Friday, July 16, 2010

Avigdor Lieberman and I think alike (kind of)

A couple months ago I wrote an article here concerning the distinct possibility that, because of Israel's interest in maintaining control over the West Bank for settlement purposes and the increased desire of many Israelis to disengage from Gaza (for real this time), Hamas could potentially create a truly autonomous, sovereign Palestinian state long before Fateh achieves the same through negotiations with Israel.

Via a story by Ma'an News (via Yedioth Ahronoth), it seems Avigdor Lieberman has taken my article to heart and favors ending Israel's humanitarian responsibility for the Gaza Strip by fully disengaging from the coastal enclave. In closed meetings, Lieberman lamented that the international community has largely not accepted Israel's 2005 withdrawal of settlements and some military units from Gaza as a full disengagement and holds Israel partially responsible for the humanitarian condition of Gazans, due largely in part to the continued air, naval, and land blockade of the territory.

Seeking to legitimize Israel's disengagement, Lieberman indicated that he hopes to engage the de facto Hamas government in Gaza, lift the Israeli siege of the Strip, and seal off the land border between Israel and the enclave, allowing Hamas to autonomously govern the area as a sovereign entity. If this policy is carried out Hamas would create the first Palestinian state, while Fateh in the West Bank would continue to languish under continued Israeli occupation and settlement expansion.

From reading the article, it seems that Lieberman - while professing a desire to fully disengage from Gaza - refuses to end Israel's de facto control over the Gaza Strip. The West Bank settler turned Foreign Minister indicated that Israel would require ships to dock at Cyprus or Greece for inspection before proceeding on to Gaza.

Obviously, Avigdor Lieberman fails to understand that "fully independent" would imply that the governing authority in Gaza (Hamas) would have control over the airspace, territorial waters, and borders of the Gaza Strip. However, the far more insidious matter about this plan is that it is just one of many attempts to undermine the Palestinian national movement and fragment the Palestinian community. One of the worst aspects of the siege of Gaza is that it prevents Palestinians from Gaza from traveling to meet their families, friends, business partners, professors, and doctors in the West Bank or East Jerusalem. Lieberman, who denies that a Palestinian people even exist, refuses to acknowledge that the separation of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank is an accident of history caused by the creation of Israel and subsequent expulsion of Palestinians from many areas coveted by Zionists for a future Israeli state.

Lieberman's plan to fully disengage from Gaza is not about creating conditions for peace or improving the situation for Gazans; it is about fracturing the Palestinian people by permanently separating Gaza from the West Bank in order to build more Jewish-only settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Lieberman knows the Palestinian Authority can be easily co-opted by Israel and the United States into endlessly negotiating (or proximity negotiating) while the settlements expand unabated, but his real concern is pressure caused by incidents such as the assault on the Turkish aid ship that left eight Turks and one Turkish-American dead that may mount on Israel to move honestly toward a two-state solution. Such a solution would undermine Lieberman's settler political base, hurt him personally (as he's heavily invested in the settlement enterprise), and force Israel to give up the option to settle the West Bank lands that he yearns for.

Regardless of if Israel actually puts Lieberman's plan into motion, Palestinians must be allowed to travel unimpeded among East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip in order to access medical care, visit with family members, pursue an education, and build a prosperous economic future. Lieberman's plan should serve as just one more warning to Fateh and Hamas that their current arguments are working toward Israel's advantage and that the longer reconciliation remains elusive, the greater chance Israel has to permanently break the Palestinian community and undermine the national movement. Hamas could actually beat Fateh to a Palestinian state if Israel pursues Lieberman's plan, but it would be disastrous for Palestinians, peace and justice in the region, and the Palestinian national movement.

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