Security Issues Project
Note: The following article was published in Between the Lines, (Jerusalem) Vol II, #13, February 2002 with minor changes.
Sharon Gears Up for Expulsion
by Ronald Bleier
"There was one thing I wanted to accomplish: to reach a political settlement which will lead to peace with the Palestinians..." -- Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, 13 January 02
"Israel should have exploited the repression of the demonstrations in China,
when world attention focused on that country, to carry out mass expulsions
among the Arabs of the territories." Benyamin Netanyahu, Hotam, November 24, 1989.
Last September, at a session of the Israeli cabinet, Sharon exploded at his foreign minister, Shimon Peres who had warned that "refusing to heed incessant American requests for a cease-fire with the Palestinians would endanger Israeli interests and turn the U.S. against us." Sharon angrily responded, "every time we do something you tell me America will do this and will do that. I want to tell you something very clear, don't worry about American pressure on Israel. We will not pay with the blood of our people for American interests and they understand it."
That Sharon had successfully maneuvered to control the Bush administrations responses to his increasingly brutal and transparently provocative actions against the Palestinians seemed to be confirmed in mid December, when Bush, in a meeting with American Jewish leaders, used "unusually blunt language" to declare that Arafat "bears responsibility for ending the violence against Israel." In the same meeting Bush dismissed Arafats plea that the U.S. "pressure Israel to stop retaliatory strikes" (New York Times, 14 December 01). Even Secretary of State Powell, in the aftermath of the Karine A arms shipment affair in January 2002 seemed to follow in lockstep endorsement of Sharons initiatives, defending "Israels military operation against Palestinian areas in the Gaza Strip [when 600 Palestinians were made homeless], calling it a defensive action to counter weapons smuggling" (AP, 11 January 2002).
Clearly Sharon had come a long way in the ten months since he formed a government in March 2001. In June 2001 he was rebuked by the White House for "repeatedly contradicting" President Bush at a White House press conference (Forward, June 29, 2001). And once again, as recently as October 2001, the U.S. State Department found that Sharons remarks calling on the United States not to repeat the blunder of sacrificing Czechoslovakia in 1938 were "unacceptable". In retrospect, both incidents may be viewed as models of intimidation, as Sharon taught the Bush administration that he expected unquestioning support or else he was prepared to shout as loud as necessary. It was evident that he had no qualms at going over their heads to plead his case before a compliant media and Congress.
Sharon's Ultimate Dream
Sharon's extraordinary success in gaining U.S. support for his extraordinarily provocative and transparent measures against the Palestinians raises fears that he has gained significant ground towards fulfilling his "ultimate dream" of a Greater Israel emptied of all but a marginal number of Palestinians. Such goals of Sharons brutal campaign which have been suggested in the press as the destruction of the Palestinian Authority, the creation of a civil war among the Palestinian factions, the removal or assassination of Arafat may be only steps on the way(1) to the much larger goal of another bout of mass expulsion of the Palestinian people. As Alexander Cockburn put it: "the sky is now the limit for Israeli reprisals: the killing of Arafat, and, not so far down the road, perhaps forced expulsion of tens of thousands of Palestinians from the West Bank." ("Sharon or Arafat: Which is the Sponsor of Terrorism," The Nation 24 December 01.)
Despite Sharons success in heightening the tensions to an unprecedented and intolerable degree, nevertheless, implementing another mass expulsion seems out of the question in the current political climate. Indeed, many analysts on different sides of the question have long maintained that another bout of ethnic cleansing on the scale of 1948 and 1967 is not a practical possibility. They have pointed to the more than 4.5 million Palestinians (counting 1.5 Arab citizens of Israel) living in Israel and the territories. Observers believe that it would be impossible to expel the bulk of themnot to mention the many thousands that would likely be killed in such an operation. Also, if huge numbers of Palestinians were to be expelled, where would they go? The surrounding countries, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon already hold significant numbers of Palestinian refugees, and it may not be so easy to drive them there. Moreover, in the 1948 expulsions, the majority of the 750,000 or more refugees were allowed to flee to the West Bank and Gaza. This time, it would be largely from the West Bank and Gaza that Israel would remove them.
