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Monday, August 22, 2005
GUEST POST: Israeli Disengagement from an Israeli Point of View
by Bonjo
We're pleased to present a much anticipated guest post from Honorary SOTR, and Israeli dad, AbbaGav. For those of you who don't know AbbaGav, his wit, humor and concise point of view are a must-read. With many thanks to our friend for his time and insight!


I'd like to thank the Sons of the Republic for offering me the chance to represent the Israeli viewpoint on disengagement. I doubt I actually represent the typical Israeli viewpoint, and will probably only succeed in angering the 50% of Israelis to my left, and the other 50% of Israelis to my right (yes, I do think I am in the precise, mathematical middle). But since contracting the blogging virus earlier this year I've become consitutionally incapable of keeping my opinions to myself, so I'm not going to let that get in my way.

Let's start by being clear that by disengagement I'm not referring to the end of the Affleck-Lopez media juggernaut. Disengagement here refers to Israel's unilateral removal of approximately 8,000 of its citizens from their homes in Gaza. The withdrawal did not have to be unilateral. Israel has been trying to negotiate a transfer of Gaza, along with other disputed land, to a nearly-nascent Palestinian state for quite awhile, stopped so far only by the Palestinian leadership's unwillingness to accept it. Yasser Arafat rejected Ehud Barak's offer of ninety-something percent of Palestinian demands -- not counting the demand for Israel's complete demise -- with 4 years of Intifada as the only counter-offer.

This left Israel's leadership with some big decisions. Ariel Sharon has decided to withdraw from Gaza, even without a partner. The full details of his reasoning are known possibly only to himself. Most Israelis nevertheless have their opinions on the various risks and rewards inherent to the plan, but since there is so much uncertainty and so many variables and possible outcomes, few agree fully on what disengagement means, other than two relatively monolithic clusters of opinion gathered about the two extremes.

The first clear point of view is that Israel should never surrender land promised by God, the so-called Greater Israel which includes Gaza within the biblical borders of the Kingdom of Israel. The second viewpoint is that Israel should cede just about anything that might buy it a little quiet, up to and including all of Jerusalem, except maybe the night clubs and the soccer stadium. You might be able to guess that my opinion resides somewhere in between those two. The mass of opinions in this muddy middle vary by how they prioritize and evaluate some key questions. To clarify these opinions, and my own, here is a "FAQ" of questions I frequently ask myself. Of course, the answers are only my own, and if you ask other Israelis, I can almost guarantee you they will disagree with me, one way or another.

Isn't disengagement just a retreat that will convince the terrorists their violence is working and encourage them to attack even more?
If every repositioning of forces on a battlefield is considered a retreat, then it would be fair to use that characterization. But the very term disengagement is used by that segment of Israeli opinion that considers this move a strategic repositioning of resources, and in that sense it is more than just a rhetorical euphemism for retreat. There is a lot of disagreement about what exactly the strategy might be behind the repositioning, but that is detail.

Nevertheless, most Palestinians, especially those inclined to the use of suicide belts, will call it a retreat. As such, regardless of what Israelis call it, disengagement will almost certainly improve terrorist morale, and increase their desire to attack Israel even more.

So then why wouldn't you oppose disengagement with every ounce of your strength?
An increase in terrorists' desire to attack Israel isn't necessarily the end of the world. It is easy to fall into a static-analysis trap, forgetting that the terrorists are not the only ones allowed to act after disengagement. Sharon has shown the will to fight back in the past, so it is not unreasonable to assume he will hit back again. Presumably he prefers the field of battle after disengagement, and Israelis have to hope he is right.

But more importantly, an increase in desire to attack does not guarantee an increase in ability to attack. Have we forgotten the assassination of Sheik Yassin? The whole world, and especially the terrorists, warned that Sharon had opened the Gates of Hell. Israel waited and waited as Hamas and its apologists ranted about their desire for apocalyptic revenge. Then a month or two later Yassin's successor, Rantissi, was assassinated too. Well, if you thought Sharon had opened the Gates of Hell before, now he'd opened them wider. Nevertheless, nothing ever happened. Oh eventually a street was named after each of them, and some firebombs were thrown at some jeeps in their honor. But vigorous Israeli measures kept the terrorists' desire to kill from turning into the ability to kill. The same is possible now.

But doesn't disengagement weaken the military position, allowing rocket launchers to approach that much closer to major targets, and surrendering the chance for any on-the-ground intelligence?
I am not a general, but I'm told Israel is full of them, and that Sharon even was one a long, long time ago, so I leave the details in their hands. They could be wrong. They aren't even fully in agreement amongst themselves. Perhaps it really is impossible to deter a murderous desire of this magnitude, but I'm willing to give Sharon the chance.

