August 16, 2005
The Gaza Withdrawal
I'd be remiss if I didn't blog the historic events underway in the Gaza Strip at this hour. After almost forty years of occupation, Israel is withdrawing from Gaza. This is an act of not inconsiderable political courage by Arik Sharon, particularly given the opportunistic shenanigans of Bibi Netanyahu taking place at a time that instead begs for national unity. Indeed, I can't say it better than Arik himself (if a touch hyperbolically): "I don't know why he quit. He backed the disengagement plan once or twice...One thing I can say: Quitting a week before the most complex, most difficult move in the State of Israel's history--the disengagement plan--I would not say this evasion warrants a medal of honor." That said, political opportunism has its benefits and occurs for a reason, of course. The latest polling data shows that in a Likud leadership primary run-off, Netanyahu would poll well ahead of Sharon in a three-way race (with ultra-rightist Uzi Landau in the mix too). Yet these polls are being taken in the midst of the hugely emotional and difficult scenes currently underway in Gaza with the settler evacuations. No one can take away from these settlers their evident passion and deep love of the land. But to cede the ground to such religious maximalists is to all but beg eternal conflict in the Holy Land. Painful compromises must be pursued in the interests of potential peace. There is no other viable way.
With this major Israeli concession now comes the need for real Palestinian leadership and seriousness of purpose. Mahmoud Abbas cannot allow a vacuum to result post IDF withdrawal in Gaza that facilitates in any way the military wings of Hamas and Jihad Islami mounting attacks against Israel. In this, the Americans and Egyptians will be playing key roles in assisting the Palestinian Authority (both out front and behind the scenes) in cracking down on unauthorized terrorist activity. This is critical because a relatively peaceful transition (though 100% success is likely impossible) will bolster Sharon's argument that Israel withdrew from a position of strength rather than one of weakness. The compelling need for Abbas' important security crack-downs aside, however, Sharon's position was the only rationalist one that could seriously be contemplated. It was always the height of folly, after all, to expend IDF resources to protect a relative handful of a few thousand settlers in a veritable sea of a million plus Palestinians. It was also morally not a viable position in the long run. This said, however, the Palestinians must now be told in no uncertain terms that something akin to a Hezbollah/Shaba Farms rationale for continued attacks into Israel from Gaza will not be tolerated in any respect. Recall that despite Israel's withdrawal from most of southern Lebanon, Hezbollah argues that it remains entitled to attack targets in northern Israel because Israel continues to occupy the Shaba Farms. There will be many in Hamas that see the situations as roughly analagous, as of course Israel still controls the West Bank. This argument is disingenuous and unacceptable, and cannot be countenanced in the least. Negotiations on the West Bank are the way forward, not violent attacks out of a new Gaza beach-head. As for Jihad Islami and irredentist swaths of Hamas, they will see attacks on Israel as warranted until all the Jews (including those dwelling in '48 Israel) are pushed into the proverbial sea. Those actors must be steadily marginalized and, to the extent they are carrying on terrorist attacks, captured or killed before they can do their evil deeds.
To repeat, Sharon has made a very painful compromise this week. He now deserves real help from the other side. It perhaps bears noting, too, that B.D. is not one of those terribly concerned that the Gaza withdrawal was but a Sharon 'Gaza First, Gaza Last' gambit. In this, the roughly contemporaneous withdrawal from four West Bank settlements transcends mere symbolism. If (and this a big if) the Palestinian Authority can exert sufficient control over Gaza so that it is not used as a base for attacks against Israel, it is not hugely implausible to see the Gaza withdrawal as helping resucitate the moribund road map a few months hence. This, of course, would involve further Israeli withdrawals from the West Bank and, ultimately it is hoped, mutually acceptable resolution of the so-called 'final status' issues. This is but a hope, for now, but one that becomes a more serious prospect if the Gaza pull-out goes relatively well in the main. Another reason Abbas must step up to the plate, with critical assistance from Cairo and Washington, and ensure that Hamas and Jihad Islami are not militarily active. In this, I suspect, economic aid will be critical. When unemployment is near 50%, after all, people will do horrific, odious things. Gaza's economy is a horrific shambles, and the international community must help in making it better. Quickly.
Finally, I'd like to say a brief word about those lap-top nay-sayers who poo-poo Abbas and Israeli appeasers (Sharon!) for, alternately, hiding the ugly true face of the Palestinians through faked moderation (Abbas, the story-line goes) or weak-kneed, terror-friendly policies (quite incredibly, such charges are now being lobbed at Sharon from his Right). What I've found in life is that those who actually dwell in the conflict zones, rather than sunny California say, better realize that painful compromises must be made in the interests of a frustratingly elusive peace. After all, those living in the Holy Land are the ones who must deal directly with the ramifications of maximalist policies that lead to abject hatred and seemingly endless cycles of violence. So it is often wise old warriors (men like Yitzhak Rabin or Moshe Dayan) who best understand this. In this vein, this Haaretz analysis of Sharon's speech to the Israeli nation is of interest:
Sharon displayed understanding for the suffering of the Palestinians crowded in the refugee camps in Gaza "in greenhouses of growing hatred." His statements were reminiscent of Chief of Staff Moshe Dayan's eulogy to Ro'i Rotberg, the security officer of Kibbutz Nahal Oz who was murdered in 1956 in a field bordering the Gaza Strip.
This is a painful appraisal, but it has the benefit of being unflichingly accurate. Despite the de-humanization of the Palestinian 'other', their aspirations and hopes are not that different than those of their Israeli neighbors--namely, to raise families and lead productive lives in conditions of dignity and peace. This is why solid majorities of both Palestinians and Israelis supported the Madrid and Oslo processes at various junctures--read: a two-state solution with an independent Palestine living side by side an independent Israel.
Don't miss this moving part from Sharon's speech either:
Residents of Gaza, today we end a glorious chapter in Israel's history, a central episode in your lives as pioneers, as realisers of the dream of those who bore the security and settlement burden for all of us.
These are strong and good and wise words. Make no mistake, Sharon's move was the right one. The calculated risks were and are worth taking. And holding on to Gaza forever was simply not tenable. Let us now hope the handover is handled by all parties, especially the Palestinian side, with utmost professionalism and seriousness of purpose. The entire world is watching, and success now can lead to more progress in reaching a viable two state solution later. There is really no other way forward that would avoid condemning the region to permanent war.Posted by Gregory at August 16, 2005 03:30 PM | TrackBack (0)
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