The Cheshire Cat, the Pit Bull, and Us
By Marcia Freedman, President

If Ariel Sharon were able to do so today, he would be smiling broadly. In fact he'd look just like the Cheshire Cat. His strategy -- the real strategy behind the 2005 disengagement -- was to further isolate the Gaza Strip from the rest of the Palestinian polity and to leave behind 1.5 million Palestinians in a political vacuum that only Hamas could fill, to the detriment of any possible future peace process. At the same time, by shunning any possibility for a withdrawal coordinated with the Palestinian Authority, Sharon humiliated Mahmoud Abbas and perhaps leveled a death blow to his leadership on the heals of Yasser Arafat's death.

As Meron Benvenisti points out in a recent article in Haaretz, it has been the consistent policy of all Israeli governments to geographically separate the Palestinians, with one group labeled as within the fold, while all others are outside. The inside group is relatively privileged, while the outside group is demonized or ignored. This first happened in 1948, as the Palestinian people were split into those who remained, and those who became refugees. Then in 1967, there were those in the West Bank, and those who lived on or moved to the East Bank (Jordan); moreover, those who lived in East Jerusalem were separated from those who lived in the West Bank. Then during the 1980s and 90s, when first Hamas, and then Fatah were the "good" Palestinians, and now, when those who live in the Gaza Strip have been cleaved from those who live in the West Bank, where the rewards of favored status are now being distributed.

The ongoing cantonization of the Palestinian people begins to take on the appearance of deliberate Israeli policy, and behind the smile of the Cheshire Cat is the understanding that this has happened with the full agreement of the world's biggest Pit Bull, the United States government.

America has, since 1948, either turned a blind eye, or actively supported this approach of divide-and-conquer, but the events of 9/11, along with the emergence of a neoconservative Middle East policy, have served to turn the American Pit Bull into an actual participant in the Cheshire Cat's plans, as the U.S. became involved in fomenting civil war in the Palestinian territories.

Ever since the Hamas victory in the Palestinian national elections in 2006 was confirmed, the Bush administration's neoconservatives have been in high gear devising strategies to bring that government down, forcefully supported by the right wing of the American Jewish community -- the twin Pit Bulls of a misguided pro-Israel, pro-war policy.

The Mecca Agreement that led to the now-deposed PA unity government was a setback for U.S. and Israeli policy, but the strategy of openly arming the Fatah militias in Gaza in preparation for a local civil war with Hamas ultimately prevailed. Hamas took the bait and decided on a pre-emptive strike, winning the battle but losing the war. The Gaza Strip and its one-and-a-half million inhabitants have been left to their own devices, under the governance of Hamas but dependent almost entirely on the largesse of the international community, including and perhaps primarily Israel, to avoid mass starvation.

Now, the neocon Pit Bull has, either wittingly or not, taken Sharon's vision one step further and provided Ehud Olmert with a new lease on political life to preside over the flow of largesse to the Palestinians of the West Bank. Palestinians have once more been subject to division from one another. And once again, one side of the divide has been deemed good and the other bad.

Will what remain of the Palestinian polity if Palestinian territorial integrity is further compromised?

It is entirely possible that the West Bank will itself be sliced up. Through a complex but pervasive system of closures and highways, Nablus in the north is already all-but entirely cut off from the Palestinian polity whose heart beats in Ramallah, as is Hebron in the south, as are Jericho, Qalqiliya and Bethlehem. The isolation of these population centers are not as starkly hermetic as is that between Gaza and the West Bank, but travel and commerce between them is severely limited. Furthermore, the construction of the Jerusalem "envelope" -- linking the settlement of Ma'aleh Adumim to Jerusalem -- cuts all West Bankers off from the city that has been the Palestinian cultural capital for centuries.

The very possibility of a just and viable two-state solution is in grave danger. And the most powerful forces giving it lip service are, in reality, the most powerful forces working against it -- the American neoconservative Pit Bill and the Israeli annexationist Cheshire Cat. The West Bank-first strategy now being proposed in some circles within the pro-Israel peace movement must be judged and evaluated in this context. By reinforcing the separation of Palestinian territories, even temporarily, it runs the risk of aiding a Sharon-esque reification of separation.

As might be expected, the Hamas leadership has already begun calling out to the Fatah leadership to enter into negotiations about reconstituting a joint Palestinian Authority. With the spigots of economic aid and diplomatic recognition already re-opened to the PA following the demise of the elected Hamas-led government Fatah will be in no hurry to respond to these overtures. But it will have to do so eventually, in months if not in weeks. As polarized as the pre-state Israeli Palmach and Haganah were from the militant right-wing Irgun and Stern Gang, they ultimately coalesced to form the first government of the new state of Israel. The same will and must happen on the Palestinian side, if ever there is to be a Palestinian state.

The American Jewish pro-Israel, pro-peace community must now, more imperatively than ever, adhere to its core policies of promoting a genuine two-state solution along the lines of the Taba talks of 2000 or the Geneva Accord of 2004. And that means the establishment of a Palestinian state in at least 97.6 percent of the West Bank, Arab East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip.

If that is to happen at all, it must happen soon, because with every delay in the peace process, with every derailment, with every period of neglect, the settlers and their supporters in the Israeli army, the developers and their supporters in the government, are busy building and expanding Jewish areas of settlement, shrinking the space for a Palestinian state and real, durable peace from one day to the next. And while the Cheshire Cat and the Pit Bull may continue to smile, no one else will have reason to.

Brit Tzedek v'Shalom, The Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace
11 E. Adams Street, Suite 707
Chicago, IL 60603
Phone: (312) 341-1205
Fax: (312) 341-1206

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