The Middle East is in the midst of an historic upheaval. But despite the Arab street’s clear demands for regime change, there are still those who insist that a withdrawal from the West Bank is the recipe for regional stability.

They could not be further from the truth.

In reality, moves to delegitimize our presence in Judea and Samaria, and ultimately to hasten our withdrawal to the 1967 armistice lines, would prove catastrophe for democratic hopes in the region. If there is to be any progress, it must be grounded in the concept of defensible borders.

As the world waits for Libya to become the latest tyranny to tumble, it is far from certain that democracy will follow Muammar Gaddafi’s exit. Similarly, the path to freedom and truly representative government in Egypt and Tunisia is paved with uncertainty.

Democracy ranks alongside military rule, theocracy and numerous other shades of autocracy as possible outcomes.

Lebanon is the most recent reminder, if one were needed, that the Middle East version of democracy is tenuous at best, forever at the mercy of antidemocratic forces. Lebanon is a regional rarity, enjoying free elections for a multiparty parliament.

Yet in January, the Iranian-backed Hezbollah engineered the dismantling of prime minister Saad Hariri’s government, replacing him with a stooge for the Shi’ite terror movement. Abusing the tools of democracy, Iran has strengthened its stranglehold on the country. Only five years ago, Lebanon appeared poised for freedom after its “Cedar Revolution” had ousted Syria. It doesn’t take a vivid imagination to picture the “Jasmine Revolution” and the “Facebook Revolution” deteriorating in similar fashion.

ISRAEL TOO has been guilty of placing its faith in half-baked democracies. The unconditional withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 was heralded as an opportunity for the Palestinian Authority to institute freedom, prosperity and the rule of law. Instead, previously thriving industries in Gaza were left to rot, and poverty remained. Seizing the opportunity, another Iranian proxy, Hamas, seized the reins of power, violently overthrowing Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah, whose officials fled for their lives. More than five years later, the Negev still faces Hamas rockets.

With Hamas dedicated to our destruction, the international community urges greater trust to be placed in the hands of Abbas. Yet his regime is anything but a model of good government. Abbas’s term as PA president expired more than a year ago, and parliamentary elections are similarly overdue. Abbas, seemingly terrified his tenuous rule will be the next target of Arab uproar, scrambled to call elections last week.

And yet this failed democracy is the regime that so many insist we empower by withdrawing from the West Bank.

Even if Abbas were willing to genuinely reform his authority, introducing genuine checks and balances and democratic principles, the clear danger remains that Hamas, backed by its Iranian patrons, will repeat its Gaza trick.

With the Middle East at an historic crossroads, a withdrawal to the indefensible 1967 armistice lines is a risk we simply can’t afford to take, and which the likes of Hamas are all too eager to exploit. A pullout from the West Bank would surely only encourage the Iranian- inspired fundamentalists who hope to add our eastern flank to the trophies of Gaza and Lebanon. Regionally, other extremist forces such as the Muslim Brotherhood would gain inspiration from a perceived Israeli capitulation, fuelling their own appetite for power in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and other countries whose futures have yet to be determined.

Withdrawal threatens not only Israel, but also Western illusions of peace and democracy in the Middle East. A pullback to the 1967 lines would leave the region’s only genuine democracy exposed at a time of immense uncertainty.

In doing so, reconciliation and genuine peace would become even more unlikely. Any future Israeli-Palestinian talks must therefore be predicated on the necessity of defensible borders.

If not, the dream of a democratic triumph will become more distant than ever.

The writer served as bureau chief to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, and is currently president of 3H Global Enterprise.

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