80,000 Gaza Palestinians Refuse to Become Pawns in Egyptian-Israeli Sinai Withdrawal Plan
On January 18, Zionist War Minister Ariel Sharon was in Cairo for 3 days of meetings with Egyptian officials to settle the final details of the Israeli withdrawal from Sinai which, under the Camp David agreements, is supposed to occur before April 25. After the meetings, Sharon stated in a press conference that most outstanding questions "had been resolved." However, one question was left unresolved and it is the question that the American-sponsored Camp David process is incapable of solving - the Palestinian question.
The particular issue facing Egyptian and Israeli negotiators is the 80,000 Palestinians living in Rafah in the Israeli-occupied Gaza Strip. A sticky technicality in the withdrawal scheme is the fact that a portion of the city limits of Rafah is within the borders of Egyptian Sinai and the rest of the city is within the borders of the Gaza Strip. The American-modelled Camp David scheme originally envisaged a settlement of the Palestinian "autonomy" issue before the April 1982 deadline for the Israeli withdrawal from Sinai. But years of American manoeuvring with the Camp David framework have been futile in producing even one Palestinian quisling who could look like a credible alternative to the PLO. Now U.S. Secretary of State Alexander Haig has decided to join the fray in attempting to liquidate the lingering Palestinian question, at least in its immediate manifestation - the 80,000 Palestinians in Rafah who stand in the way of a clean execution of the Israeli withdrawal from Sinai.
Sharon sees the Rafah issue as an unexpected opportunity in dealing with one of the historical failures of Zionism - how to rid the land of Palestine of its native population. In his discussions with Mubarak on the Sinai withdrawal, Sharon reportedly proposed that Rafah remain unified and revert to Egyptian control after the Israeli withdrawal from Sinai. The Palestinian population in the occupied Gaza Strip numbers about 500,000. For Sharon, giving Rafah to the Egyptians would mean that the densely populated Gaza Strip would have its Palestinian population reduced in one fell swoop by almost 20%. The prospect of suddenly acquiring a militant Palestinian population, many of whom would now be displaced for the third time in 33 years, is not very enticing for the Mubarak regime. But Sharon offered other contingencies. If the Egyptian regime refused to accept all 80,000 Rafah Palestinians, maybe at least 12,000 living on the Sinai side of Rafah could be thrown over into the Egyptian desert. Sharon then proposed that the Gaza side of Rafah would be totally fenced-in like a concentration camp to protect Israeli "security."
Sharon and Hassan Ali after their agreement on
Throughout the history of the Camp David process both the American and Egyptian negotiators have continually capitulated to Israeli unilateral measures which fall outside of the accords. The case of the Sinai withdrawal is no exception. In the recent Sharon-Mubarak meetings in Cairo, the Egyptian side once again compromised issues of Egyptian sovereignty and agreed to allow Israeli installations to remain in Sinai after the April 25 withdrawal deadline. Likewise Sharon has spearheaded a drive in Gaza unilaterally to implement Zionist designs on the area. In the second week of January just before Sharon's visit, Rafah was put under curfew while Israeli soldiers began rounding up dozens of Bedouin families who live in the area. Agence France Presse reported on January 12 that when the Bedouin left their encampments during the day, Israeli army troops would move in with bulldozers to destroy their homes and agricultural plots. Israeli military "experts" have carried out surveys while Rafah has been under curfew in order to mark off which Palestinian homes they will demolish.
The international media have all but ignored the plight of the Palestinians in Rafah. This has not been the case for the several hundred Jewish settler families still remaining in Sinai. Their evacuation from occupied land is portrayed daily as a tragic dilemma for the Begin government. In reality the evacuation of the settlers is anything but tragic. It is big business. On January 6, the Begin cabinet decided to give the remaining Sinai settlers some $270 million in compensation. Some of the fanatical Gush Emunim settlers will become millionaires almost over night. Some of the settlers are slated to receive as much as $500,000 each. The London Sunday Times of January 10 contrasted this to what Bedouin in the Negev are being offered for destruction of their homes to make way for three new airbases being constructed since the signing of Camp David: "There, families with solid, 80-square metre homes, cultivating five acres of fertile land and 100 fruit trees are getting only about £2,500 for the lot. They are then expected to pay £1,820 for a half-acre plot elsewhere on which to build a new house at their own expense."
