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Friday, August 05, 2005

Disengagement blues (JPost Op-Ed) - were there alternatives?

I have mentioned before that I am having a hard time finding rational arguments for disengagement. This editorial comes closest. My response follows.

By ELLIOT JAGER

What part of me would give to be orange right now, 14 days before disengagement. I'd be able to turn around – probably no more than 14 days after the last Israeli had been pulled out of Gaza and northern Samaria – and scream: "I told you so! I told you this would not bring peace; that the Palestinians would interpret Israel's withdrawal as a victory for terrorism; that far from buying us diplomatic breathing space, pressure from the EU and the US to make further, even riskier, concessions would promptly materialize."

And yet, with a heavy heart, I embrace Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's argument that the Jewish state must not rule over Gaza's 1 million hostile Palestinian Arabs in perpetuity; that Gush Katif is no longer a military asset; and that to salvage as much of Judea, Samaria – and Jerusalem – as possible, precious communities must be uprooted.

Am I getting cold feet? You bet. Being on the "winning" side brings no pleasure. Disengagement will likely be what we're all anticipating: emotionally gut-wrenching.

Not since Oslo have I observed such widespread alienation from the political system. His embittered opponents say Sharon is uprooting the Jews so the media will forget, and left-leaning judicial powers ignore, his family's corruption. Sharon, they say, has sold his soul for a few more months of power; and so has the Knesset majority.

And you know something? Sharon really has used every (technically legal) dirty trick in the book to bulldoze his policies through. He has fired principled cabinet ministers who challenged him; he's gone back on his word time and again. He lacked the wisdom to ask for new elections; rejected the option of a national referendum; permitted the civil liberties of anti-disengagement protesters to be trampled.

WHICH IS why, if disengagement opponents came up with a Plan B – some scheme that obviated the need for disengagement – I'd join their ranks in a snap. But Sharon's critics have nothing to offer in place of disengagement; no realistic way of coping with a burgeoning, antagonistic enemy population; no reasonable arrangement that addresses the radically inferior – compared to just five years ago – strategic, diplomatic and internal situation we find ourselves in.

The orange camp behaves as if the enemy command were still sitting in North Africa, as if the war Yasser Arafat launched five years ago hasn't brought the Palestinians tangible military achievements. Sharon's opponents behave as if Israel weren't right now constructing a security barrier that's demarking our lines of defense for years to come.

In short, foes of disengagement are right that it's a policy from hell – but they have nothing better to offer when doing nothing is untenable.

The alternative to disengagement isn't a return to the blissful days of the early settlement movement, it's full speed ahead toward Yossi Beilin's widely-supported (by powerful international forces) Geneva Initiative, which would throw us back to the 1949 Armistice Lines. That's the choice. There is no other. And most Israelis know it – which is why, if elections were held today, Sharon would win again and those parties solidly tied to the anti-disengagement movement would capture, maybe, 11 Knesset seats.

"Disinformation," I hear some of my orange friends claim.

Because if you live in a world that claims exclusivity to the Truth, if you know God's will, if the politics of paranoia is your reality; if delusions make you see Nazis or Cossacks in the guise of Israeli soldiers or police, your psychosis is blocking out reality.

WHATEVER ITS many pitfalls, disengagement just might buy Israel some diplomatic breathing space. The orange camp seems oblivious to just how close we are to being tarred as the Rhodesia of the 21st century. Google "boycott Israel" and you'll see what I mean.

The irrational Right may not worry about what "the goyim think," but pragmatic security hawks need to. In an era of global interdependence, autarky is not an option. Like it or not, we need Washington and Brussels more than they need us.

From Lyndon Johnson to Bill Clinton, every US administration unbendingly insisted on a total Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza. Sharon's policy has caused the first crack in this once-unalterable stance. Disengagement parks Israel in a place that demands Germany, France, Britain and the US ask the Palestinians, finally, what they're willing to trade for peace.

I admit that Sharon and his advisers may have oversold disengagement with rosy scenarios of a beneficent Bush administration embracing the principle of the Palestinians cracking down on terrorism before Washington backs their demands for additional Israeli concessions. Indeed, the State Department has already gone wobbly on the concept that terrorism must be eradicated before there can be "progress" on the road map, as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's recent visit to the region showed.

But let's not expect Washington to be more pro-Israel than the Israeli cabinet. I'm perplexed by Sharon's decision to entrust the Philadelphi Corridor to Egyptian policing, given that without Egyptian acquiescence there'd hardly be any arms trafficking from Sinai into Gaza in the first place.

Sharon claims that once the Gaza withdrawal is behind us there will be no "gestures" and no "progress" on the road map until the terrorism infrastructure is dismantled. If he holds firm, if the US pro-Israel community unites behind this stance, Israel will be diplomatically better off than it is today.

As for the Palestinians, no one ever lost money by betting they'd do something stupid. Don't expect them to turn the Gaza Strip into a Hong Kong on the Mediterranean. The IDF will still periodically have to enter the area to stop enemy attacks of one kind or another. But once it is relieved of responsibility for Israeli civilians inside the Strip, the army's burden will lessen.

YET FOR me the strongest case for disengagement isn't diplomatic or military, but societal. Thirty-eight years after the liberation of the Jewish heartland, support within the body politic for the settlement enterprise is at a nadir. Some of Israel's best and brightest – the secular youngsters who become IAF pilots or elite commandos – are as alienated from the settlers as the Yesha Council is from Tel Aviv anarchists who sleep with the enemy. Opponents of disengagement seem unmindful of the extraordinary rift in our society.

With our home front so divided can we really triumph over a determined Palestinian foe? Real love of Israel – ahavat yisrael – demands we feel the pain not just of the hesder boys but of their Ramat Aviv Gimmel contemporaries, too.

Disengagement allows Israel to consolidate its defensive lines. It demonstrates understanding of international public opinion, and stabilizes the home front.

My orange friends may well have occasion to say, "I told you so." But they never presented a better alternative. There comes a point when doing nothing just isn't a rational option.

jager@jpost.com

Mr. Jager misses the point, in my opinion. I agree that holding on to Gaza forever is untenable, mostly for the reason he doesn't state - that it is not a good idea to have a minority rule a large majority in Gaza. I am not convinced that it will ease the burden on the IDF; I am not convinced that there will be any lasting diplomatic advantage from the Gaza retreat; and the hatred that the secularists have for the religious is more bigotry and less based on the settlements (again, it was Labor governments that encouraged the settlement enterprise to begin with.)

He also mentions but glosses over the reasons against disengagement - it will strengthen terror, not only in Israel but worldwide.

In addition, contrary to what he states and Sharon believes, it weakens Israel's moral and legal claims to Judea and Samaria, rather then strengthens them. Once it appears to the world that Israel agrees that occupation is illegal (which is what this looks like), then it is also illegal in the West Bank.

His point seems to be that there is no alternative. I am not an advocate of a Kach-like solution of shipping millions of Palestinians out of the territories, but there were alternatives, that were ignored for some reason by Sharon, and that could have made this a lot more palatable.

One that I would have supported, even though chances are it would not have worked, would be to go beyond a unilateral withdrawal - to put the Palestinians on the defensive by not only withdrawing, but by declaring Israel's intentions to recognize Gaza as a Palestinian state, and urging the world to agree. Palestinians who are yearning for independence would be allowed to move to the Gaza state while those who remain in the West Bank would accept Camp David-style autonomy. There are a number of advantages to this: it shows how bogus Palestinian claims of desiring an independent state are (because they would reject it), it allows Israel to defend itself against a sovereign nation if they attack, and it would also show how little desire the Arab Palestinian people truly have to live in Hamas-stan. At the very least it could serve as a living example of what would happen if the Palestinians created a state in the West Bank - namely, disaster.

(Here's a thought experiment: Imagine that Iraq would offer the Kurds their own area to become an independent state. Can you imagine them rejecting it because Turkey doesn't do the same?)

But there was another alternative: it didn't have to be unilateral! Why on Earth is Israel giving up the most valuable commodity in the area - land - for nothing in return? No promises, no agreements, no oaths - nothing to reduce terror, to end incitement, to control Hamas, to gather weapons, to agree on industrial zones, to keep the Gaza hothouses in business, to allow Jews to live there, agreements to destroy Kassam factories or tunnels, international observers on Palestinian compliance with written agreements - any of a few dozen things Israel could have gotten in return for something as valuable as Gaza. As a bilateral agreement it does not appear to be a retreat.

One does not negotiate with one's cards face up. The tragedy of Gaza, beyond the human cost, is the many opportunities missed that could have positioned Israel much more strongly going forward.