Essay: The fifth alternative

What to do now that critics of disengagement have been proven prescient?

hillel halkin 88 (photo credit: )
hillel halkin 88
(photo credit: )
Dear Writers, - The August 11 UpFront magazine will be largely devoted to the theme "One Year After Disengagement" and we're keen to have our op-ed writers address the disengagement anniversary. Thank you for your positive consideration. This, from the editors of The Jerusalem Post a few weeks ago. A perfectly reasonable request to make, I would say, especially from someone like me, who was a strong supporter of disengagement and is now expected by many readers, in light of events in Gaza and Lebanon, to wipe the egg from my face and apologize for my stupidity. I don't dispute that they have a strong case. The situation this country is in, a year after disengagement, is not the situation that I or any other advocate of disengagement envisioned. And it is - in a far grimmer way - very much like the situation foreseen by many of disengagement's critics, who subjected us for months to dire predictions, most or all of which have come true, of what would happen if Israel withdrew unilaterally from the Gaza Strip. The least one owes them, then, is an honest admission: They were right and I and others like me were wrong. Would I still have supported disengagement last summer had I been as prescient as they were? No, I don't suppose I would have. Nor do I imagine that most of the roughly two-thirds of the Israeli public that was in the pro-disengagement camp at the time would have, either. Apart from the inveterate settler-haters, none of us relished evicting Jews from their homes in the Land of Israel. We were reluctantly in favor of such a step because we believed it was one in the right direction - one that, by freeing over a million Palestinians from an oppressive Israeli presence, and Israel from over a million Palestinians, would pave the way for a similar evacuation of much of Judea and Samaria, make a de-facto peace between us and the Palestinian people possible, and help stabilize the entire Middle East. I'll say it again: We were wrong. AND YET this does not mean that those who were right have been entirely vindicated. Although their prophecies of doom have turned out, at least in the short run, to be correct, their prophecies of redemption are as far-fetched as ever. For what, after all, do the latter consist of? They rest on the assurance that if only we stand firm and refuse to cede an inch; if only we make it clear that all the territory between the Jordan and the Mediterranean is ours and will never be handed over to anyone else; if we fight Palestinian nationalism and Palestinian terror ruthlessly and relentlessly and kick enough behinds for as long as it takes - then, though it may indeed take long, the Palestinians and the Arab world will ultimately raise their hands in surrender and good times will come to the people of Israel in their land. This was nonsense before disengagement, and it is nonsense now. We have been kicking Palestinian and Arab behinds for as long as most of us who are alive can remember, and it did not bring good times any closer even before disengagement was proposed by Ariel Sharon. Being ruthless with one's enemies may sometimes be necessary, but unfortunately, it never has quite the same effect on human beings as does letting them live with a measure of freedom and dignity. MOREOVER, those unpleasant little facts known as demographic statistics refuse to go away. It can be - and has been - disputed just how many Palestinians live in Judea and Samaria, but even the optimists put their number, together with that of Israel's Arab citizens, at close to 40 percent of the total population (minus Gaza) west of the Jordan. Even if, by some demographic near-miracle caused by unanticipated Jewish immigration, unprecedentedly sharp drops in Palestinian birthrates, et cetera, the percentage should hold at that level, this still gives the territorial maximalists only three options: to forcibly expel millions of Palestinians; to turn this country into an apartheid-style South Africa in which millions of its inhabitants do not have the ballot; or to have a Knesset in which close to 50 out of 120 members are elected by Arab votes. Those who are opposed to territorial concessions owe us an explanation today, just as they owed us (and never gave us) one year ago, of which of these three alternatives they are for, and of how they intend to go about implementing it. There is of course a fourth alternative that does not involve holding onto everything: seeking a negotiated settlement with the Palestinians that would involve territorial concessions even greater than those of a unilateral West Bank withdrawal. Among the opponents of last summer's disengagement from Gaza there was a small group on the Left that favored such a policy, and if any of disengagement's critics from the other end of the spectrum would like to adopt it now, let the line form on the Right. Just don't expect it to be a long one. WHICH BRINGS us back to the fifth alternative - or, if you like, the first one: Unilateral disengagement to borders determined by Israel on the basis of its own military, demographic, political and historical interests. In the long run, I still think that this alternative is the best one, if only because all the other alternatives are worse. But it's not an alternative for now. Ehud Olmert's statement that as soon as the fighting in Lebanon was over, he would proceed with West Bank disengagement was unfortunate, not because such disengagement is in itself a bad idea, but because the time is not yet ripe for it. If the fighting in Lebanon ends successfully with the expulsion of Hizbullah from the Lebanese south and the clear message that Israel will not tolerate cross-border terror against it; and if the same message can be delivered to Hamas in Gaza, so that attacks stop from there, too; and if Israel can gain de-facto international recognition for a unilaterally established West Bank frontier, so that it will not be pressured from it again at some future date - then disengagement will become relevant again and I will support it again. Until then, Ehud Olmert would be wise to remove it from the top of his agenda.