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Middle East Roundtable / Edition 3


A Palestinian View:
Absolutely out of the question

an interview with Eyad El Sarraj

bitterlemons: The possibility has been raised that the Israeli army might leave settlers behind rather than confront them under Sharon's disengagement plan. How do you think such a scenario might play out?

Sarraj: Well I don't think this would ever happen. It's absolutely out of the question for the Israelis to ever leave anybody behind. Of course, they could be using this tactic to force the settlers out. Without mutual guarantees for the safety of these settlers it is absolutely impossible for any Israeli government to risk the lives of any Israeli citizens. So I think it's a tactic to scare the settlers.

bitterlemons: It does seems that Sharon is in a bind here. He appears to want to leave Gaza and the settlers are putting up strong opposition. If that is true and the settlers are not going for compensation, he is left with two options: either to confront them with the army or leave them behind.

Sarraj: As I say, I think Sharon is using this as a scare tactic. I don't believe any Israeli government will leave Israeli citizens behind, they are sacred, you know. But it is perhaps used as a tactic to say that "if you want to stay behind you can stay, but then you will be at the mercy of the Palestinians who will probably eat you because they are cannibals."

There is some talk about an exchange of populations between Israelis and Palestinians under a final status agreement in which some Jewish settlers who wish to stay behind, become Israeli citizens under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian state, and some Palestinians become Palestinian citizens under the jurisdiction of the Israeli state. But, if this happens is has to be by mutual agreement and with safety and security measures.

But at this stage, after four years of an intifada that has been so violent, it is impossible to think that any responsible Israeli government would even venture this.

bitterlemons: What would happen?

Sarraj: They would be killed for sure. There is so much hatred, particularly in Gaza, against the settlements and the settlers. The whole resistance movement in Gaza is actually focused on the settlements.

bitterlemons: The PA would then be put in a very difficult situation?

Sarraj: The Authority would not be in any position to protect these settlers. It would risk its own security. People would attack the Palestinian security officers. I don't think anyone could guarantee their safety.

bitterlemons: On the one hand, the Israeli government is reluctant to confront its settlers, yet on the other, it is asking the PA to clamp down on Hamas and other groups. What's going on here?

Sarraj: I think there are some elements within Israeli society and the government that understand that any kind of peace agreement would damage Israel's chances of expansion, and they don't want this to happen. The risk of civil war in Israel is quite real. So in a way, some extremist Israeli elements fearing the possibility of civil war in Israel are exporting the possibility of civil war to the Palestinians themselves. Sharon has cut off talks with the Palestinian side and has started to unleash his army against Gaza, because he wants Palestinians to fight each other. He is exporting the danger of civil war. He is showing his people that he is a strong man and he is forcing the Palestinian side into action, hoping perhaps that this will help him secure his disengagement plan without risking a civil war.

bitterlemons: From the perspective of the international community isn't there a consistency problem here? On the one hand you have a clear demand on Palestinians that they confront the armed groups, and on the other hand you have settlers who under international law are living where they are illegally. If the international community was to be consistent shouldn't they demand that both be confronted?

Sarraj: Absolutely. There is no way, to my mind, that in Gaza even one settler will be tolerated. There will be continuous war if any settlers are left and no one from the Palestinian security forces could protect them.

But I think that Sharon is simply giving settlers an ultimatum, to make them think they might be left at the mercy of the Palestinians. When we talk about the hardcore of these settlers, these are basically racist people. This hardcore might stay and fight, they might be affected by the Masada complex, but they would not want to be left at the mercy of the Palestinians, because basically they look down upon us. We are not equal to them. They are the chosen people on their promised land. We don't deserve to be even breathe the same air.- Published 17/1/2005 (c) bitterlemons.org

Eyad El Sarraj is Director of the Gaza Community Mental Health Program in Gaza City.

Bitterlemons-international.org is an internet forum for an array of world perspectives on the Middle East and its specific concerns. It aspires to engender greater understanding about the Middle East region and open a new common space for world thinkers and political leaders to present their viewpoints and initiatives on the region. Editors Ghassan Khatib and Yossi Alpher can be reached at ghassan@bitterlemons-international.org and yossi@bitterlemons-international.org, respectively.

hagalil.com 24-01-2005



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