Why Palestine was removed from the agenda and why it is back

Why Palestine was removed from the agenda and why it is back

Smoke billows after an Israeli air strike in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip. Oct. 16, 2023 (File/AFP)
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Israel had the perfect plan for Gaza — in fact, for all Palestinians — when it decided to redeploy its forces around the Gaza Strip in 2005. Despite statements made at the time by Israeli officials that the “disengagement” plan aimed at severing Israel’s legal and other responsibilities from its role as an occupier, the actual story was different.

Dov Weissglas, a top adviser to late Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, conveyed the real reasons behind the redeployment. “The significance of the disengagement plan is the freezing of the peace process,” Weissglas told Haaretz in 2004.

Weissglas knew exactly what he was saying; after all, he was one of the architects of the plan. But how much of the Israeli plan, as described by Weissglas, was actually implemented? And does the current war in the Strip change those outcomes, as pronounced nearly two decades ago?

The freezing of the peace process has been achieved in full. And not only that, but Israel has, since then, carried out numerous steps to make sure there is nothing worth negotiating over. The exponential growth of illegal Jewish settlements, the killing of Palestinians, the desecration of holy sites and the annexation plans make it unrealistic to even suggest that a two-state solution is still practically possible.

For Israel, disengaging from Gaza was the end of peace efforts and the start of a new phase — entrenching the occupation

Ramzy Baroud

But why was Israel keen on freezing a “process” that was futile to begin with? It was not the peace process that mattered to Israel, but the fact that, as long as such political conversations were still taking place, the Palestinian political agenda remained relevant. This logic, long argued by Palestinians, was supported by Weissglas himself when he said: “When you freeze that process, you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state, and you prevent a discussion on the refugees, the borders and Jerusalem.”

He added: “Effectively, this whole package called the Palestinian state, with all that it entails, has been removed indefinitely from our agenda. And all this with authority and permission. All with a (US) presidential blessing and the ratification of both houses of Congress.”

This explains much of what has happened since.

First is that all Israeli governments, regardless of their ideological or political orientations, remained faithful to the plan and never engaged in any genuine political conversations on the future of a Palestinian state or the rights of the Palestinians, let alone a just peace. This indicates that Israel’s intentions were not open for debate within the country’s political establishment. For Tel Aviv, it was the end of peace efforts and the start of a new phase — that of entrenching the occupation.

Secondly, every US administration since then has either invested in the overall Israeli agenda or disowned the very “peace process” that the Americans themselves invented and sustained. This also did not happen by chance. Israel invested great lobbying efforts and diplomacy in dissuading the Americans from continuing to pursue their own agenda.

Not only did Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu get what he wanted, in 2017 he even managed to convince the Trump administration to follow Israel’s agenda on Jerusalem, refugees, settlements and even annexation. The Biden administration has not altered the grim political reality established by President Donald Trump, even if some of its language appeared to suggest otherwise.

Israel responded with a massive show of force whenever Palestinians seemed ready to challenge their Israeli jailers

Ramzy Baroud

Thirdly, although unwittingly, Weissglas indicated that Israel does not see Palestinians and their struggle as fragments, but as a unified whole. By blocking one aspect of that struggle, the political process, all others were meant to fall like dominoes.

The division of Palestinians, along with the ability of Mahmoud Abbas to sustain his Palestinian Authority for all these years despite its failure to achieve anything of substance, allowed Israel to advance its original plan unhindered.

Frustrated by the insistence of many countries, including the US, that Israel must engage in a political process, Israel instead decided to “disengage” from Gaza. “The disengagement is actually formaldehyde,” Weissglas said. “It supplies the amount of formaldehyde that is necessary so there will not be a political process with the Palestinians.”

The Israeli plan, however, was not a complete success. Palestinians continued to lead a massive campaign of resistance, involving all aspects of society in Gaza, the West Bank and Jerusalem. And, as was always the case, Israel responded with a massive show of force whenever Palestinians seemed ready to challenge their Israeli jailers.

From the frequent raids on Jenin, Nablus and Jericho to the massive and deadly wars on Gaza, Israel has done everything in its power not only to crush Palestinians, but also to send them a message: No resistance of any kind will be tolerated and no form of resistance will ever be enough to place Palestine back on Israel’s political agenda, or those of its allies.

A feeling of “we won, you lost” has pervaded official Israeli institutions and society. Israeli election campaigns seemed entirely disinterested in even discussing the settlements, a Palestinian state, the status of Jerusalem and so on.

Palestinians were still useful, however. The PA served as a line of defense for the ever-growing settlements. And every Palestinian attack against Israeli targets was utilized as further proof that Israel has no peace partner, thus solidifying the anti-peace position of every Israeli government.

Discussions in the media following the Hamas attack on southern Israel on Oct. 7 focused on the attack itself, on Hamas as a group and, later, although selectively, on the bloodbath created by Israel in Gaza. But that date was not the start of the war; it was one horrific episode in a war that had already started and was sustained by a very violent Israeli military occupation and apartheid.

Equally important, regardless of Israeli propaganda and distorted Western media coverage, there is no question that Israel has failed. That failure was initiated by Sharon’s wishful thinking in 2005 and maintained through the illusions and arrogance of every Israeli government ever since.

The truth is that Netanyahu is only a cog in a massive Israeli political machine that aims at dismissing the Palestinian cause, forever.

Even those who insist on supporting Israel at any cost cannot now genuinely pretend that Palestine is not back on the agenda as the Middle East’s most vital issue. Without a free Palestine, there can never be true peace, security or stability.

  • Ramzy Baroud has been writing about the Middle East for more than 20 years. He is an internationally syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author of several books, and the founder of PalestineChronicle.com. X: @RamzyBaroud
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