As I noted in Rethinking Disengagement
, the West Bank disengagement plan of the Kadima party is attracting considerable criticism, and some of it is certainly legitimate.
Not the least of the problems is that the more one studies the public statements about the plan, the more it is clear that nobody knows exactly what it is. Different versions have been floated at different times. The Islamists may get 72 virgins, while we Zionists must be content with 72 versions of this plan.
How much territory and how many settlements are involved? A relatively early version
stated that Israel would evacuate at least 17 settlements.
Where would the border be? According to the early versions, the border would be set at the security fence. That being the case, and knowing that there are many more than 17 settlements on the West Bank side of the fence, it is legitimate to ask what would happen to the rest of the settlements, but no direct answer is forthcoming.
Later versions tell a different story. For example, in a Newsweek interview
The fence will have to be adjusted to the makeup of these blocs of settlements. No Israeli will live outside the fence...
What we have then, is an adjustable fence. It will move hither and yon in the imagination of Olmert and others who describe the plan, depending on whether they are trying to impress Israeli hawks with the advantages of consolidation, or impress foreigners with the amount of territory Israel is giving up. At least, this answers the question of what happens to "the rest of the settlements" outside the fence. No Israeli will live outside the fence. However, since many more than 17 settlements are beyond the border of the fence, either the fence will need to be moved and changed in very odd ways, or many more than 17 settlements will need to be removed. In the map of Israeli West Bank settlements I can count at least thirty settlements that are very far away from the fence, and many more that are outside the current route. The route of the fence around "settlement blocs" would require considerable expansion to include those settlements.
An even more important question perhaps, is what the deployment of the IDF will be after the disengagement. Version 1 was given by Avi Dichter, Kadima politician and former head of the Israeli General Security Service. He was quite explicit:
"It will be only a civilian disengagement, not a military disengagement"
Version 2 was given in the Jerusalem Post some time later. The Post quoted an anonymous IDF officer as insisting on an IDF presence in the West Bank, but it wrote:
While former Shin Bet chief and Kadima member Avi Dichter said recently that he believed the military would not pull out of the West Bank, and that the pullback would be of civilian settlers rather than of the IDF, both Olmert and Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz dismissed his remarks while strongly hinting that the withdrawal would be total, including the withdrawal of the IDF.
Version 3 was given by Olmert in his Newsweek interview:
Q [Newsweek]: Will the Army stay behind?
A [Olmert]: I will keep all the military options to be able to combat terrorism
In politicodiplomatic doublespeak, that can mean many things, but most likely means that Israel would withdraw its soldiers from the territory. Earlier, in his speech at the Herzliya conference, Olmert said that the Jordan would be the security border of Israel. A "security border" can mean almost anything, but it can't be very meaningful if there are no soldiers there.
Without knowing what settlements Israel will evacuate, where the border will run, or whether or not the IDF will remain in the territories that are evacuated, it is difficult to form an intelligent judgement of this plan for better or worse. Will it form the basis for a viable Palestinian state? Will it endanger Israel? Will it be acceptable to the United States? How can we judge any of this without knowing where the borders will be, whether the IDF will defend those borders, and what settlements are evacuated? In reality, Olmert's adjustable fence will have to follow a definite route, and without knowing what that route is, we can't know if the plan is worthwhile or not.
Like the emperor's new clothes, supporters can describe the plan as just about anything they want it to be. Disgruntled settler advocates can likewise denigrate it as a "withdrawal" or "retreat" and claim that huge numbers of settlers are involved. Pro-Palestinian critics can claim that it is an apartheid plan that hogs most of the land of the West Bank for Israel. Counter Punch and others ran the usual rants about the Israeli election results, claiming they were a vote for "apartheid." The other end of the political spectrum was not satisfied either. Settler advocates claim that that the plan gives up most of the land to the Palestinians and that the plan is withdrawal in the face of terror.
At Israpundit, for example, Ted Belman wrote about Understanding "unilateral withdrawal." However, it is impossible for Belman or anyone else to 'understand' "unilateral withdrawal" because Belman and other critics don't know that there will be any withdrawal at all, and nobody knows what the plan really is. If all the settled areas are evacuated, there is no longer any reason to keep troops there, because the troops defend the settlements. If the fence is really finally completed, there is no reason to keep troops at the checkpoints, and to maintain the near-siege of Palestinian towns. If Israel maintains soldiers along the Jordan River line, but not inside the Palestinian part of the West Bank, can we call it "withdrawal" or "retreat?" On the other hand, if Israeli soldiers remain on the Jordan, will anyone agree that the occupation ended?
I share Belman's skepticism that the United States or any other country will recognize the annexation of new territories by Israel. The most Israel might expect is another ambiguous statement by US officials that the "demographic realities" must be taken into account in any future settlement, like the statement US President Bush made earlier. However the degree of international support or rejection that this plan receives will certainly depend in part on how the adjustable fence is going to be finally adjusted.
Another factor to be considered in evaluating the plan is the alternatives. Amputating a leg is not an attractive option, but it is better than death from gangrene. Continuing the occupation and leaving the settlements in place will be a drain on Israeli defense resources, a source of continuing international censure and a point of friction that will help generate terror activity. However, amputating a leg when a bear is running after you is not the best idea either. We do not yet have a realistic assessment of the threat posed by the rise of the Hamas, and given that we do not know anything about the security arrangements after the withdrawal, we can't say if they are adequate or not.
However, the real rationales for disengagement do not rest on recognized borders, or ending the occupation. Belman himself asked,Is Israel's greatest threat demographics or indefensible borders? and the answer is both. As long as Israeli settlements remain in the West Bank and the fence is not built, the functional borders of Israel are just about everywhere, between each Arab Palestinian town and village and each settlement. For that matter, the "border" is functionally between every Palestinian individual who enters Israel proper and everyone else in Israel. As long as we have planted ourselves in the midst of a hostile population, the reality is that we have no borders, and therefore we have no defensible borders. Moreover, it would be impossible to maintain the Arabs of the West Bank indefinitely without citizenship, and given citizenship, it is only a matter of time before they would be a majority. It is not "apartheid" for Israeli Jews to want to rule our own state, and it is not apartheid for Arab Palestinians to want to rule themselves.
Clearly, some plan is needed for disentangling Israelis from Arab Palestinians. As to whether or not this particular plan is good for Israel, good for Palestinian Arabs or good for peace, that can only be decided when we know what the plan is.
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