Interesting Times: The legitimacy battlefield

Should we dismantle more settlements in an attempt to unilaterally define our borders?

saul singer 88 (photo credit: )
saul singer 88
(photo credit: )
When all is said and done, the central question of the coming election is a simple one: Should we, in light of the rise of Hamas, dismantle more settlements in Judea and Samaria in an attempt to unilaterally define our borders? For many, the word that describes the affirmative position is insanity. Those who regard unilateral withdrawals as misguided to begin with see the rise of Hamas as validating and even strengthening their case. They have little to explain. What possible sense could it make to throw more bones to a dog that barks more viciously and become more powerful as a result? This school ruefully attributes the electoral strength of Kadima, the pro-disengagement party, to fatigue and the instinct of pampered free peoples to appease. The burden of proof, it seems, would lie on anyone who supports Kadima to provide a better explanation. But first, what exactly is Kadima proposing? We don't know, but statements by senior Kadima member and former Shin Bet chief Avi Dichter, and other reports, give a fairly clear picture. Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, if elected, aims to dismantle more settlements outside the security fence in exchange for American support for the de-facto borders Israel thus defines. Dichter explains further that the model would not be the Gaza withdrawal, which was both civilian and military, but the disengagement in northern Samaria, where settlements were dismantled but the IDF retained security control over the abandoned area. It has also been reported that Israel would transform the border with Gaza into an international border, allow the Palestinians to operate a sea port and an airport, cut off the entry of workers into Israel, and arrange for the PA to take over from Israel customs collection and the provision of electricity and water. In essence, the electorate has flipped completely: Before 1993, most Israelis regarded a Palestinian state as an existential threat. Now a similar majority not only accepts a Palestinian state, but seems inclined to force one on the Palestinians, even at the risk that it will be heavily armed and openly at war with Israel. THERE IS another logic to this turnaround, other than that Israelis have been simply beaten into submission by several years of suicide bombings. After all, our society held up remarkably well under that assault, and displayed much more willingness and ability to fight back than the Palestinian leadership, and even many Israelis, predicted. The logic is that the rise of Hamas is not just a danger but an opportunity, and that it is the Palestinians, not us, who are at a point of great weakness. Let's look for a moment at the Palestinian theory of victory, and how it has fared. In late 2000, Yasser Arafat realized how he could escape the pressure he had created by turning down Israel's offer of a state - by launching a terror war. This may seem counterintuitive: why would the international community - which blamed him for the failure of that summer's Camp David summit - blame Israel for being attacked? Arafat's strategy, however, worked. Israel quickly not only became the victim of multiple suicide bombings but was plunged into international isolation so thick it produced a wave of anti-Semitism as well. Now let's consider the situation today. From a starting point in which the smallest IDF foray risked censure by the US and the UN Security Council, Israel has more or less free military rein, including regularly targeting terrorists and their leaders. Though the international community has yet to hold the PA fully accountable for Palestinian terror attacks, Israel is not blamed, and is expected to take action to defend itself. The rise of Hamas has worsened the Palestinian situation in this respect. Fatah and Hamas both adhere to the strategy of stages, whereby any land gained becomes a platform for destroying Israel completely. But Hamas proclaims that strategy openly, which makes it much more difficult to blame Israel for being attacked. In general, the Palestinian strategy has depended on hiding the goal of Israel's destruction, which obviously conflicts with the two-state solution. The irony is that only by claiming that they wanted to build their own state and make peace with Israel could the Palestinian leadership avoid doing either. Fatah and Hamas knew that the more they built their state, the harder it would be to maintain the war against Israel. International sympathy depends on statelessness. Once the Palestinians have a state, even a truncated one, the conflict becomes over borders, with Israel's existence a given. Even if the international community took the Palestinian side in a border conflict, the real goal - Israel's destruction - would in practice have to be given up. BUT EVEN if one accepts the logic that a Palestinian state has become more in Israel's interest than in that of Palestinian jihadis, there remains the question of when and how. What if it is a terror state? The unspoken answer of Ariel Sharon and of Kadima today would be that the Palestinians can only pose an existential threat to Israel on the plane of legitimacy, not militarily. The more the Palestinians embrace terror, the less of a threat they are on the legitimacy front. The military front, the thinking goes, is manageable, particularly as Israel is winning on the battlefield of legitimacy. As for timing, Israel is in a better position to unilaterally define its borders if the Palestinians are led by a pariah regime than by one the world embraces. What better moment to gain international acceptance for Israeli control of the settlement blocs and the Jordan Valley, generously defined, than when Israel is correctly seen to be fencing off a terrorist regime? Kadima, and through it, Israelis, are betting that though unilateral borders are negotiable, the Palestinians won't be ready to discuss permanent acceptance of Israel for a generation, and by that time the de-facto borders will have been more or less established. It is a bet that what seems worse (Hamas) is better, and what looks on its face like courting danger (withdrawals) is safer. We had better be right.

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