Disengaging from disengagement

Thursday, August 15 marks the eighth anniversary of the Gaza disengagement.

Palestinians in Gaza celebrate the founding of Fatah 370 (photo credit: Reuters)
Palestinians in Gaza celebrate the founding of Fatah 370
(photo credit: Reuters)
Thursday, August 15 marks the eighth anniversary of the Gaza disengagement. Where does that chapter in our life leave us today? It is not controversial to assert that the unilateral disengagement was a doomed policy. Merely to list the public justifications in advance of the disengagement is, in retrospect, to make a case for its abysmal failure: The disengagement was supposed to neutralize other initiatives involving painful Israeli concessions and shift the burden of concessions to the Arab side.
It was to solve the perceived problem that there was no partner for peace.
It was to transform our situation so that we were separated from the Palestinians in Gaza, no longer ruled over them, and no longer responsible for their welfare and economic plight – both morally and in the perception of the international community.
It was to ameliorate our security burden (in coin and blood) and reduce the number of Israelis subjected to terror.
It was to eliminate the war of attrition in urban areas which creates moral and logistical problems for the IDF.
It was to reduce the internal dissension dividing us about what we should do next regarding the Israeli- Arab dispute.
It was to relieve us from the demographic argument in favor of further withdrawals.
In addition to failing to achieve all of these objectives, it is generally understood that the disengagement empowered radicals, legitimized Hamas rule, undermined the moderates by eliminating the concessions they could exact in return for an agreement, greatly reinforced the perception that Israeli concessions are generated by terror, not moderation, and that Israel is a tired society no longer willing to fight for its geopolitical goals.
But with this anniversary, we owe it to ourselves not just to analyze the defects of past policy, but to examine our current predicament in the context of possible bilateral agreements.
For if prime minister Ariel Sharon wanted to disengage in order to prove that the existence of settlements does not block a peace agreement, that it is indeed possible to dismantle communities established by concerted state action, it may be that he proved the opposite. It may be that the withdrawal was so painful and so logistically complicated and botched that a massive retreat from settlements in the West Bank is not viable.
Certainly such a case can be made.
The act of forcibly removing men, women and children from their homes is a painful wound which scars our collective consciousness.
The gross negligence of the state in failing to provide for the needs of the evacuees, multiplying their pain and hardship, prompts us to distrust future promises.
The prospect of doing this again less attractive after the disengagement than it was before. The country’s trauma is hard to measure but one can reasonably question whether our social fabric would sustain such events again – events far more massive and evocative, to use an understatement.
A Knesset study three years ago concluded that the financial cost of the disengagement equalled NIS 10.8 billion - without taking into consideration the considerable costs of unemployment and insurance and income guarantee payments by the National Insurance Institute. The total cost by some estimates equalled NIS 1.3 million for each relocated person.
Depending upon how many settlers have to be removed by the agreement, the cost could range from staggering to beyond comprehension.
If only 100,000 of the 300,000 settlers outside of Jerusalem were to be evicted from their homes, we reach a cost of about NIS 130b.! On the other hand, there is reason to suspect that if the agreement involving withdrawal presented a real, tangible formula for peace, most of the settlers – perhaps the overwhelming majority – would willingly sacrifice their homes and communities for the sake of our country and its future.
This is my impression from friends and relatives, but certainly solid research is warranted. A 10-year-old, disputed study by Peace Now placed the figure at 83 percent.
But the prospect of “a real, tangible formula for peace” is neither real nor tangible. And the number of settlers who would voluntarily disrupt their lives for a paper agreement based on the assumption of good will, like the ones we have seen heretofore in the Oslo process, is hard to contemplate.
I do not pretend to understand what process has been initiated in the current round of deliberations, but the experience and memory of the disengagement eight years ago casts a large shadow on its prospects.
The author, an attorney in Israel and the US, is the founding president of the Institute for Zionist Strategies.