Another difficulty is that there is already a precedent of an Arab country taking a stand against such mass expulsions. When Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin attempted to expel 415 Hamas "activists" from Gaza to southern Lebanon in December 1992, the government of Lebanon refused to accept them. The incident turned into a fiasco and a public relations nightmare when they were forced to camp in the open in the hills of Southern Lebanon near the Israeli border for more than a year.
Steps on the way -- Israeli plans
The events of 11 September have thrust us into a darkened, much more problematic reality, a world that could not have been imagined beforehand. Just so, it is quite possible that the future will be similarly unpredictable. Especially in the context of a U.S. led war on "terrorism" that is promised to last for "generations", events could quickly degenerate in such a way as to provide the necessary screen for Sharon or his successors to pursue their plans. With the free hand that Sharon has established, he has already been able to turn up the pressure on the Palestinians to heretofore unimaginable levels which then become part of our new reality.
Part of Sharons plan evidently is to invite retaliation by the other side. Even mainstream analysts have been compelled to note the connection between Israels assassination policy and Palestinian suicide attacks on Israeli civilians. After the November 23, 2001 assassination of Abu Hunud, a senior Hamas leader, journalist Alex Fishman wrote that "we find ourselves preparing with dread for a new mass terrorist attack within the Green Line" ("A dangerous liquidation," Yediot Aharonot , 25 November 2001), a retaliation which came in due course when 25 Israelis were killed in three separate terror incidents a week later. As Fishman wrote: "whoever decided upon the liquidation of Abu Hunud knew in advance that" Hamas would be provoked into retaliation. The implication is that the campaign to push the country to a war footing has so far advanced that the bulk of the Israeli public are in effect willing to risk attacks on themselves if they feel it advances Sharons political goals.
The way is prepared and the method has been outlined
Once the decision for war and expulsion is made, how would it be implemented? According to an article in mid-May by journalist and former member of the Knesset, Uri Avnery, the mechanics of such an expulsion are very easy to implement. He explains that it is not necessary that there be an official decision by the Israeli government. "It is enough to tell the army that every officer has a `free hand -- as they have already been told [in regard to responses to mass "disturbances" or to "suspected" individuals]. Nothing more is needed. When the opportunity arises it may happen." Press reports had already appeared in Israel indicating "a fierce competition between army officers, especially the brigades and battalion commanders, about who can escalate more." This competition is "orchestrated by Shaul Mofaz, the chief-of-staff, who in turn is pushed by Ariel Sharon and his hatchet-man Fuad Ben-Eliezer." (Uri Avnery, "A Second Nakba," May 19, 2001, http://mediamonitors.net/uri22.html)
Moreover, five years ago, extensive operational plans were drawn up for the reoccupation of the West Bank and Gaza ("Field of Thorns" and "Field of Living" respectively; see Shraga Elams "Either Peace with Violence, or Transfer, BTL, Vol 1, "2 December 2000; and Tikva Honig Parnass, BTL, Vol II, #12, December 2001). These plans openly call for the "transfer of Palestinians from sensitive areas and the arrest of Palestinian Authority officials and the imposition of a new military administration." Six months ago, the Israelis once again saw fit to leak details of an apparent update of their invasion plans ("Big Pines II Rumors are rife of an Invasion Plan," Akiva Eldar, Haaretz, July 10, 2001). According to Janes Information Group in London, these plans call for Israeli "air strikes by F-15 and F-16 fighter bombers, a heavy artillery bombardment, and then an attack by a combined force of 30,000 men tank brigades and infantry " (CBS News, 7.12.01) And once again in December 2001, press reports informed the public that these plans have been more recently updated. Six months ago it seemed logical to conclude: "One big war with transfer at its end this is the plan of the hawks who indeed almost reached the moment of its implementation. ("Louder Voices of War: Manufacturing Consent at its Peak," Tikvah Honig-Parnass, BTL, July 2001, Vol 1, #8). In the same article, the author reports that the planners are waiting for a change in the attitudes of the European community and hope by then "the weak objections of Egypt and Saudi Arabia will have faded away."
