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Now that Palestinian terror has gotten out of hand in Gaza, people like me who strongly favor unilateral Israeli withdrawal - from Gaza and northern Samaria last year and from the West Bank interior in the coming years - owe an accounting.
With the torrent of Kassams on Sderot in recent weeks and now the killing of two IDF soldiers and the kidnapping of a third, this is obviously not what we hoped or expected the Palestinians to be doing in Gaza 10 months after Israel got out of there.
So was Ariel Sharon's disengagement a mistake? Is Ehud Olmert's realignment plan a mistake? Is Israel's whole post-Oslo policy of unilateralism a mistake?
My answer, based on what's happened in the last six years instead of just the last few weeks, is no, no and no.
For all the condemnations now being heard over last summer's pullout from Gaza, I don't think too many Israelis wish our settlers and soldiers were still in there. Very few Israelis regret that our flag no longer flies in a strip of territory where 9,000 Jews lived alongside 1.4 million Palestinians.
And if they think back, Israelis will remember that the Kassams on Sderot and attacks on IDF soldiers didn't start only after Israel got out of Gaza. No, the terror in Gaza and from Gaza was much, much worse when Israeli settlers and soldiers were still inside the strip.
The two IDF soldiers killed at Kerem Shalom this week were the first two fatalities caused by Gazan Palestinians during the 10 months since disengagement.
By comparison, Gazan Palestinians killed 148 Israelis and 11 foreigners in the five years between the September 2000 start of the intifada and last September's completion of the withdrawal, according to Foreign Ministry statistics.
The recent Kassams on Sderot, bad as they've been, haven't killed anyone yet. In the five-year period leading up to disengagement, Kassams fired from Gaza killed five people in Sderot and one other Israeli in a nearby moshav.
REMEMBER THE Cohen children crippled by the attack on their school bus in Kfar Darom? The five hesder yeshiva students shot to death in Atzmona? The back-to-back bombings of APCs that killed 11 soldiers, and the two more who got killed searching for their remains? Remember pregnant Tali Hatuel and her four children? Remember the two little Ethiopian cousins killed by Kassams while playing outdoors in Sderot?
ALL THESE, plus dozens of other tragedies, occurred while Israeli soldiers and settlers were dug in the Gaza Strip.
Stepping back from the bloodshed, anguish and fury of these days, and thinking back over recent years instead, there's just no other conclusion but that unilateral withdrawal from Gaza has made Israel a vastly more secure country than it was before, not to mention a far more Jewish and democratic country.
To those who complain that "we got nothing in return" for disengagement, I'd say that the far-reaching improvement in our security, along with the removal of 1.4 million Palestinians from our demographics and occupation, are quite a bit more than nothing.
And for those who argue that we should have negotiated the withdrawal with the Palestinians and thereby prevented the Kassams and attacks like the one on Sunday, I'd say the leftists making that claim are grasping at straws, while the Likudniks making it are doing all they can to keep a straight face.
No realistic person believes that Mahmoud Abbas can control terror, or that Hamas would do so for anything less than Israel's effective surrender.
SO WHERE do we go now? Should we plow ahead with the realignment plan and get ready to hand everything on the far side of the West Bank security barrier to the Palestinians? No. Not for now, at any rate.
Something has changed. Gaza has gotten out of control. While Palestinian terrorists there have become much less of a problem for Israel than they were before disengagement, they've become a much bigger problem than Israel should tolerate now that we've gone from their midst.
It's one thing to deal with terror from Gazans under Israeli occupation; it's another thing to deal with terror from Gazans who aren't. There's also a world of difference between Palestinian terror in the face of Israeli determination to hold onto the West Bank, and Palestinian terror in the face of Israeli determination to give up about 90% of the West Bank - and that's even without a peace process.
GAZA HAS become too violent for Israel to go forward now with the realignment plan. I still support it, but it has to wait until Gaza is basically secured - until safety along the Gazan border is at least comparable to that along the border with Lebanon, where unilateral withdrawal has proven a great success.
I think this is going to happen, too, because I think the government and the IDF are going to make it happen. In the last few years the IDF has worked wonders, beating down the intifada and forcing Hamas to call a truce, which held for 16 months until the current bloodletting.
Now it's time for the IDF, especially the Air Force, to really go to work on the terrorists in Gaza. There will no doubt be more innocent Palestinian children killed accidentally - but such tragedies happen in the most justified of wars, and Israel's war against Gazan terror is absolutely justified.
If there was another way to stop the gunmen and rocket-launchers, the Israeli government would take it, but the Gazans aren't offering any other way.
They know, or should know, that as soon as they leave Israel alone, Israel will leave them alone. And then, but only then, Israel will also be able to start leaving the West Bank and ending the occupation altogether.
I'm afraid I don't have much confidence anymore that the Palestinians will do the right thing or the smart thing, but I do have a lot of confidence that the IDF will ultimately force them into it. The new Israeli unilateralism - "Sharon's way," as it's called - is going through a terrible few weeks, but this is a setback, not a defeat.
Israel in 2006 has far too much strength, justice and smarts not to win this fight against the Palestinians. I think it's only a matter of time.
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