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an Open Letter to Diplomatic Missions to the PNA Concerning the Impacts of the Israeli Unilateral Disengagement from the Gaza Strip


Dear Representatives of Diplomatic Missions to the PNA: We write to you as Israel undertakes the process of disengagement to make clear our views on this move and its implications for the future of the peace process and, by extension, the future of the Palestinians and Israelis.
It is imperative that the disengagement be understood fully, in all its facets.
This requires that the terms of the plan itself, as well as the nature of the plan, be examined.
It is also necessitates contextualization; Gaza cannot be separated from the West Bank, and what happens in Gaza must be viewed in the context of what is happening in the West Bank.
We believe that, first of all, the disengagement must be understood as a unilateral move.
Despite eventual cursory discussions with the Palestinian side, there can be no assertion that the disengagement has been a bilateral process.
On the contrary, the disengagement is best viewed as a continuation of the Israeli policy of unilaterally â€کcreating facts on the ground.
, This policy, which led to the establishment of the Gaza settlements, has now led to their removal.
It would be unwise, however, to assume that Israel has undertaken this move without expectation of reward or gain.
It is not coincidence that the withdrawal from Gaza is occurring in tandem with continued construction of the wall in the West Bank and the expansion of settlements there.
It should come as no surprise that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is being quoted as saying that the West Bank settlement of Ariel will be part of Israel forever, even as he pushes forward with the disengagement from Gaza.
There is a process underway, a strategy in play – the Israeli public are being told, as the disengagement proceeds, that Gaza is the price Israel has paid for a greater prize: the West Bank.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's recent statements, declaring his intent to continue expanding Ma,ale Adumim until it connects with Jerusalem, underscore this fact.
This strategy is also made plain by the text of the disengagement plan, which provides substantial insight as regards the concrete meaning of the process.
In reference to the West Bank, the plan states, “it is clear that in the West Bank, there are areas which will be part of the State of Israel, including major Israeli population centers, cities, towns and villages, security areas and other places of special interest to Israel.
� While the text of the plan makes clear Israel's intention to maintain control over, at the very least, substantial portions of the West Bank, it also undermines claims that Gaza can no longer be considered occupied land after the disengagement.
The plan states that Israel will maintain “exclusive authority� over Gaza's airspace, as well as the right to patrol the Gaza Strip's coastline.
Further, Israel “reserves its fundamental right of self-defense, both preventive and reactive� including the use of force.
Under international legal tests for sovereignty, Gaza after the disengagement fails.
It is clear that Gaza will remain occupied territory and Israel will remain, with all the responsibilities the status brings, an occupying force.
The material impacts of the disengagement must not be overlooked.
Despite the largely disingenuous nature of the process, the chance that internal movement in the Gaza Strip will be improved is welcome.
However, the economic situation is much more bleak.
The World Bank projects that unless serious changes are made to the current border control situation made, and Israel retracts its decision to ban Palestinian workers from Israel by 2008, the economy in Gaza could collapse altogether.
The economic situation in Gaza will also, unfortunately, continue to depend on injections of cash from international donors.
Unless current donor levels are maintained, again, Gaza is likely to suffer from an ever-worsening economic outlook.
However, while the Palestinians continue to need international aid, money alone cannot and will not produce a final solution.
The international community has frequently preferred to donate money, rather than political capital – this approach will ensure only that the conflict remains unresolved and the Palestinian people are kept constantly on the edge of the abyss.
It is imperative that the international community engages in greater political involvement – pushing Israel to adhere to its obligations and ensuring that the withdrawal from Gaza is the first ceding of land, but not the last.
The very process of the disengagement has not been easy for many Palestinians.
The Gaza Strip has been divided into two by the closure of the Abu Houli checkpoint, and Palestinians living in the enclaves have had almost complete closure imposed upon them.
The residents of these isolated areas – Al Muwassi, Siafa, Ma,ani – have endured the difficulties both of the settlers, presence and their exit from Gaza.
For these Palestinians, as well as the many others who have suffered the effects of the settlers, presence – those whose homes have been occupied, those who children have been shot by snipers at outposts around settlements – it is imperative that the disengagement be the first in a series of moves to restore the occupied Palestinian territory to the Palestinian people, that they may build a state.
As we move forward, it is important that the lessons of the past are not forgotten.
In particular, the mistakes made during the Oslo process must not be repeated.
The ceding of land and handing over of control must be a real process, not one bound by reservations and qualifications that allow continued settlement expansion, the explosion of the checkpoint phenomenon and the type of devastating military incursions that have accompanied the intifada.
The last five years in particular, but the years of failed peace processes before that too, have taught us that any solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must be based on international law and the principles of justice and equity.
The negotiations must take place between two equal parties, each dealing with the other with respect and dignity.
In the end, it is only in this way that two equal states, each dealing with the other with respect and dignity, will be able to bequeath a future of peace and security to their children.
Al Mezan center for human rights

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