The real Gaza plan

October 08, 2004

ISRAEL'S PLAN to unilaterally withdraw troops and settlers from the Gaza Strip has been unmasked as a subterfuge. Now if only the Bush administration would acknowledge what skeptics (this newspaper included) have recognized from the start: that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's disengagement plan would delay, not facilitate, a negotiated settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In the interim, the Israeli army is systematically killing Palestinian militants, disrupting their reign of terror but also leaving a trail of destruction and death in Gaza refugee camps.

Could Mr. Sharon's chief aide, Dov Weisglass, have been any more frank about the portent of the Gaza withdrawal plan? "The significance of the disengagement plan is the freezing of the peace process," he said in an interview with the Israeli newspaper Haaretz that was reported this week. Mr. Weisglass went further: "Effectively, this whole package called the Palestinian state, with all that it entails, has been removed indefinitely from our agenda. ... All with a presidential blessing and the ratification of both houses of Congress."

That sums it up, doesn't it? When President Bush embraced the plan in the spring, he characterized it as "a bold and historic initiative" that will "mark real progress" toward a two-state solution to Israel's 37-year occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. But the administration's support of the Gaza withdrawal and Israel's retention of large West Bank settlements effectively meant it had abrogated its role as an honest broker in a peace process that had collapsed in the crush of the 4-year-old Palestinian uprising. With Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat refusing to deal with the militants or to reform his corrupt government, Mr. Sharon was left alone to pursue his agenda: combating suicide bombers and rocket attacks and building a separation barrier through Palestinian lands.

Israel's aggressive moves have greatly reduced Israeli deaths, but Palestinian casualties continue to mount. Since the present Israeli incursion in Gaza began last week, at least 83 Palestinians have been killed. But the tragedy goes beyond the dead - on both sides. The sad fact is that the United States is unlikely to enter this fray. The Bush administration has insisted on Palestinian reforms, and the much-needed change won't occur without U.S. assistance and intervention. Yet neither Mr. Bush nor his presidential challenger, Sen. John Kerry, has offered even the slightest indication that resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is of immediate concern.

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