Finding positives in the pullout

An opportunity or a disaster? According to author David Makovsky, we have yet to see the real results of disengagement.

evacuation morag 298 88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
evacuation morag 298 88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Engagement through Disengagement: Gaza and the Potential for Renewed Israeli-Palestinian Peacemaking By David Makovsky Washington Institute for Near East Policy 139pp., $19.95 When US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recently helped broker a deal between Israel and the Palestinian Authority to open the Rafah crossing, the waning optimism in the months following disengagement revived somewhat. It is just this type of hopeful initiative that Engagement through Disengagement discusses. In a concise yet thorough 78 pages (excluding appendices), David Makovsky, a senior fellow and director of the Project on the Middle East Peace Process at the Washington Institute, has drafted an important analysis of the opportunities presented by the Israeli withdrawal. Intended primarily as a brief for American policy-makers and diplomats looking for a high-level understanding of the critical issues pertaining to the region, this monograph is also an important resource for anyone looking for a complete picture of the strategic importance of this summer's events. Makovsky, a seasoned journalist who served a stint as editor-in-chief at The Jerusalem Post and as diplomatic correspondent for Ha'aretz, allows his reporting colors to shine through in an intensely researched work that includes more than 150 interviews. Containing maps and some of the key documents relating to the withdrawal, it offers a revealing look at a subject that continues to develop. Completed well before the first evacuation notices arrived in Gaza, Makovsky molded the text not to predict what might or might not occur, but rather to inform his readers of the opportunities the pullout presented. Yet in speaking with The Jerusalem Post some three months after the withdrawal, the author says it is still too early to assess whether the plan has succeeded or failed. Claiming that a better verdict will only come several months from now - once Palestinians and Israelis alike make their voices heard at the ballot boxes - Makovsky says that "Just because we didn't see results in the immediate wake of disengagement, it would be a big mistake to call it a flop." The book presents a series of short-term and long-term recommendations to be embraced by all parties to make success possible. Dedicating an entire chapter to the economic opportunities now presented to the Palestinian people, Makovsky professes that "an improved security environment would have an almost immediate impact on economic growth." The book argues that rather than acting as a zero-sum game, disengagement should be recognized as an opportunity to provide dignity for both sides. Yet close observers of Israel's ongoing domestic struggles are likely to find fault with the relatively minimal treatment the book offers on how disengagement has affected the social realm. While conceding that the dismantling of the Gaza settlements would serve as a serious test of Israeli democracy, and empathizing with the fact that the Gaza settlers were forced from their homes, Makovsky avoids offering specific recommendations as to how the sensitivities of the nation's populace could have been better addressed. Makovsky defends this omission by saying that the objective of the book was not to assess the situation that Prime Minister Sharon was creating for himself and Israel, but rather to discuss the broader, global strategic implications. In adopting this approach, Makovsky wisely avoids the politics of disengagement itself. Rather, he focuses on the aftermath. The question then becomes how Washington can act to ensure that the new reality on the ground produces opportunities rather than further failures. While charting a course for how Gaza could and should look in coming months and years, Makovsky also looks at the here and now. Never explicitly addressing the question of how disengagement could affect future Israeli initiatives for withdrawal, he speaks about the suitability of unilateral decision making, and suggests that the American camp would prefer a bilateral process in the future. The book distinguishes itself from other analytical surveys of disengagement by placing the US at the center of events and convincing the reader that America can be an important factor in dictating disengagement's ultimate success or failure. Makovsky makes it clear that his primary objective is to recommend Washington's role in this process, and in so doing continue to encourage a strong US-Israel relationship. Even with this lobbying effect, the text remains relevant to the layman. In offering a perspective that often goes unrecognized and certainly unappreciated, Makovsky has presented an important resource for better comprehending an increasingly complicated subject.