GIVEN ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER Ariel Sharon’s powerful impact on Israeli politics, his sudden departure from the scene undoubtedly marks the end of an era. But Sharon has been so successful in winning international—not to say popular Israeli--acceptance for his vision of a “solution” to the Palestine problem that that there is little reason to expect that this vision, whose implementation began with the disengagement from Gaza, will change in any substantial way.
Two pieces in the current issue of JPS address this vision. Azmi Bishara, a leader of the Palestinian community in Israel and a member of the Knesset, lays out the over-arching framework of the “resolution” of the conflict which Israel and the United States have been moving to impose on the Palestinians, with special emphasis on Palestinian “statehood” as a way of dissolving Palestinian rights and reducing the Palestine issue to a trivial dispute over borders. Former human rights worker Darryl Li explores another dimension of Israeli strategy, showing how Gaza has served—and continues to serve after disengagement—as a laboratory in which techniques for the management of the Palestinian population can be tested, fine tuned, and adapted for use in the West Bank and Jerusalem. The ultimate goal of these techniques—various forms of closure, buffer zones, and the use of airpower—is to assure maximum Israeli control over the territories and minimum Israeli responsibility for the inhabitants.
The situation of the Palestinian citizens inside Israel is the subject of two pieces by Palestinian Israeli scholars. Amal Jamal traces the evolution of the Arab leadership inside Israel over a half century and highlights certain characteristics that weaken its effectiveness. Nadim Rouhana focuses on the campaign to enshrine the concept of Israel as a “Jewish and democratic” state, underlining the contradictions of the formulation in a country where nearly 20 percent of the population is Arab. Both are valuable in the run-up to the Israeli elections scheduled for March 2006.
Finally, this issue includes reflections on the career of Yasir Arafat by Mamdouh Nofal, a former member of the PLO Military Council who had ample opportunity over thirty-five years to observe and interact with the Palestinian leader; the piece is particularly interesting for the little known incidents it recounts from Arafat’s early career. The issue includes as well excerpts from the “life history” of Um Jabr Wishah, a refugee living in Gaza, recalling pre-1948 life in Palestine. The excerpts inaugurate what we hope will be an occasional series, “Palestinian Voices,” presenting contributions to the oral history of Palestine.
—Rashid I. Khalidi