NEWS & LETTERS, May 2004

Our Life and Times by Kevin A. Barry

Bush endorses Sharon's annexation plan

On April 14, three weeks after the Israeli government's assassination of the Hamas leader, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, George Bush hosted Ariel Sharon at the White House and endorsed his plan to unilaterally withdraw from Gaza in exchange for keeping Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

Sharon's plan, the details of which have been released by the Israeli peace group, Gush Shalom, aims to remove 7,000 Jewish settlers from Gaza which has a population of 1.2 million Palestinians. In exchange, Sharon will annex Israel's "settlement blocs" in the West Bank in which 250,000 live among a population of 2.5 million Palestinians. The "settlement blocs" would amount to 55% of the territory of the West Bank. The other 45% which would constitute an archipelago surrounded by Israeli settlers and soldiers, would then be connected through roads built and controlled by Israel. Apparently, all of Jerusalem would remain under Israeli rule. The combination of a West Bank archipelago, and a Gaza which would only have an entrance through Israel, could then constitute a Palestinian state!

Three days after Bush's announcement of his support for this outrageous plan, Sharon's government assassinated yet another Hamas leader. This time, Abdel Aziz Rantisi, a Hamas founder and replacement for Sheikh Yassin, was killed by an Israeli missile strike on his car. His son, his bodyguard and several bystanders were also killed. His wife was severely injured.

Sharon's acts of state terror, and Bush's endorsement of them provoked strong responses from Palestinian leaders as well as Palestinian protesters in Gaza and the West Bank who were enraged by the openly arrogant way in which Bush and Sharon were deciding their future. The European Union has also announced that it will not recognize any change to the pre-1967 borders other than those arrived at by agreement between the parties. The Jordanian government has postponed King Abdullah's scheduled talks with George Bush.

Sharon's policy of state terrorism and his announced plan, continue to take attention away from the fact that in November of 2003, a group of moderate Israeli and Palestinian leaders had worked out a very detailed peace proposal in which many difficult questions were addressed and concrete solutions were offered. The Geneva Accords proposed a two state solution on the basis of Israel's return to the pre-1967 borders with some modifications involving land swaps based on a 1:1 exchange. The issue of the status of Palestinian refugees was addressed through an offer of monetary compensation and a very limited resettlement program in Israel. Jerusalem would be administered through Israeli rule over the Jewish neighborhoods and Palestinian rule over the Arab neighborhoods, with each state establishing its capital in the part of Jerusalem under its control. The Old City would be managed jointly, along with the help of multinational forces. The West Bank and Gaza would be connected through a road that would be "under Israeli sovereignty" but "under Palestinian administration."

In fact, any step toward peace negotiations by Palestinian moderates has been squashed by Sharon. In March of 2002 his siege of Ramallah destroyed the resources of Palestinian organizations and individuals who promoted the two state solution. He then rejected the Arab Summit's peace offer of recognition of Israel in exchange for a return to the pre-1967 borders and monetary compensation for Palestinian refugees. In August of 2003, he ordered the assassination of Ismael Abu Shanab, the only Hamas leader who had supported a two state solution. Now, his announced plan and his assassination of Yassan and Rantisi, have further suffocated those Palestinians who had hoped for a peaceful two state solution.

Furthermore, Sharon's dehumanization of Palestinian refugees and Bush's dismissal of their right to compensation for the land/homes they have lost, have strengthened those who have always rejected the two state solution in the name of the right of return. The latter once again pose the right of all refugees to return to and settle inside what is now Israel, as an absolute condition for any peace agreement.

--Sheila Sahar

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