In the mid-80s Meron Benvenisti, an Israeli researcher on the West Bank and Gaza, came up with the term irreversibility when referring to the difficulty that will be met to reverse the trend of Jewish settlement activities in the Palestinian territories. His concept, which was well intended and has a lot of merit, has been dealt a blow by the Israeli government and army.
Within six days, as long as it took the Israeli army to occupy the rest of Palestine, Israeli soldiers emptied out all the Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip, as well as four northern West Bank colonies. The fact that the number of days it took to evacuate the illegal settlers is equal to those it took to occupy Sinai, the Golan Heights and the rest of Palestine goes to show that neither occupation nor the reversal of occupation is irreversible.
Using Gaza to debunk the myth of irreversibility is not fair. The key to the issue of irreversibility, of course, will be what happens in the rest of the West Bank and Jerusalem. But irrespective of how the situation will evolve after Gaza, one thing is clear: when there is a political will, there suddenly is a way.
So then, what is the key to this political will that was able to defeat what was called the orange tide (in reference to the color used by opponents to the withdrawal) and go against religious Jews and a good part of the Israeli public?
Palestinians would differ tremendously on this issue. At first, Palestinians were extremely skeptical of the Israeli intentions. Will they leave from part of Gaza or from all of it? Will they truly allow freedom of movement in and out of Gaza, as well as provide services needed until then?
A very astute Israeli official pointed me to the official document of disengagement on the Israeli prime minister’s website. While the document (produced in 2004) does answer some questions about the long-term goals of Israel Ã¢â‚¬â€ namely that they are planning to leave Gaza completely and to eventually give up the border crossing with Egypt and the port, it doesn’t answer the more immediate questions of what will happen once the Israeli army leaves Gaza, which many said could be as early as mid-September.
The most recent agreement between Egypt and Israel to allow 750 Egyptian soldiers to be on the Egyptian side of the border (Camp David Agreement prohibited that) will make the possibility of the Egyptian border free of Israelis closer to reality.
Of course, the most important news item that Palestinians are waiting to hear has to do with the airport. This international airport that was inaugurated by former US president Bill Clinton is now in ruins, after Israeli bulldozers ripped its runway apart. Israelis are refusing to allow work on the airport, which seems to have been sacrificed by Sharon in his internal political horse trading. Palestinian Civil Affairs Minister Mohammad Dahlan has made it clear that the PA will start work on fixing the runway the second the Israeli soldiers leave the Strip.
What is of urgent need is a response to the Israeli desire to have Palestinians declare that the occupation in Gaza is over. They would love this statement before Sharon goes to New York for the upcoming UN General Assembly, but it is highly unlikely as long as the airport and the airspace are under Israeli control. But if the Israelis have suddenly become interested in abiding by international law, they have to rectify a long list of violations to the Geneva Conventions which, among other things, forbids imprisoning indigenous residents in their own country, as well as continued settlement activity and the illegal annexation of Jerusalem (and the Syrian Golan Heights).
The speedy reversing of the situation in Gaza gives much hope to concerned Palestinians in Jerusalem and the West Bank. No one is naive to think that the reversibility of 38 years of occupation and settlement in the West Bank will be that easy. But with continued determination on the part of the Palestinians, clever political management by the Palestinian leadership and the determination of the international community, what seemed impossible and irreversible a while back can become the fulfillment of the peaceful aspirations of Palestinians and of many in Israel.
Ã‚Â * Daoud Kuttab is director of the Institute of Modern Media at Al Quds University in Ramallah.