The Mubarak regime was also eager to add to the compensation payments for Israeli withdrawal. After the Sharon-Mubarak meetings, the London Guardian reported on January 19: "Egypt also undertook to buy infrastructure Israel will leave behind in southern Sinai for about $60 million, and to open a road for lorries carrying goods between the two countries through central Sinai, crossing the Suez Canal by tunnel near Ismalia."
The most sinister result of this huge financial deal is part of the Zionist design to annex the West Bank and Gaza. The 5,000 settlers leaving Sinai newly enriched will become the human and capital resource for further settlement in the occupied Gaza and West Bank. The $270 million compensation is actually a financial injection to West Bank and Gaza settlement expansion which will be used in real estate speculation and will send the price of land in the remaining occupied territories skyrocketing. Ha'aretz reported on January 12 that already a tenth of a hectare of land in the West Bank is selling for 3,000 or 4,000 dollars. The current militaristic antics of the Gush Emunim settlers in Yamit in Sinai will next be unleashed against Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza.
All Sharon's dreams for liquidating the Palestinian question in Gaza are not going as smoothly as planned. Sharon once thought he had "pacified" Gaza in the early 1970 s after the Israeli army swept through the area bulldozing hundreds of Palestinian homes in the refugee camps and imprisoning hundreds of young Palestinians suspected of being fighters in the Palestinian Revolution. Sharon's dreams have turned into a nightmare which has come back to haunt him ten years later.
On December 1, 1981 Sharon transformed General Yosef Luntz from the military governor of Gaza into a civilian administrator as part of a scheme to install permanent Israeli occupation of the Gaza Strip. The next day the whole of Gaza shut down in a general strike. The Israeli army ran rampant throughout Gaza to try and quell the Palestinian resistance. Palestinian shops which had closed for the strike were welded shut by soldiers only to be opened again by Palestinian shop owners using electric saws. Students mounted widespread demonstrations and threw up barricades of burning tires to block the entrance of Israeli military vehicles into the towns and refugee camps.
Not coincidentally, some of the fiercest clashes took place in Rafah. On December 7, Israeli soldiers randomly opened fire on Palestinian demonstrators and shot dead a 17-year-old Palestinian youth. Three other teenagers were wounded. Another massive demonstration occurred at the funeral the next day and Rafah was placed under a military curfew. The demonstrations in Rafah were not crushed by the murder. After the curfew was lifted in late December, demonstrations against the occupation broke out once again. Rafah was again placed under curfew on January 3 for more than a week.
Israeli and Egyptian negotiations on Palestinian "autonomy" are expected to continue with U.S. Secretary of State Haig "injecting new ideas." But the Palestinians in Gaza have already forcefully stated their view of the whole Camp David process in the uprising in December. The Palestinians in Gaza have likewise rejected the current U.S.-Egyptian-Israeli manoeuvring over the fate of the Palestinians in Rafah. On January 19, Dr. Haidar Abdul Shafi, a member of the National Guidance Committee and the President of the Palestinian Red Crescent Society in Gaza stated: "I am hostile in principle to any exchange of territories, and I believe, in the present case, that no Palestinian would accept today a change of nationality." The Palestinians of Rafah have reiterated this view with continuing demonstrations. They refuse to become pawns in the Camp David Sinai withdrawal plan or in any other plan that denies them their national rights.
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Originally published by The Palestine Liberation Organisation Unified Information as a bi-monthly information bulletin with copy permission granted via the notice "Partial or total reproduction is freely permitted by 'Palestine Bulletin'"
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