Disengagement or Tactical Military Redeployment?
SHAMAI K. LEIBOWITZ and KATERINA HELLER, CounterPunch, August 24, 2005
The imminent handover of the Gaza Strip to the Palestinian Authority and the evacuation of a small portion of the West Bank from Israeli settlers has been billed by the international media as a turning point in the violent history of Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Through well-planned media strategies, which included inviting the world media to capture images of Israelis dragging men, women and children out of their homes in the illegal settlements they occupied for thirty-eight years, the Israeli government has succeeded in marketing the Unilateral Disengagement Plan as a great “concession” on Israel’s part and a revival of the “peace process.”
But the Unilateral Disengagement Plan will turn out to be no such thing as it is no more than a tactical military redeployment of Israel’s Occupation Forces. This is evident from Israel’s decision to retain military control over the would-be evacuated areas in the West Bank and control over airspace, coastline and border crossings of the Gaza Strip, as well as Israel’s decision to continue with the building of the West Bank Wall deep inside the West Bank.
In a December 2004 report, the World Bank predicted that by continuing to control the flow of people and goods into and out of the Gaza Strip, rather than offering Gaza inhabitants economic progress, the Disengagement will worsen the already dire economic situation of the Gaza Strip.
Effectively, the Disengagement Plan will turn Gaza into the world’s largest open-air prison with 1.3 million Palestinian inmates. The result will be a continuation, if not an increase, of the bloodshed and violence. Similarly, the removal of 4 out of 130 Jewish-only settlements in the Occupied West Bank while building and expanding others, at the expense of 2 million Palestinians who continue to live without human or civil rights, does not signal an end to the Israeli Occupation but, rather, its perpetuation.
Despite its severe flaws, can the Disengagement be beneficial toward peace? Yes, if the international community would demand from Israel a complete withdrawal from the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and in the mean time, deploy an international peacekeeping force to serve as a buffer between Israel and the Palestinians.
In 1999, when East Timor began its transition from Indonesian occupation toward independence, the UN deployed an International Force for East Timor (INTERFET) consisting of 8,000 peacekeeping troops to quell the violence in the region. They successfully maintained the peace and served as a buffer between Indonesia and the East Timorese, allowing the latter to develop their independence peacefully.
Based on this precedent, the UN Security Council should issue a similar resolution to deploy “INTERFIP- International Forces in Israel/Palestine”, which would be stationed in the West Bank and Gaza, monitor Gaza’s border crossings, airports and coastline, while serving as a buffer between Israel and the Palestinians. These forces would terminate the system of closures, curfews and arbitrary restrictions imposed by the Israeli army on Palestinian movement which have devastated the Palestinian economy. This would allow for economic growth and progress in the West Bank and Gaza, and foster a peacebuilding environment on both sides.
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, as well as the World Bank and the European Union, have publicly supported international intervention, whether in the form of a UN-based force or a NATO force. The Palestinian Authority has welcomed this idea. There remains a “small” problem: The Israeli government has objected to it.
Israel should learn from its past mistakes. The deterioration and eventual collapse of the Oslo Accords have been attributed mainly to the absence of international armed peacekeeping forces to enforce the agreements and prevent human rights abuses. To prevent the same mistake from happening twice, the international community must economically pressure Israel to agree to the deployment of a neutral armed peacekeeping force. This has the power to transform Disengagement into a peacebuilding operation, leading the way to the implementation of the “Road Map to Peace” – the plan, sponsored by the U.S., Russia, the European Union and the U.N., to establish an independent, democratic, and viable Palestinian state by 2005.
As Israelis, we are proud of our country’s decision to start complying with international law, but we are terribly worried this will not bring peace and security to our people. We urgently need the support of the international community – by deploying peacekeeping troops now.
Shamai K. Leibowitz is an Israeli attorney who holds a Master of Laws in International Legal Studies from American University’s Washington College of Law and is an active member of Gush Shalom – the Israeli Peace Bloc.
Katerina Heller is an Israeli organizational psychologist and founding editor of The Occupation Magazine. They can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org