personally brought down. “Like Barak, Sharon chose the path of courageous initiative by opting for political concessions.”[1] Sharon does share a connection to Barak, yet it is not that they both offered too much without firm backing. Rather, they both proposed plans that combined abrogation of all responsibility for Palestinians with maintaining firm control over the people in enclosed cantons and continued exploitation of the land’s resources. Furthermore, they successfully sold their plans to the dominant world powers as ‘freedom’ and ‘a state’. Yet Barak foundered on Arafat’s recognition that the Palestinian population would not accept a final status with such blatant parallels to the apartheid bantustans. Many commentators have pointed out the strategic similarities between Barak’s Camp David 2000 offer and Sharon’s unilateral disengagement plan. The borders of this new ‘Palestinian state’ will remain under the control of Israeli Border Authorities. Access to airspace, sea access and water will require Israeli permission. Those land areas considered strategically important, such as the Philadelphia Road, at Gaza’s border with the Egypt, will be retained. Defence Minister Mofaz has made clear that Israeli military operations in Gaza will continue when considered necessary for Israeli security.

The talk of ‘withdrawal’ and percentages of land to be handed over to Palestinian authorities diguises that the occupation and biopolitical regulation will continue by remote control. Entry of people and goods will still depend on the whims of the military bureaucracy. The enforced dependence of Palestinians on Israel for trade, health, water, travel etc will be used as a disciplinary mechanism both of society and individuals.

The need for permits to pass checkpoints, exit or enter ‘Palestine’through Israeli border crossings will continue to provide a ready pool of potential collaborators.

Life in Gaza will remain desperate, as the non-photogenic grinding violence and humiliation continues unnoticed by the world. Meanwhile, Israel will be relieved both of its humanitarian responsibility for the occupied population under international law, and its historic and societal racist fear of the ‘demographic threat’ presented by Palestinians.

Succeeding where Apartheid ‘failed’

***image2***While Bush and Blair enthusiastically embraced Sharon’s proposal as courageous, the mentioned limitations were obvious to Arab and European leaders and to the Israeli ‘centre’. Yet despite criticising the unilateralism and lack of co-ordination with the PNA, they have argued that ‘withdrawal’ cannot be a bad thing. A ‘free Gaza’ would give the Palestinians a chance to prove that they can run efficient services, provide security, eliminate corruption and elect representative leaders. A reading of 1970s newspapers would probably show a handful of commentators who welcomed the ‘independent homelands’ or ‘bantustans’ created by apartheid South Africa as a historic opportunity for black people to ‘prove themselves’. But I doubt that the same individuals like to be reminded of their past statements.

In 1994, Israeli academic Tanya Reinhart compared the 1993 Declarations of Principles (Oslo Accords) with the 1959 Bantu Act of South Africa, which began the process of creating over-populated cantons deprived of resources and presenting these as ‘independent homelands’. [2] To continue Reinhart’s argument, Sharon’s ‘disengagement’ plan can be compared to the proposals for the ‘independence’ of the Transkei in 1976.

The areas termed ‘A’ under Oslo and administered by the PA have frequently been referred to as bantustans by those critical of Oslo, yet the temporary nature of the agreements signed made them more like ‘bantustans-in-the-making’. The threat to ‘withdraw’ as opposed to ‘redeploy’ pretends to end the occupation, nixing the possibility of future negotiation. The borders of the Palestine bantustan would be limited to the boundaries drawn by Sharon.

Hindsight shows that the ‘independent homelands’ project implemented in Transkei, Ciskei, Bophuthatswana, and Venda failed. This was partly due an organised refusal to recognise their validity as independent states, both by the local population, the liberation movements, and the international community. In contrast to the ANC, the Palestinian National Authority

(PNA) will probably acquiesce to Sharon’s plans. Despite grumbling at its exclusion from negotiations, internal discussions have taken place on how to administer the areas from which Israel withdraws. Thus in their desire to maintain political control over their people, the Fateh leadership risk taking the place of the proxy dictators installed by apartheid South Africa. And we have already seen that the powerful players in the international community are all too eager to rid themselves of the ‘Palestine problem’.

Spaces to Resist

***image1***Aside from the racist idea of ‘dealing with the demographic threat’ and the shrewd diversion of attention from the bribery scandal engulfing Sharon, there is a further, rarely mentioned, motivation for the withdrawal proposal. There has been a trend, both within Israeli state policy and Sharon’s career, to minimize the Palestinian ability to resist.

