Gaza withdrawal? Do it right

From the archive (legacy material)

EFRAIM INBAR | Jerusalem Post | 24 April 2004

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has returned from Washington with the blessings of President George W. Bush for his unilateral withdrawal plan. He’s likely to win the May 2 Likud referendum on the plan, as well as cabinet approval.
Then comes the real test: the physical evacuation of thousands of bitter settlers, whose resistance will undoubtedly be reinforced by many thousands of supporters determined to make the unilateral withdrawal as messy as possible.
Israel will rerun of the heart-breaking pictures of the 1979 struggle over Yamit. But this time the withdrawal has no peace quid pro quo – just the sober realization that the Palestinians are unable to deliver anything but the continuation of terror.
The wisdom of the disengagement will be judged by history. Yet if Israel decides to go through with the proposed plan, it is not too late to make several changes that will generate positive dynamics to its implementation.
It is a big mistake to remove the three settlements in northern Gaza adjacent to the 1967 border. The dismantling of these settlements only reinforces expectations among the Palestinians and the international community that Israel will eventually withdraw to those 1967 borders.
It is counterproductive to repeat the dangerous precedent set by Menachem Begin in 1979. President Bush’s statement about demographic realities in the territories has to be put to the test immediately.
Otherwise it remains meaningless, and we will be left with only the impact of total withdrawal.
Israel should also reconsider holding onto the Philadelphia corridor that serves as a wedge between Gaza and Egypt.
This corridor will continue to attract considerable Palestinian military efforts and generate tension and casualties. The position that Israel should control all entries into Gaza is not tenable in the long run. Furthermore, creating contiguity between Egypt and Gaza bestows certain advantages.
An opening to Egypt might serve as a demographic safety valve for the Palestinians. The diversion of the demographic pressures of heavily populated Gaza toward Egypt, and the prospects of a Hamas state there, might force Cairo to adopt a more assertive role in the evacuated territory.
Israel has an overwhelming interest in breaking the link between Gaza and the West Bank. With over one million Palestinians in the Egyptians’ lap, the Palestinian issue would take a different form, even making it Egypt’s responsibility to establish a Palestinian state in Gaza – although they might refrain from doing so in accordance with their behavior when Gaza was under their control (1948-67).
While Cairo is not inimical to the Palestinian bleeding of Israel, it has a peace treaty with us and is susceptible to American pressure.
That might limit its nuisance potential.
THE ISRAELI search for international agencies to take over the property and infrastructure to be left behind in order to bring about some equitable distribution is misguided.
It is unlikely that any humanitarian organization would be able to withstand the pressure of the Palestinian gangs trying to take over the houses of the Jews and loot whatever was left. Moreover, involving international organizations has never served Israel well; it just complicates Israel’s freedom of action. Flirting with notions of cooperation with international relief organizations reflects naive thinking about the nature of international relations.
Israel’s intention to continue with existing arrangements in supplying electricity, water, gas and fuel is likewise unwise. So is access to the Israeli labor market, which should be denied. Let the ungrateful Palestinians look for work in Egypt, or elsewhere.
Unilateral withdrawal is the opportunity to depart from policies that have allowed the Palestinians to wage war de luxe. Our attempt to differentiate between the civilian population and the terrorists in order to limit support for violence failed, inevitably. Israel could never implement a strategy of winning Palestinian hearts and minds because Israeli carrots could never overcome the intimidation applied by Palestinian terrorists’ sticks.
Following our withdrawal, the Palestinians in Gaza should suffer.
This is the only way to dissuade them from viewing Israeli withdrawal as capitulation.
Indeed, Palestinian polls show that at least two-thirds of the Palestinians see Sharon’s withdrawal plan as a victory for their armed struggle “against the occupation.” Therefore, demonstrating that the Palestinians are even in worse shape after the Israelis leave Gaza is essential to discourage terror and maintain a modicum of deterrence.
Withdrawal accompanied by significant deprivation is not only what the Palestinians fully deserve for their incredible anti-Semitism and support for the terrorist campaign against Israel; it also makes strategic sense.
In the absence of Palestinian willingness to enter into a dialogue with Israel that might lead to a reasonable territorial compromise, inflicting pain is the only way left for Israel to influence the learning curve of the Palestinian society and lead it into greater pragmatism. Considerable Palestinian suffering might lessen the pressure for additional withdrawals.
This is the rationale of unilateralism.
The writer is professor of political studies at Bar-Ilan University and the director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies.