The American, Israeli and even some of the Palestinian media have been raving about Israel’s “move toward peace” with their plan of “disengagement” from the Gaza Strip. Look a bit more closely, however, and you will see that disengagement is in fact a distraction; a magician’s trick to keep the world looking at one hand while a coin disappears from the other.

In this case, the coin is the West Bank and Jerusalem, the other part of the occupied Palestinian territories where withdrawl is not taking place. Under the disengagement plan, there are approximately 6,000 Israeli settlers being removed from the Gaza Strip.

Meanwhile, a much greater number of settlers – over 200,000 Israeli citizens who are living in the Palestinian West Bank, are not “disengaging,” they are digging in.

The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated in 2002 that “the present National Unity Government, under Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, has officially declared that it will not build any new settlements,” but on March 21, Israel approved plans to build 3,500 new housing units between the Jewish settlement of Ma'ale Adumim and Jerusalem and over 9,000 additional settlers have moved to the West Bank in 2005 alone. Currently under construction, the new units will consolidate Israel's control over East Jerusalem and divide the West Bank in half.

Since January, the Israeli government has issued nearly 200 tenders for new settlements in the Palestinian West Bank. According to a 2004 report by the Israeli group Peace Now, approximately 51 new outposts were established between March 2001 and November 2004. Altogether, approximately 100 new settlements have been established since 1996 in the Palestinian West Bank. All of these additions, as with every single settler camp, are illegal under international law.

But there is another reasons to doubt the sincerity of Israel’s latest gesture: the Jerusalem section of the wall that Israel is building through the West Bank.

Under U.N. pressure, the Israeli government announced a slightly revised wall route in February, annexing roughly 10 percent of the West Bank and leaving 240,000 Palestinians trapped within the confines of the Wall’s checkpoints and watch towers. The new route leaves most wall sections deep inside the northern and central West Bank, while making only minor changes in the Jerusalem area.

Withdrawing from Gaza is merely a tactical sacrifice that Israel must make to gain its strategic goal of de facto annexation of the West Bank.

“The disengagement is actually formaldehyde,” said Dov Weisglass, an advisor to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. “It supplies the amount of formaldehyde that’s necessary so that there will not be a political process with the Palestinians,” which enables Israel “to park conveniently in an interim situation that distances us as far as possible from political pressure.”

While the world focuses on the magician’s left hand, where a few thousand settlers are moved from the Gaza Strip, the right hand is building Walls around towns and villages, expanding settlements and maintaining hundreds of military checkpoints in every part of the West Bank.

A Prison Called “The Gaza Strip”

The relocation of Israeli settlers will not significantly change the lives of the Palestinians living in Gaza.

The Gaza Strip is the most crowded place on earth. Under Israeli occupation, unemployment has reached levels near 90 percent in many areas. Israeli imposed malnutrition afflicts 40 percent of the children, and disease is rampant in the crowded refugee camps.

The Israeli military will maintain control over the shoreline, regulating all shipping, and the fences that currently encircle Gaza. On Gaza’s border with Egypt, the Israeli military has already been constructing a trench several hundred meters wide, demolishing hundreds of homes in the southern part of the Rafah refugee camp.

No jobs will be available to the Palestinians, many of whom used to work in Israel as a cheap labor pool for Israelis. They have now been replaced by Thai and other east Asian immigrants, and very little agricultural space is available.

The Gaza Strip, completely separated from the other section of Palestine known as the West Bank, will continue to be the world’s largest prison. The Israeli military has guardposts throughout the territory, and will not remove these when “disengagement” is through. From these guardposts and military bases, hundreds of children have been killed in their neighborhoods, playgrounds and even inside their homes by soldiers firing randomly or taking pot-shots for fun.

As Palestinian journalist Laila al-Haddad stated in a recent Washington Post article: “The Gaza disengagement will simply restructure Israel's occupation. Instead of controlling our lives from within, Israel will control Gaza from without.”