(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [archive])
Most Israelis need little convincing that under current circumstances, further territorial withdrawals will only produce more terror; that is why parties opposed to such withdrawals won a majority in February's election. But it is increasingly becoming clear that such pullouts also have another, equally devastating consequence: They are turning this country into an international pariah and sparking anti-Semitism worldwide.
That may sound counterintuitive. After all, the world relentlessly demands more pullouts and lauds each one that occurs; hence the Oslo Accords, the withdrawal from Lebanon and the disengagement from Gaza all initially boosted our international popularity. In each case, however, the boost proved temporary, and the subsequent decline left the country worse off that it was before the pullout.
Indeed, the situation has gotten so bad that The New York Times ran a front-page article on the subject on March 19, titled "After Gaza, Israel grapples with crisis of isolation." Israel, the article declared, "is facing its worst diplomatic crisis in two decades. Examples abound. Its sports teams have met hostility and violent protests in Sweden, Spain and Turkey. Mauritania has closed Israel's embassy. Relations with Turkey, an important Muslim ally, have suffered severely. A group of top international judges and human rights investigators recently called for an inquiry into Israel's actions in Gaza. 'Israel Apartheid Week' drew participants in 54 cities around the world this month, twice the number of last year, according to its organizers."
And one could add many other examples, such as the tens of thousands who flocked to anti-Israel demonstrations worldwide during the recent Gaza operation, often chanting anti-Semitic slogans (like "Hamas, Hamas, Jews to the gas," featured at one Dutch rally).
Equally important, anti-Semitic incidents, especially in Europe, have risen in parallel to anti-Israel sentiment, with the worst spikes in both being recorded during major military campaigns: Operation Defensive Shield in the West Bank (April 2002), the Second Lebanon War (July-August 2006) and Operation Cast Lead in Gaza (January 2009).
The reason for this is simple: In a world where pictures of bleeding victims are recycled on television and computer screens 24/7, nothing undermines a country's international image more quickly than bloodshed. And it turns out that our territorial pullouts have not merely increased our casualties, they have also increased Arab casualties.
STATISTICS ON PALESTINIAN fatalities compiled by B'Tselem show this clearly. During the first intifada, when we controlled the territories, our forces killed 1,070 Palestinians over the course of six years (1987-93). That is equal to the number killed during a single year (September 2001-August 2002) of the post-Oslo second intifada and fewer than the 1,324 killed (according to the Palestinian Authority Health Ministry) in a mere three weeks in post-disengagement Gaza (Operation Cast Lead).
Moreover, Palestinian fatalities in the West Bank plummeted after we reoccupied it in mid-2002. After climbing from 281 in the intifada's first year to 667 in the second year (September 2001-August 2002), they fell by almost two-thirds in the third year, to 242, then to 199 in the fourth, to between 105 and 125 in each of the next three, and finally to 52 in the year that ended in September 2008. That is a mere quarter of the 211 killed in a single month at the intifada's height, in April 2002.
In Gaza, by contrast, Palestinian fatalities have risen since our mid-2005 withdrawal. In fact, the year that ended in September 2008, which produced the lowest number of West Bank fatalities since the intifada began, produced the highest number of Gazan fatalities - 532, almost 100 more than the previous worst year. And this year is already far worse: The 1,324 Gazans killed in Cast Lead is more than eight times the 162 killed in the single worst month in Gaza until then.
THE REASON for these trends is also simple: If the IDF controls a given territory, it does not need to wage war to halt terror; it can rely on intelligence and policing operations. Suspected terrorists can usually be arrested rather than killed; fatalities (including civilians caught in the crossfire) occur mainly when suspects resist arrest rather than coming quietly.
When the IDF does not control territory, however, police action is impossible: We cannot arrest suspects in territory formally ceded to Palestinian control. Therefore, the only way to fight terror is by military means - namely, killing the terrorists.
Moreover, there are only two forms such military operations can take. One is aerial assaults, which, being long-distance, naturally entail a risk of collateral civilian casualties. The other is full-scale invasion, which usually produces even greater casualties, even when it is managed properly: Defensive Shield, for instance, produced only about one-sixth as many enemy fatalities as either the Second Lebanon War or Cast Lead, while achieving far better results than either. But it was still the single worst month of the intifada for West Bank Palestinians, with a fatality level 50 percent higher than the second worst month.
Thus as long as territorial withdrawals lead to terror, they leave this country with only two options: It can let its citizens be attacked with impunity, which is hardly a tenable long-term response, or it can respond militarily, which will inevitably produce large-scale enemy casualties and therefore an upsurge in anti-Israel and anti-Semitic sentiment. Indeed, it is noteworthy that while Defensive Shield, the Second Lebanon War and Cast Lead all drew tens of thousands of protesters worldwide, protests against the ongoing occupation of the West Bank draw far smaller crowds - precisely because the occupation has kept Palestinian fatalities too low to generate massive outrage.
Clearly, this problem would not arise if we could cede territory without it becoming a base for anti-Israel terror. But every piece of territory we have ceded to the Palestinians thus far has become a terrorist base. And that means the best thing the country could do for its international reputation may be the most counterintuitive of all: halt territorial concessions and reoccupy Gaza. Because as long as the terror continues, that is the only way to reduce Palestinian fatalities to a level that will cease generating international outrage.