One decade after Israel withdrew unilaterally from the entire Gaza Strip and four communities in the West Bank/Samaria, one year after yet another bloody conflict that withdrawal caused, we should assess the disengagement’s successes and failures, along with its heroes and villains. The Gaza disengagement successfully minimized Israeli involvement in Gazans’ daily lives, minimizing Israeli vulnerability to attacks within Gaza, while maximizing Palestinians’ responsibility for their own fates. Tragically, when empowered to control their destiny, too many Palestinians, led by Hamas, again preferred to try destroying the Jewish state rather than building their own.
To understand the dynamic – and decide how to proceed – it is worth identifying Gaza’s peacemakers, peace saboteurs and peace smashers.
Remarkably, the traumatic, contentious withdrawal in August 2005 occurred peacefully thanks to some heroic peacemakers. Prime minister Ariel Sharon, aka the Bulldozer, bullied his former Likud allies to enact the agreement. Mainstream Israeli society, while wary, supported the move, reflecting Israel’s deep, enduring Peace Consensus willing to risk for peace. This consensus emerged when Menachem Begin returned from Camp David with a risky peace treaty with Egypt in 1978 and revived when Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin surprised everyone with the 1993 Oslo Peace Plan.
The respectful but unyielding Israeli soldiers who implemented the evacuation and the evacuees themselves deserve credit for maintaining the rule of law.
Gaza’s settlers left their homes unwillingly but peaceably.
They have not received enough credit for eschewing violence and following a governmental decision they abhorred. Their dignified, heartbreaking behavior merits entry into the Democratic Hall of Fame, reflecting Israel’s healthy, moral civic sinews.
Alas, this “peace” produced dozens of infiltration tunnels, hundreds of casualties on both sides, thousands of Kassam rockets fired at innocent civilians, and millions of Israelis – and Palestinians – terrorized and in the Palestinian case oppressed by a Hamas regime threatening to destroy Israel. These peace smashers are evil nihilists who seized power illegally and made Gaza into Hamasistan. With its beautiful seacoast and billions of international donor dollars pouring in, it could have become the Middle East’s Riviera instead of another Iran. The Gaza disengagement proves that violence will continue until Palestinians generate their own grassroots Peace Consensus.
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While it is more fashionable to blame Israel, considering Israel’s peaceful withdrawal and Hamas’s violent rise, there were more Israeli peacemakers and more Palestinian peace smashers.
Unfortunately, there were also peace saboteurs, whose mistakes and blind spots heightened tensions – and cloud chances for future progress.
Clearly, acting unilaterally was foolish. Sharon’s contempt for the Palestinian Authority blinded him.
Refusing to link the withdrawal to a deal boosting the PA boosted Hamas extremists instead. Israelis should be more sensitive to Palestinians’ internal dynamics.
While wisely refuting the naive Western rhetoric calling the PA’s terrorism-worshiping regime “moderate,” Israel should not unintentionally empower even worse fanatics.
Many on Israel’s Left stumbled by failing to manage a smooth resettlement for the displaced settlers. Ten years ago, I suggested that the more pro-withdrawal and pro-Palestinian you are, the more you should welcome the settlers warmly, enthusiastically. Those to my Left scoffed. Leftists’ hatred for the settlers blinded them to the need to demonstrate how smooth a withdrawal can be. Instead, the disengagement generated thousands of stories of unsettled former settlers, thus threatening further withdrawals.
Those who fancy themselves peace processors sabotaged peace in other ways too. By denying Israel enough credit for taking the risks involved in withdrawing from Gaza in 2005 – as well as from Southern Lebanon in 2000 and from West Bank population centers after Oslo – and by failing to acknowledge that Israelis have now repeatedly withdrawn from land and ended up with more Palestinian terrorism, the Blame Israel First crowd threatens future compromises. Dissing Israel’s efforts and excusing Palestinian violence perpetuates the conflict.
In that spirit, US President Barack Obama’s ideological prejudice against any Israeli settlements and his insistence on treating the 1949 armistice lines as sacred has undermined peace efforts. Renouncing George W.
Bush’s letter of April 14, 2004, endorsing realistic peace processing “In light of the new realities on the ground, including already existing Israeli population centers,” weakened American credibility with Israeli centrists while stupidly emboldening Palestinian maximalists to expect far more than is realistic.
Finally, the unrelenting, often bigoted hostility of many right-wing Israelis toward Palestinians dissipated whatever goodwill emerged in 2005 after the Gaza withdrawal. Last week’s despicable “price tag” terrorists in Duma who murdered a Palestinian toddler represent the latest example of a hatred that is anti-Zionist, un-Jewish and destructive. Terrorism is terrorism, whether targeting Israelis or Palestinians, and must be squelched.
This tenth “withdrawalaversary” is sobering. Too many Kassams have launched, too many people have suffered, too many cries of “Death to Israel” have resonated from Gaza. But 10 years ago, millions of Israelis willingly sacrificed for peace. Peace will only come when sane people on both sides prevail, and a vast majority says “enough to the violence, let’s accept some compromise and spend more time living our lives peacefully, constructively, democratically.”
In fact, many more Israeli voices say that; Palestinian political culture must start cultivating a culture of acceptance and compromise rather than one of rejection and extremism.
While Israel has its faults, the Palestinians’ Gazan choice of nation-attacking not nation-building fits a pathological pattern diminishing Israelis’ faith in compromises.
Fifteen years ago this summer, Yasser Arafat led his way away from negotiations at Camp David back toward terrorism, not even countering prime minister Ehud Barak’s generous offer that would have created a Palestinian state. Last year, dozens died in yet another attempt to stop the rocket fire that intensified a decade ago after the Gaza withdrawal. Palestinians keep turning hopes of peace into fears of terror. Until those disappointments are addressed – and until the Palestinian death cult changes – the stalemate will persist.The writer is the author of The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s, which will be published this October by Thomas Dunne Books of St. Martin’s Press. A professor of history at McGill University, this will be his eleventh book.
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