As to the question of where the Palestinian refugees would be forced to go, presumably Israeli planners have looked at maps and they have their answers. At this point, the suggestion of an area in western Iraq in connection with the next stage of the U.S. war on terrorism, as proposed by one observer seems as good a guess as any. (Israel and U.S. Get Ready to Finally Topple Iraq Regime," Mark Bruzonsky, commenting on an article in Haaretz, "Israel asks America to strike western Iraq first, if it decides to fight Saddam," Amir Oren, 2 January 2002. Mid-East Realities, distributed on the internet, 2 January 2002). Its safe to assume that if indeed such plans are actually on paper that they might make provision for a multi-stage exodus with only thousands or tens of thousands expelled in the first stage with the next stage awaiting the next opportunity.
Analysis of the danger to the Palestinians also serves to reveal how closely the war- fighting posture of the Bush administration is in harmony with Israeli goals. Attacks on Iraq, Iran, Somalia or elsewhere could trigger precisely the chain of events making large-scale expulsions of the Palestinians a distinct possibility. Such an analysis also points to the connection between hard-line pro-Israeli views by members of the American government and the advocacy of an endless war on terror. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and Undersecretary of State for arms control, John Bolton, two of Israels staunchest defenders in the Bush administration, are among the loudest voices advocating a robust military follow up to the Afghanistan campaign to as many countries as possible.
Despite the rapidly deteriorating situation, it is still far from clear that the impatient Sharon will actually achieve the required change necessary to accomplish the goal of expulsion. But even if he doesnt, there is no apparent obstacle to his continued application of maximum pressure on the Palestinians. If he fails to achieve mass expulsion, the task will simply remain for the next Israeli government because the pressure for such an eventuality comes not merely from the present government, but from the larger Zionist ethos.
2[[Why are "the people of the Book" willing to contemplate such horrors? An answer comes from the Malthusian theory that population tends to grow faster than available resources. The resulting political pressure often explodes into violent conflict that serves to restore a balance between demand and supply. The five regional wars since 1948 and the two intifadas since 1987 may be seen as the particular ways the struggle for control of the scarce land and water resources in the area have thus far played out. From a Malthusian point of view it should not be surprising that population pressures on resources should have brought us to the current state of affairs. At the end of WWI, the former Palestine was home to fewer than 700,000 souls (90% Arab) and now there are 6 million Israelis and 3.3 million Palestinians who occupy the same area.]]
Nevertheless, despite the overwhelming political pressures, an Israeli inspired war and the mass expulsion of the bulk of the Palestinians is not inevitable. The hope of the Palestinians must be that events will play out in such way that the international community will act to prevent the calamity that Sharon and his supporters are striving to create.
Between the Lines is an independent political magazine published in Jerusalem. firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.between-lines.org. Subscriptions: local: $25US, Foreign: $45.
1 A typical guess at Sharons goals is that he wishes to "bring quiet to the region through military means, to be followed (in no hurry here) by negotiations that will give the Palestinians a mini-state while leaving Israel in control of the area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean." (Jeff Halper, "The Final Push to Defeat the Palestinians," 12 December 01) But this is precisely the program that was overturned with the assassination of Rabin. As many have noted, quiet in the region is precisely what Sharon is trying to prevent.
2 I agreed to exclude this paragraph which represents my understanding of the Malthusian basis of the underlying struggle at the request of the editors. They felt that the fundamental issue at hand was the distribution of resources and not their scarcity, and that a deep analysis of these questions was beyond the mandate of BTL.