Reiterates Threat To
Annex West Bank Territory
By Chris Marsden
10 January 2004
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon used the January 5 congress of his Likud
Party to reiterate his threat to permanently annex land on the West
Bank and thereby unilaterally determine the shape of a truncated Palestinian
First made on December
18 of last year, his threat to abandon the timetable set out in the
so-called Road Map for peace has received scarcely a word
of criticism from Washingtondespite the US being the main sponsor
of the proposals. In effect, he has instead been given a green light
for his expansionist aims and the escalating brutality that such plans
The Road Map provides
for the establishment of a Palestinian state with provisional borders,
as a step towards the creation of a definitive state by 2005.
In last Decembers
policy speech to a security conference in Herzliya, near Tel Aviv, however,
Sharon laid down an ultimatum to the Palestinian Authority (PA): that
if they failed to suppress all opposition to the Israeli occupation
by outlawing militant groups and carrying out mass arrests, he would
unilaterally separate Israel from the Palestinian territories within
a matter of months.
He refused to specify
the line of separation, but threatened that the Palestinians would be
granted even less territory than they would under a negotiated settlement.
The lines of demarcation Sharon intends to impose are hardly a mystery,
as they would follow the line of the illegal security fence Israel is
erecting. This cuts well into territories beyond the Green Line,
the pre-1967 Six Day War border between Israel and the West Bank. This
would make permanent the facts on the ground of 140,000-plus
Zionist settlers having seized control of around 15 percent of the West
Bank, representing its prime agricultural land. It would also permanently
deny access to any part of East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians want
to be their capital and which constitutes a vast proportion of the West
He pledged to speed
up the construction of the security barrier, warning the PA, We
are not going to wait forever.
Despite the provocative
character of Sharons threat, Washington quickly gave its tacit
assent. Initially, White House press secretary Scott McClellan made
critical remarks warning Sharon, We would oppose any unilateral
steps that block the road toward negotiations under the road map.
But by the next day, McClellan had changed his tune. We were very
pleased with the overall speech, he said, adding that Sharon had
made some important pledges to ease the conditions facing Palestinians
and had undertook to confiscate no more land for settlement expansion
and to dismantle unauthorised settler outposts.
The settlement issue
is being focused on by Tel Aviv and Washingtonas if Sharon had
suddenly become the enemy of the very people on whom he has relied for
supportin order to divert attention from the expansionist substance
of his announcement. In this, Sharon can rely on the entirely predictable
outrage of the settler population, of Likuds most extremist wing
and of its far-right coalition partners to any proposal to remove a
single settlement from the supposedly biblical home of the
The Road Map calls
for a freeze on settlements, as well as on what is called natural
growth in order to create a Palestinian state. But Sharon has
only stated that some settlements may have to be redeployedreducing
as much as possible the number of Israelis located in the heart of the
Palestinian population and so drawing the most efficient
security line possible.
Sharon has not specified
precisely which settlements are supposed to be shut down, but his record
suggests that he is envisaging isolated settlements in the east of the
West Bank and the handful in the Gaza Strip. There is no talk of reducing
the overall number of settlers.
Deputy Prime Minister
Ehud Olmert subsequently warned of the anguish of possibly tens of thousands
of settlers being forced to relocate. He spoke of the measure in terms
of preserving Israels Jewish majority, warning that Arabs would
soon outnumber Israels 5.5 million Jews in the territory it controls.
Do we want [the Palestinians] to be equal citizens in the state
of Israel and ultimately dictate the nature of the state? Olmert
proposals were carried through fully, this figure of tens of thousands
is possibly true, but only because Sharons government has presided
over a doubling of the settler population on the West Bank to 220,000.
Israel spends about $500 million on settlements annuallyexcluding
the massive security bill. Of the settlements established, 130 have
been authorised and 100 are unauthorised. Of the latter, 60 have been
built during Sharons term in office.
Most of the settlements
Sharon has so far targeted for dismantling are tiny and often uninhabited.
Of two announced to be dismantled on January 3, for example, only one
was inhabited and consisted of two families living in an old bus and
a trailer. This month, Sharon identified 28 outposts for removal housing
just 400 settlers. There are 40 or 50 much bigger outposts that should
have been dismantled under the Road Map, and many of those that have
been dismantled are quickly rebuilt.
To place the plight
of these illegal Israeli settlers in its proper perspective, it should
be noted that the borders being drawn by Sharon would displace more
than 200,000 Palestinians from their homes.
There is ample evidence
that Sharon intends to continue his de facto encouragement of settlements.
Only this month it was revealed that $1 million had been allocated to
building a road to an illegal West Bank outpost, after a seminary dedicated
to the teachings of the former leader of the extremist Kach party, Rabbi
Meir Kahane, was built there.
In a related development,
his government was forced to publicly deny plans to expand Jewish settlements
by building 900 homes in the Golan Heightsa strategic plateau
captured after Israel defeated Syria, Egypt and Jordan in the 1967 War.
