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How Israel Will Control the West Bank and Gaza

By Israel Shahak


The reason which prompted the Labour party and its allies to opt for an indirect form of rule over the part of the territories densely populated by the Palestinians, instead of continuing to rule them directly, have been often enunciated by the late prime minister, Yithzak Rabin, and other ministers. They can easily be understood in the context of the deeper Israeli assumptions held since the territories where conquered.

Israel's basic strategy has always been about how to rule the Palestinians with maximum efficiency. At first, the idea called "the Jordanian option" (a favourite of Shimon Peres) was to bring the Jordanians to the West Bank in order to do the job on Israel's behalf. Later Israel created the Villlage Leagues, whereby local collaborators effectively ruled the West Bank for some years until seen off by the intifada. Both concepts were intended for the same purpose as the Oslo process: to let the Palestinians be ruled without Israeli Supreme Court interference and without regard for the reports of human rights organisations such as Betselem and other hindrances.

Settlements and roads

The Israeli strategy under the Oslo process, as followed in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, is based on the settlements as the focuses of military power. To take Gaza first, detailed maps of the Strip often published in Israeli papers show it is criss-crossed by "military roads" which, according to the Cairo Agreement, remain under Israeli jurisdiction. These roads are patrolled by the Israeli army, either separately or jointly with the Palestinian police. The Israeli army has the legal right to close any section of such roads to all Palestinian traffic, even within the autonomy, and it uses this right when a convoy to a settlement is using the roads.

One of those roads, the "Gaza City Bypass", traverses the entire length of the Strip, carefully avoiding the population centers. A military road and a narrow strip of land not included in the autonomy cuts it off from Egypt. A number of parallel roads travers the Strip's autonomous area from the Israeli border on the east to the Mediterranean coast or an Israeli settlement bloc on the west. All authorised entry points to the autonomy are located at the beginning of the military roads. One such is the Netzarim road which begins at an authorised entry point to the autonomy at Nahal Oz, from there running west, skirting all major Palestinian localities. After crossing the "Gaza City Bypass", it reaches the settlement of Netzarim. It does not end there, however, but continues to a military fortress on the sea shore.

This road cuts the Gaza Strip in two, in its strategically most sensitive spot: between Gaza town and the big refugee camps to the south of it. After the Oslo Accords were signed, the Hebrew press reported that large military forces were stationed at Netzarim. It is its official status as a settlement which allowed Israel to do this legally. As the commentator Nahum Barnea quipped at the time "had Netzarim not existed we would have had to invent it".

The overall effect of all these roads is that the autonomous part of the Gaza Strip is sliced into enclaves controlled by the bypass roads. The role of the Israeli settlements in the Strip is to to serve as pivots of the road grid devised to ensure Israeli control. This new form of control, referred to by Rabin and other Labour politicians as "control from the outside", allows the army to dominate the Strip (and to reconquer it with minimum effort if need be, as sometimes mentioned in the Hebrew press) without having to commit large manpower for the task of pacifying the Strip's towns and refugee camps "from inside".

This task is now being undertaken on Israel's behalf by the Palestinian security forces. The effectiveness of those forces in controlling Gaza drivers on the Netzarim road (and, one can add, the entire Palestinian population) has lately been graphically described by Ari Shavit, who travelled on it as a part of an Israeli convoy which included soldiers and settlers going to Netzarim ( Ha'aretz, 22 September). He reported that the advance part of the convoy drives on both sides of the road, ordering all the Palestinian vehicles to park beside the road until the convoy passes, "as we do i Lebanon". The drivers he saw appeared to him as "submissive enough". This is one of the many instances in which the Palestinian authority can be said to actually help the settlements while pretendeing to oppose them.

The settlers will stay

Moving on the West Bank, the task of the Oslo II agreement is to eventually produce results similar to those existing in the Gaza Strip. The conditions there may turn out even worse, due to a much larger number of settlers and to the construction of separate networks of roads and water supplies for the settlers which cannot but pass near or through the many Palestinian enclaves in the West Bank, in stark contrast to the relatively compact autonomous Gaza Strip. Moreover, the West Bank includes the "Greater Jerusalem" area, which from a stategic point of view cuts the territory in two and serves as the focus of the system of bypasssing roads whose task is going to be to allow effective control "from the outside" of Palestinian West Bank localities.

So it can be said that the settlements in the territories have a double significance: on the one hand they express the continuation of Zionist ideology and on the other they serve as a focus of a form of military control which saves a lot of manpower. In addition, the new pattern of indirect control is more in tune with recent developments of imperial control, particularly as used by the US. After all, the US, which in effect rules Panama, El Salvador and similar countries, does so now much more effectively through the local regimes than by any direct occupation or military invasion. The indirect pressure on Iraq which followed the Gulf war falls into the same category.

I should be clear from this discussion that the Israeli government has no intention of removing any settlements in the foreseeable future. On the contrary, the settlements are being strenghtened. As Oslo II was being signed, Yossi Beilin, one of the chief architects of the Oslo process, reassured the Israeli public that "We have not abandoned the settlers".

Rebutting the accusations of Likud, Beilin, added: "The most ridiculous accusation is that of abandoning the settlers. The agreement was delayed for months in order to guarantee that all of the settlements would remain an immense financial outlay. The situation in the settlements was never better than that which has been created following the Oslo agreement" (Ma'ariv, 27 September).

Even more important is the fact that when the government had a good opportunity to remove the Hebron settlers (or at leats part of them), in the aftermath of the massacre, it did not. Daniel Ben-Simon (Davar, 18 August) revealed that during discussion of this problem which took place in the prime minister's office, "the heads of Israeli security services", that is the chief of staff, the head of the Military Intelligence and the heads of Mossad and Shabak, "all opposed the evacuation of Hebron's settlers".

Text published in "Forward", Nr. 122, March 1996

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