Interesting Times: Hamasism or unilateralism

Let the Quartet prove that the disengagement plan was not a fiasco.

saul singer 88 (photo credit: )
saul singer 88
(photo credit: )
Is disengagement dead? I refer not just to the withdrawal from Gaza, but to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's planned "convergence" sequel in Judea and Samaria. That weapons would pour into Gaza was expected, just as when Israel withdrew from southern Lebanon. But all that weaponry in Lebanon is, by and large, not used.
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Proponents of the Gaza withdrawal did not talk about it much, but their expectation was that after the withdrawal the pattern of southern Lebanon would be repeated. Accordingly, the center of Palestinian terrorism would shift from Gaza to the West Bank, in order to accentuate the Palestinian claim that the purpose of "resistance" is to end "occupation." Attacking Israel from territory that Israel has withdrawn from makes no sense in terms of the Palestinian message. If the Palestinians want Israel to continue to withdraw, why would they attack mainly from the areas they do control, rather than those they want to drive Israel from? What has happened confirms the prediction of disengagement opponents that evacuating settlements and the IDF would reduce our military capabilities and facilitate attacks against us. As retired general Ya'acov Amidror pointed out this week, Israel was able to find the killers of Eliahu Asheri almost immediately because they were in the West Bank, where our intelligence and operational capabilities remain strong, while we seem not to be able to find or rescue kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit in Gaza, despite Herculean efforts. SO WHY is Lebanon relatively quiet while Gaza is not? Not because of any lack of Hizbullah capability to hit Israel. The Kassam rocket that hit Ashkelon this week is nothing compared to what Hizbullah could rain on Haifa, our third largest city, if it wished. Sderot, and now Ashkelon, are under missile attack while northern Israel isn't because we have established that Lebanon and Syria will be punished in the latter case, while we have not created a similar form of deterrence against the Palestinian leadership. I heard a military expert (whose name I did not catch) on the radio this week saying he did not like the term deterrence, as if the concept didn't exist. As sophisticated as we are, however, we can not define something away simply because we are having trouble obtaining it. "The heart of the problem is how to deter attack," said the legendary American secretary of state John Foster Dulles. "This... requires that a potential aggressor be left in no doubt that he would... suffer damage outweighing any possible gains from aggression." Though many seem to assume that deterrence is entirely a military concept, it is not. In Lebanon, deterrence was achieved not because our military capability against Hizbullah was increased - if anything it was reduced - but because, after the withdrawal, the "rules" changed. Once the UN recognized that Israel had left every inch of Lebanese territory, Hizbullah had no justification for its attacks and Israel had the right to punish Lebanon and its Syrian masters for any aggression. As Dennis Ross pointed out in The Jerusalem Post on Monday, what Israel lacks is such recognition for its withdrawal from Gaza. "The UN Security Council needs to adopt a resolution - much like it did after the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon - that delegitimizes all such attacks [from Gaza]," Ross wrote. Arab states presented a golden opportunity to do this on Friday last week, when they instigated an emergency session of the Security Council, hoping for a resolution ordering Israel to end its Gaza operation. US Ambassador John Bolton blocked the council from acting, arguing that it should "avoid taking any steps that would unexpectedly exacerbate tensions in the region." But rather than fighting off the Arab effort, the US should have proposed a resolution recognizing the Israeli withdrawal, condemning Palestinian aggression and affirming Israel's right to self-defense. Such a resolution may not have passed in the Security Council this time but, speaking of deterrence, even the threat of the US raising such a text every time the Arab bloc seeks condemnation of Israel would have a positive effect. But wouldn't a resolution linking condemnation of Palestinian aggression to the Gaza withdrawal imply that attacks from the West Bank are acceptable? In a way it would, but now this implication applies to all Palestinian attacks, including terrorism. TO ANSWER our original question, disengagement and its sequel are dead if the Palestinians can continue to attack Israel from Gaza, not only without sufficiently significant international condemnation, but with the distinct possibility that Israel might be condemned for fighting back. Why would Israel withdraw from more territory once it is proven that we receive no recognition and attacks only increase from where we have already withdrawn? Hamas may well understand this, and may be trying, among other things, to prove that Israeli unilateralism doesn't work. If so, the question for the Quartet has to be whether it wants to join Hamas in killing convergence. The international community argues that it wants, above all, a negotiated solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Ironically, unilateralism may represent the fastest track to such negotiations. The reason: If Israel can successfully establish a new de facto border and the UN responds by explicitly delegitimizing further Palestinian attacks, Palestinians will have a greater incentive to negotiate a full peace - and permanent borders - than they have ever had. Hamas seems to think that the alternative to unilateralism is for Israel to be forced to negotiate while under attack, without Hamas fulfilling any of the Quartet's demands. The Quartet doesn't like unilateralism or Hamasism, but is there any doubt, faced with this choice, which side it should be on? The Quartet's position - through lack of a decisive stance in either direction - of acquiescing to both Hamasism and unilateralism is a recipe for unending morass. Olmert should make it clear to the Quartet that he needs international support to establish at least Lebanon-style deterrence in Gaza, and if he does not get it, unilateralism is dead and Hamasism, not negotiations, is the alternative.

- Editorial Page Editor Saul Singer is author of the book, Confronting Jihad: Israel's Struggle & the World After 9/11