The Bush administration had called for freezing Israeli settlement expansion
there, after Agriculture Minister Yisrael Katz publicly announced a
plan to double the number of settlers from 17,000 to 34,000 over the
next three years at a cost of $56 million.
Katz is one of Sharons
main rightist opponents within Likud. The proposal was meant as a deliberate
snub to Syria, announced as it was just weeks after its leader Bashar
al-Assad had called for an unconditional resumption of peace talks with
Israel. The idea is that Assad will see from his own window the
Israeli Golan Heights thriving and flowering, said Katz.
At the congress
of the partys 3,000-member central committee, a stronghold of
Sharons main rival, Finance Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Katz
was one of a dozen or so MPs up in arms at proposals to remove some
settlements. Sharon was met with a chorus of boos when he spoke of abandoning
settlements and when he spoke of the possibility of a Palestinian state.
But he dismissed demands that he put the issue before the party leadership
for ratification. He insisted that, as prime minister, he had the final
responsibility. And despite the booing, the threatened vote of no-confidence
and withdrawal from the coalition by the settler-based National Religious
Party (NRP) and National Union have not materialised.
Avigdor Lieberman, leader of the National Union, said he had heard nothing
that should make his party leave the government, while NRP leader Effi
Eitam was advised by leading settler representative Rabbi Shlomo Aviner
to remain in the government at all costs.
Sharon cannot afford
to be quite as provocative as his rightist allies, who are addressing
a largely domestic audience while playing to the most extreme elements
within the Zionist milieu in the US and internationally. He must be
politic in pursuing his goal of a Greater Israel while not unduly embarrassing
his backers in Washington.
The Bush administration
is intent on establishing its undisputed hegemony over the entire Middle
East. As was demonstrated with Iraq, this drive ultimately rests on
a combination of economic pressure and the deployment of US military
muscle. The fate of Saddam Husseins regime, together with the
threats made against axis of evil states such as Iran and
Syria, is meant to intimidate all the Arab regimes and ensure their
obeisance before Washington.
But the Arab rulers
have pleaded with Washington to give them a fig leaf with which to hide
their refusal to oppose US aggression in the regionby forcing
Israel to accept some limited form of Palestinian statehood. To this
end, the US joined with the European Union, Russia and the United Nations
to draw up the Road Map, which promises the creation of a rump entity
on some of the West Bank and Gaza Strip in return for the Palestinian
Authority bringing the intifada to an end.
Sharon has been
forced to accept for now this two-states solutionwhich
would leave the Palestinians in a ghetto entity, ringed and intersected
by Israeli military outposts, policed by the PA and the Western powers,
and entirely subservient to Israel. But he has constantly pushed the
US to ditch the Road Map by mounting constant provocations against the
Palestinians designed to elicit suicide bombings by militant groups.
This enables Sharon to denounce the PA for its failure to honour its
commitment to end hostilities against Israel, and is now being used
to legitimise his threat to impose his own even more iniquitous version
of a two-states solution on the Palestinians.
Sharon could not
contemplate irritating President George W. Bushs without the knowledge
that he has at the very least substantial backing for his actions amongst
many of Washingtons key players and a calculation that the criticisms
he occasionally faces are only for the record. Indeed, one of the more
embarrassing aspects of Sharons latest outpourings for the Bush
administration was his promise to coordinate Israels supposedly
unilateral moves. In December, he pledged that any Israeli actions would
be fully coordinated with Washington in order not to harm
our strategic coordinations with the United States. To the
Likud convention, he declared, If it transpires in a few months
that we have no partner...we will have to act alone, with maximum coordination
with our allies, first and foremost the US.
Sharon is a pragmatist
whose ambitions are restrained by both the mounting economic, political
and military difficulties facing his government and his need to maintain
US backing. But ultimately he has not abandoned his aim of driving the
Palestinians out of the West Bank and Gaza Strip altogethernor
of extending Israeli control over the Golan Heights and substantial
parts of what are now Syria and Lebanon. Even as he made his threat
to unilaterally separate from the Palestinians, therefore, he reassured
his hard-line critics, This security line will not constitute
the permanent border of the State of Israel.
He clearly calculates
that his long-held goals may be realisable if he pushes the Palestinians
into a corner and forces the US to take sides in an ever-escalating
military conflict he has engineered.
by Prime Minister Ahmad Qureia indicate the anger Sharon has provoked
and the desperate situation facing the PA in seeking to tie the Palestinian
masses to the two-states solution envisaged under the Road
Map. Qureia said of Sharons plans, This is an apartheid
solution to put the Palestinians in cantons. Who can accept this? We
will go for a one-state solution.
Pointing to maps
of the fence, he said it was an attempt to put Palestinians like
chickens in cages. The wall is to unilaterally mark the borders, this
is the intention behind the wall... It will kill the road map and kill
the two-state vision.