Here there is continuity between the ‘Oslo’ Declaration of Principles (DOP) and the ‘withdrawal proposal’ of one of Oslo’s most vehement opponents. The 1993 DOP led to Israeli troops being pulled out of Palestinian urban centers, thus transferring responsibility for services and ‘subcontracting’ the policing of the occupation to Arafat and his cronies in the Palestinian Authority. With the end of ‘direct occupation’, many spaces of resistance were removed. ‘Spaces’ in this sense are both physical and non-physical. The military redeployed to bases, checkpoints and settlements, limiting direct confrontation. Most governmental roles are now carried out by Palestinian Ministries of the PNA, rather than the Israeli Civil Administration. This leaves tax resistance, boycotts and other forms of civil disobedience – mainstays of the first Intifada – no longer feasible. The Paris Protocol (April 1994) and strategic economic disengagement on those levels where Israel was previously dependent has left Palestinians will less space for economic resistance. For example, employees’ strikes have been made irrelevant with the importation of ‘foreign labour’ from South-east Asia to replace Palestinian low-wage workers.

Thus while the Oslo process was sold as probably leading to Palestinian self-determination, its details reduced the Palestinian ability to apply the pressure necessary to reach this end through negotiations. This left Israel, already the more powerful player in the negotiations, able to “dictate the pace, spirit, nature, and conclusion of this open-ended process.” [3] Despite showing less subtlety in his past subjugation of Palestinians than the crafters of the ‘Oslo Peace Accords’, Sharon has shown a clear awareness of the uses of space and architecture as a weapon and means of domination. Whether rolling back PLO forces from Lebanon or creating a control matrix in the Occupied Territories with settlement outposts, Sharon’s military career is replete with attempts to curb the possibility of Palestinian resistance. While the assaults and subjugation of the April 2002 invasions did provide renewed possibilities to resist in their short-term, the overall impact on occupied Palestinian society undermined the capability and energy to fight.

Sharon’s new plan of withdrawal thus has elements of continuity with both his individual and Israeli governmental trends. By removing Netzarim and other settlements and military bases most vulnerable to attacks, some of the last remaining targets for armed resistance will be removed. Israeli coercion and control will continue, yet its execution will remain largely out of reach for Palestinian resistance of all forms. With Israeli troops and direct repression pulled back to a point where it is difficult to challenge, Palestinians in Gaza will be hard pressed to find a target for their resistance, whether armed or ‘nonviolent’.

‘Prison State’

While Sharon’s proposal has widely been termed the ‘Gaza disengagement plan’, it also refers to pulling out of four West Bank settlements (Ganim, Kadim, Sa-Nur and Homesh). Thus the confiscation of spaces to resist will extend to parts of the West Bank. Despite claims by disingenuous commentators such as former Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben Ami that the primary Palestinian concern with the withdrawal plan is that it ends with Gaza [4], the opposite is closer to the truth.

Sharon has made public his intention to extend the barrier/wall/fence through the Jordan valley, encircling and dividing the Palestinian cities of the West Bank from both Jordan and Israel and from one another. This will create the architectural necessities for a similar ‘withdrawal plan’for the West Bank. ‘Pulling out’ from the military bases and hard-line settlement/colonies within the walled-in enclave will leave more than half the West Bank under Israeli control. This includes the two strategic north/south strips of the Jordan valley in the east and the meandering strip next to the Green Line in the west. These will be connected via ‘Greater Jerusalem’ [including the settlement Ma’ale Addumim] and other east-west arteries. Eyal Weizman, an Israeli architect, described the resulting layout as “almost exactly the ‘H’ pattern envisaged in Sharon’s 1982 plan, as if nothing in the intervening years – neither the Oslo process nor the ‘roadmap’ – have altered his long-term vision.” [5] The resulting Palestinian state “will be several enclaves completely surrounded within a Zionist body-politic that will cover all the territory between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River.” In this geographic arrangement, Palestinians are simultaneously inside and outside the borders of Israeli sovereignty: territorially inside yet politically outside.

