Gaza withdrawal: Will Sharon’s pull-out lead to ‘peace’?

The Israeli government has now demolished all the Jewish settlements
in the Gaza strip, with four more in the West Bank to follow. This is
the first time that Israel has removed settlements in Palestinian
territory seized in the 1967 war.

Jenny Brooks

The forced evacuations have not been without protests and violence,
including the killing of eight Palestinians by two far-right Jewish
settlers. But with Israeli public opinion overwhelmingly in favour of
the disengagement and with the strength of the Israeli army, the Gaza
withdrawal has been implemented.

There are predictions of greater resistance to come, in two of the
West Bank settlements that are to be removed, but the army has the power
to evacuate these too.

Street celebrations have begun in the poverty stricken Palestinian
refugee camps of Gaza and a larger ‘liberation’ festival is planned.
Internationally, illusions in the prospects now for ‘peace’ in the
region have been fuelled by comments such as those of James Wolfensohn,
an envoy from the international ‘quartet’ (the US, EU, UN and Russia).
He called the pullout "a strategic moment that has all the elements
of a future settlement" and added: "They are addressing all
the issues they would need to address in a final settlement". These
remarks are far from the truth.


In the Palestinian territories, the disengagement is viewed as a
welcome product of the Palestinian intifada (uprising), but there is
rightly scepticism on what benefits it will bring.

The entire Gaza strip with its 1.3 million inhabitants is still
fenced off like a huge prison, with the Israeli army able to re-enter at
any time. Despite several months of negotiation, the Israeli regime has
not yet agreed to cede any control over Gaza’s borders, throwing into
question whether there will be any freedom of trade and movement of
people, including travel between Gaza and the West Bank. Faced with
this, Palestinians recognise that colonisation of Gaza may have ended,
but a ‘de facto’ occupation still exists.

For Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon, disengagement has always
been a unilateral step designed partly to forestall any pressure towards
a ‘peace’ settlement. His senior advisor, Dov Weiglass, made this clear
last October when he said: "The significance of the disengagement
plan is the freezing of the peace process. And when you freeze that
process, you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state and you
prevent discussion on the refugee issue.. there will not be a
negotiation process with the Palestinians."

However, the root causes of Sharon’s decision were the continuing
inability of the Israeli army to quell the intifada, to end the economic
and security consequences for Israel that go with it, and also the
future demographic situation in the area. The Israeli ruling class can
see that without separation from the Palestinian territories, there will
eventually be a Palestinian majority in the area they control between
the river Jordan and the Mediterranean sea.


Sharon wants to fence off the Palestinian territories into enclaves,
a strategy that has meant resorting to the dismantling of Jewish
settlements which were hard to defend. Although these abandoned
settlements are a small minority of the total, they were set up in
period when the Israeli capitalist class had aspirations for a greater
Israel encompassing all the land in the Palestinian Authority (PA)
areas, and therefore represent a significant reversal of that aim.

However, only 8,000 Jewish settlers have been moved, less than 2% of
the 440,000 settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. And Sharon
intends to continue to expand the settlements nearest to Israel. While
Palestinians face house demolitions, construction of Jewish homes in the
West Bank rose 83% in the first quarter of 2005 compared with the same
period a year before.

In particular, 3,500 houses are planned on the edge of the settlement
of Maale Adumim, three miles east of Jerusalem, with the idea of filling
the gap between the settlement and the Palestinian areas of East
Jerusalem. Also, while attention has focused on Gaza, the building of
the separation wall has continued deep inside the West Bank, causing
destruction of Palestinians’ livelihoods and cutting off 55,000
Jerusalem Palestinians from their own city.

International aid and investment have been promised to Gaza after the
Israeli pull-out, but for this to fully materialise and be of use,
Gazans need trade access to the outside world which the Israeli regime
is presently resisting, and the overall situation would need to be


Even if these conditions were met, the Palestinian masses have their
own aspiring capitalist elite, with a history of corruption and
nepotism, so would not see much benefit themselves from aid.

However, the internal situation in the Gaza strip is presently very
unstable, with infighting between gangs and militias. A major flare-up
of violence in July was triggered by events following an Islamic Jihad
suicide bombing in Israel on 12 July. PA police fired on a car carrying
Hamas militiamen, wounding five, which then led to armed clashes between
Hamas and PA police. "Relations between Hamas and the PA have not
been this fraught in years", said Ghazi Hamad, editor of the
Islamist newspaper al-Risala.

The right-wing Islamic party, Hamas, made major gains in local
elections earlier this year, and stands to win similar or maybe greater
support in legislative elections planned for January 2006. President
Mahmood Abbas postponed these elections from July 2005, fearing
increased disillusionment towards the PA’s ruling Fatah party, and Hamas
gaining as a result.

Fatah leaders are therefore hoping that the aftermath of the Israeli
disengagement will increase their popularity, but given all the above
factors, the opposite is more likely.

The disengagement will also have major consequences for Israel’s
political parties, with the ruling Likud-led right-wing coalition
already in turmoil. Benjamin Netanyahu resigned his post as Foreign
Minister in order to prepare to oppose Sharon for the Likud leadership,
and presently has a 20% lead over Sharon within the party.

However, Netanyahu is not so admired in the population as a whole, as
he has recently spearheaded further cuts in welfare and social services
and the biggest privatisation drive since the late 1990s, including
Israel Telecom and parts of the national airline, a bank and a shipping

For now, Sharon is resting on the majority support for his
disengagement plan; 59% in a recent poll backed the pullout and 89% said
the security forces had handled it well. But he has alienated right-wing
religious settlers and their supporters who, rather than taking his
right-wing pragmatic position, believe that Jews have a divine right to
the occupied territories.

Sharon may well fail to hold out until the November 2006 deadline for
elections, and in any case could be forced to try to cobble together a
new bloc without the most right-wing parties and possibly without a
section of Likud.

Workers’ movement

For Israeli workers, none of the Israeli capitalist politicians can
offer a decent future. The disengagement plan will not bring national
and democratic rights and improved living standards to the Palestinians,
so will not end the national conflict which brings constant insecurity
to all Israelis. It will only be by organising themselves, creating a
new Israeli workers’ party based on socialist ideas, that a programme to
solve the economic and national problems will be put forward.

And for Palestinian workers, the same holds true, as capitalism
worldwide is completely unable to come to their aid with any solution.
Only through building a democratic and independent workers’ movement
which can lead the way with mass actions to further their cause, can
their aspirations be met and a socialist Palestine established alongside
a socialist Israel.