Sharon's Iron Wall
31 October 2005
He pays lip-service to peace and speaks of his country's need for
security, but in reality Israel's prime minister is waging a savage
quarter-century before the establishment of Israel, Ze'ev Jabotinsky, the founder of
Revisionist Zionism, published an article entitled "On the Iron
Wall". In it, he argued that voluntary agreement between Arabs and Jews
was unattainable, and that the only way to realise the Zionist project was
behind an iron wall of Jewish military strength. Zionism had to be implemented
by force and the wall would compel Arabs to abandon any hope of destroying the
Jewish state. Once this was achieved a second stage could begin: negotiations
with the Arabs about their status and national rights in Palestine.
iron wall remains Israel's strategy - and until now has been
vindicated by history. The 1993 Oslo Accord between Israel and the Palestine Liberation
Organisation marked the transition from the first to the second stage of
iron-wall strategy: by signing it, Israel and the PLO agreed to recognise each
other and settle their differences by peaceful means. The Palestinians believed
that by giving up their claim to 78 per cent of pre-1948 Palestine they would eventually gain an
independent state stretching over the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, with a capital in East Jerusalem. Twelve years on, they are bitterly
Oslo process broke down: Israel reneged on its side of the bargain and
the Palestinians reverted to violence. The most blatant transgression against
the spirit, if not the letter, of the accord was the expansion of the illegal
Jewish settlements in the West
Bank and the
construction of roads to connect them with Israel. These settlements are a symbol of
occupation and a threat to the territorial contiguity of a future Palestinian
state. To the Palestinians, settlement expansion suggested that Israel had not been negotiating in good faith
and that its real intention was to repackage rather than to end the occupation.
the election of Ariel Sharon in 2001, Israel regressed to the first stage of the
iron-wall strategy. Sharon has nothing to offer the Palestinians
on the political front. A champion of violent solutions and an opponent of Oslo, he has refused to discuss the final
status of the territories until the Palestinian Authority delivers an end to
the violence, though he knows this condition is impossible to meet. He treats
the Palestinian Authority not as the government of a state in the making but as
a subcontractor failing in his primary duty: to safeguard Israel's security.
using the rhetoric of peace, Sharon seeks to deny the Palestinians any
independent political existence. When, in 2003, the "quartet" (the US, Russia, the European Union and the United
Nations) launched the "road map", a plan supposed to lead to an
independent Palestinian state alongside Israel by the end of 2005, Sharon's government pretended to go along
with it, but its policies remained unchanged. It continued to order army
incursions into the Palestinian territories, assassinations of militants, the
demolition of houses, curfews and the deliberate infliction of hardship to
encourage Arab migration from the West Bank. At the same time, settlement activity continued, in
blatant violation of the road map.
government also began building the so-called separation or security barrier in
the West Bank. The barrier's declared purpose is to
prevent terrorist attacks, but it is as much about land-grabbing as it is about
security. Israel is redrawing borders at the expense of
the Palestinians, separating children from their schools, farmers from their
land and whole villages from their medical facilities in flagrant violation of
international law. The barrier was condemned by the International Court of
Justice and by the UN General Assembly, but construction continues regardless.
For Jabotinsky the iron wall was a metaphor for military strength; in Sharon's crude hands it is turning into a
hideous physical reality.
does the disengagement from Gaza fit into this? Realising that time and
demography were not on Israel's side, Sharon began to look for ways of
distancing Israel from the main Palestinian population centres, while keeping
as much of their land as possible. The plan he came up with was unilateral
withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and four isolated settlements on the West Bank. Characteristically, it was not even
presented to the Palestinian Authority as a basis for negotiations.
the world, Sharon presented the Gaza disengagement as a contribution to the
road map. But to his right-wing supporters he said: "My plan is difficult
for the Palestinians, a fatal blow. There's no Palestinian state in a
unilateral move." The withdrawal from Gaza is part of an attempt to deny the
Palestinians an independent political existence on their land. At some point
Sharon may come up with another unilateral move: the offer to withdraw from
most of the West
Bank to a
line of Israel's own drawing. This would create a
Greater Israel incorporating Jerusalem and the main settlement blocks, while
confronting the Palestinians with another paltry take-it-or-leave-it offer that
would deepen their disarray.
Sharon is the last in a long line of Israeli
leaders to invoke spurious arguments of security to defend the indefensible.
The Palestinians do not pose a threat to Israel's basic security; it is the other way
round. Israel is not fighting for its security or
survival, but to retain territories it conquered in 1967. The war that Israel is waging against the Palestinian
people on their land is a colonial war. Like all other colonial wars it is savage,
senseless, directed mainly against civilians, and doomed to failure. As Karl
Marx observed, a nation that oppresses another cannot itself remain free.