The added danger of this plan as opposed to the plethora that came before it is its imposed finality. With soldiers and settlers ‘discursively withdrawn’ from Gaza and maybe the West Bank, in the eyes of the world Palestinians will have no reason to continue their struggle. Sharon has stated that if anyone has the impudence to demand justice and reject his offer of ‘freedom’, “Israel’s responses (to violence) would be much harsher.” In contrast to many of the previous ‘interim agreements’, Sharon’s unilateral ‘withdrawal’ will permanently revoke most of the Palestinian vocabulary justifying resistance.


Unlike Bush, Sharon is clever, both as a strategist and as tactician. His plan will be “a feat of great geometrical complexity and technical sophistication – the last of Sharon’s territorial gestures, the one to finally solidify, in both space and time, his territorial strategy.” [6] The ‘withdrawal proposal’ is not intended as the first step towards a final solution for Gaza, but the last.

If successful, Palestinian towns will remain cut off from one another by Israeli settlement blocs, roads and walls, confined to modern-day ghettos.

Movement will rely on Israeli goodwill. Those desiring to commute to work in another town, visit their aunt, go to a better hospital or import oranges from Gaza will need to beg for a permit. Control over water, air, environment and borders will remain with Israel. There will be no famine, yet Palestinians will remain malnourished and dependant on outside humanitarian aid for their physical survival. There will be no compensation for years of suffering or oppression. The refugees will stay where they are, without any recognition that something went amiss when they were forced out of their homes in 1948. Israeli elimination of anyone or any group proclaimed a ‘security threat’ will remain internationally accepted. ‘Ultimate’ sovereignty, for want of a better term, will remain with Israel.

Internationally, acceptance by those world powers ‘that matter’ is forthcoming. They are eager to sell the ‘Israeli-Arab conflict’ as finally resolved: injustice and suffering on the ground are less important than presentation and perception. Even those states that have raised concerns will say little as things proceed.

Both the Palestinian leadership and solidarity movements abroad have struggled to find a vocabulary to effectively challenge Sharon’s plan. He seems, after all, to be giving the Palestinians a gift, with no requirements in return. In the end, the Palestinian Authority officialdom will almost certainly acquiesce to ruling the Palestine Bantustan rather than give up their positions of privilege and control by taking the courageous step of dissolving the PNA’s structures and demanding ‘a viable state or no state’.

Within Israeli Jewish politics, there is a mainstream consensus around a vision of the future along the lines of Sharon’s plan. This in itself is far more frightening than the hijacking of the Likud referendum by the extreme right. Since the vote took place, Israeli historian Ilan Pappe has pointed out that “whoever forms the next government, Israel’s policy on the Palestine question will be the same, whether the plan is pushed forward by the Likud and its allies (the center party Shinui, the National Religious Party, the ultra Orthodox parties and the Russian immigrant parties) or by the Labor party and its allies.” [7] Sharon’s plan threatens a near final defeat for Palestinians. For all their steadfastness and willingness to sacrifice, it could leave them with neither the space to resist nor the vocabulary to justify resistance.

Comprehensive control over the natural and strategic resources of the West Bank will be maintained while the Israeli government will be relieved of any responsibility for its Palestinian population. By racist expansionist standards, Sharon could score almost complete ‘victory’, short of transfer of the Palestinian population and wholesale annexation to the state of Israel. Until now, only the fanaticism of the movement he himself created has prevented Sharon from succeeding where both Barak and the South African apartheid government failed. Yet Sharon continues with his plan, modifying it merely to accommodate some of the demands of the settler lobby that lost him the referendum. Prevention of the permanent bantustanisation of Palestine cannot and will not remain the responsibility solely of the extreme religious right of Israeli politics.


1. Aluf Benn, A leader without a party, 03 May 2004

2. Tanya Reinhart, The Era of Yellow Territories

3. Marwan Bishara, Palestine/Israel: Peace or Apartheid, p47

4. Shlomo Ben Ami, Sharon’s Gaza disengagement: roadmap to a Palestinian state?

5. Eyal Weizman, Ariel Sharon and the Geometry of Occupation

6. Eyal Weizman, Ariel Sharon and the Geometry of Occupation

7. Ilan Pappe, Israeli Political Options After the Vote, 6 May 2004

Mika Minio-Paluello has been working for various local committees in Nablus, Palestine since July 2003. While there, he kept a weblog www.notesfrompalestine.net. Currently he is touring the USA with an art installation from Balata Refugee Camp. He will be returning to Palestine to work on various grassroots community projects in July.