A Fresh Perspective: Lessons from Gush Katif

The danger of Iran’s nuclear weapons is very real, and Israel will need to decide how best to deal with this threat, which is a threat to the entire free world.

Hof Hadkalim Hotel, Neve Dkalim (photo credit: MICHAEL JACOBSON/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)
Hof Hadkalim Hotel, Neve Dkalim
This month, we mark 10 years since the expulsion of Jews from the Gaza settlement bloc of Gush Katif. It is incredibly symbolic that in the same period that we mark a decade since the implementation of the disengagement plan, we also mark one year since last summer’s Operation Protective Edge.
Israel left Gaza unilaterally, but also hoping it would be a step forward toward peace. The opponents of the disengagement plan back then warned that the plan was a dangerous adventure that would result in a serious security disintegration for the residents of the South. They warned that rockets from Gaza would reach the cities of Ashdod and Ashkelon.
In response, the supporters of the disengagement plan ridiculed these predictions. Meir Sheetrit, then a Likud Knesset member, said, “Some claim that there will be a threat to the cities of southern Israel. I have never heard such a ridiculous claim.” Former MK Ran Cohen of Meretz said, “The disengagement is good for security.” The late Ariel Sharon, who was then prime minister, outdid himself, pledging, “Ashkelon will not become the front line. Not Ashkelon, nor other places.”
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 Of course, we all know what really happened: The disengagement brought rockets not only to Ashkelon, but also to Tel Aviv, and even to Haifa.
MK Orit Noked of the Labor Party claimed at the time that the disengagement would strengthen moderate elements in Palestinian society. However, only a few months after the disengagement, Hamas won the Palestinian elections.
The day before the start of the expulsion of Jews from Gush Katif, I was invited with a group of young Jewish leaders who opposed the disengagement to meet with Israel’s consul-general to Montreal. We knew our opposition would have little effect, but we wanted to express our thoughts to the official representative of the Israeli government.
We argued a lot, and did not agree on much. However, in the end, I told him, “If there is one thing that we can both agree on, it is that we both hope that on security issues I will be proven wrong and you will be proven right.
We both hope that Hamas will not be strengthened, and we both hope that Kassam rockets will not reach Ashkelon.
I pray that time will prove me wrong.”
Unfortunately time proved that those who opposed the disengagement plan were exactly right.
The unanswered questions Some of the questions relating to the disengagement plan and Sharon’s adoption of it are still unanswered.
How is it possible that the greatest supporter of the settlement industry became its greatest enemy? What caused Sharon to campaign against the disengagement plan proposed by Amram Mitzna, and then implement a much worse plan? Furthermore, how were there no checks and balances in the country’s political system to stop this complete flip-flop from happening? The blows to democracy did not end there: While the opponents of the disengagement plan were exemplary in the methods they used to protest the plan democratically, the government’s methods were of the very worst type. How can one forget that in May 2004 prime minister Sharon promised to accept the results of an internal party referendum, and then completely ignored it after losing it? How can one forget that in June 2004, seeing he did not have a majority in his government, Sharon fired two opposing ministers in order to fix the vote and artificially build himself a majority? How can one forget the arbitrary arrests of minors based on unfounded claims that they were threatening the security of the country? How can one forget the way buses en route to legal protests were stopped, in what was a clear infringement of the right to protest and the right to free expression? These were the darkest years of Israel’s democracy. This democracy we are so proud of for its ability to deal with the most complex situations involving the country’s Arab population, failed the most basic tests when it came to its Jewish population.
On the day of the disengagement, I was working in an office in Montreal. My colleague, not Jewish, saw me constantly refreshing the front page of The Jerusalem Post website with great distress.
He asked, “What’s wrong?” I answered, “Things are happening in Israel.”
He said, “Yes, I heard. But I don’t understand something. Why would the Israeli government do such a thing to Jews? Is it not supposed to be the Jewish state?” Speechless, I looked at him in awe as I realized his innocent question was so precisely accurate.
“No, really,” he continued. “Can you explain?” Even today, 10 years later, I have no answer that can explain how the greatest democracy in the world failed to protect the rights of the very people for whom it was created.
Stop dreaming, look at the facts The fact that so many people predicted exactly what the outcome of the disengagement plan would be proves that it was a foreseeable outcome. Yet policymakers failed to look reality in the eye.
Why look at that dark reality in which terrorists will use every tool we give them to attack us, when we can live in an imaginary world where unilateral steps will lead to peace with enemies who have sworn to destroy us? The problem is that policymakers worldwide did not learn from the mistakes of utopians who refused to see reality.
US President Barack Obama signed a new agreement this week with Iran, which is based on nothing more than wishful thinking.
The agreement will allow Iran to keep its nuclear arsenal, rebuild its economy and continue developing its nuclear weapons, with no way for the West to stop it.
American leaders from both the Left and the Right are in shock at Obama’s inability to properly assess the dangers of Iran’s nuclear weapons, and at the great risks he is willing to take with absolutely no guarantee in hand.
This bad deal is based on nothing more than a utopian view of the world, coupled with a deep desire for a strong presidential legacy following a term marked by gaffe after gaffe in international relations.
The problem is that utopian dreams rarely become reality. The danger of Iran’s nuclear weapons is very real, and Israel will need to decide how best to deal with this threat, which is a threat to the entire free world. Like many times before, Israel has been pushed to the front lines for the defense of the free world.
The writer is an attorney and a former legislative adviser to the Knesset’s coalition chairman. He previously served in a legal capacity at the Foreign Ministry. He is a graduate of McGill University Law School and Hebrew University’s master’s program in public policy.