Rocket launchers can be taken out with missiles. Territory can be reconquered, either temporarily or permanently. Borders can be closed and future negotiations derailed. And while old options remain despite new challenges, new options are created by the absence of Israeli civilians on and near the battlefield. A few rules will change, but the game will remain the same.

Won't the Egyptian border, or an airport or seaport, open opportunities for the import of advanced weapons and foreign terrorist groups like Hizbullah and Al Qaeda to enter the Gaza picture?
Yes. That risk already exists with the Egyptian tunnels under Rafah. But if the free, uninspected movement of goods and people is allowed, it will certainly create risks. This is where one has to count on the Prime Minister to have a spine buried somewhere inside that bulky suit of his. Since this is a unilateral action, he must remain steadfast that no such rights have been assigned to the Palestinians in the absence of negotiations.

Can Israel afford disengagement -- the cost of resettling the evacuees, moving the military bases, and having to prepare for various future potential risks?
Certainly without any backing from the US some Israeli taxpayers will feel the sting. Perhaps this can affect growth by a percent or two -- not that I'm an economist, or that an economist would really even know. But for a country that has already weathered 4 years of Intifada, this should be tolerable.

One must also not evaluate the economic impact of a particular choice by comparing its result against the previously prevailing conditions, but by comparing it to what would have been expected as a result of the other available choices, if only theoretically. Doing nothing was by no means a guarantee of economic conditions continuing as they were. Complications include the cost of protecting the settlements and risks of international sanction in the face of longterm inaction.

Is this the first unilateral disengagement? Or the last?
If it is only the first of a series of unilateral disengagements, that will be quite bad. It will be remembered as only the first knee touching the ground in what would eventually be the fall of the body Israel.

If it is followed by more "disengagement", but not unilaterally so, then there can be some promise, depending of course on the as-yet unknown details of the negotiations. It's hard to believe anything like that could happen in the near future given the complete lack of trust between the parties, but maybe someday.

Unless there is already some agreement for the future already in place, not even Ariel Sharon can know for sure what the answer is to this question. But I would hope his inclination, at least, is to resist pressure for further unilateral withdrawals and concessions until the Palestinians act on the promises they've yet to meet, especially regarding dismantling terrorists groups and stopping incitement.

Can a moral government uproot its own citizens, especially after the price those citizens have paid, having moved into Gaza with the government's encouragement to begin with?
There are a lot of Israelis who support the government's right to move the settlers even as they acknowledge the risks and the price being paid. It is possible to acknowledge the pain of people being taken from their homes, even with compensation, and still feel the benefits are worth it. That opinion runs the risk of labeling one as anything from insensitive to non-Jewish. But if a government is sovereign enough to move them in, it should be sovereign enough to move them out, especially if it fulfills its obligation to treat them as fairly and generously as possible in the process.

So you are pro-disengagement then?
What's with all the labels? I'd have a hard time calling myself either pro- or anti-disengagement. I think it might be a little like the rhetorical attempts to label all Americans as pro-choice or pro-life or anti-abortion or anti-baby -- when in fact a lot of Americans support the right to abortion, but wish it weren't exercised much. One can be willing to disengage, yet remain fully cognizant of the price, and cautious regarding the risks.

So with all this discord and disagreement, is there anything Israelis agree on here?
I believe so. A bit of fringe rhetoric notwithstanding, I believe the vast majority of Israelis remain united behind Zionist ideals. There have always been arguments about the precise details of what they include, and how they should be fought for, but I do not believe this episode is the death knell of Zionism. I believe Israelis, settler and soldier alike, will be united as they face what comes after disengagement, further challenges from Palestinian terror, and especially as the Iranian nuclear threat looms closer on the horizon.

This is not the time to go wobbly, and I don't think we will.

2 Comment(s):
The Palestinian part of the bargain is to disarm and disable the terrorists, but Abbas has yet to make a move. So far, he has been striking deals with Hamas to not interfere with Israeli withdrawal. But negotiating with terrorists has only backed the Palestinian Authority into a corner.

Hamas, the most organized and most popular terrorist group, will hold the Palestinian Authority hostage on every decision. As Sami Abu Zouhri, a Hamas spokesman, clarified that “If the Palestinian Authority continues to manage the withdrawal alone, we will protest at all the mistakes it may make. In particular, if the land is stolen from the people, or devoted to private projects or given to people close to the Authority, then we will react.” Reaction means “resuming operations” (what the rest of us like to call terrorist attacks). The “mistakes” will be determined by Hamas.

If Abbas is planning a swift round up of all known terrorists, he is likely to lose all credibility with the Palestinians. This is because Abbas has been visibly aligning himself with the popular martyr theory. Last week, banners waved across Gaza proclaiming that “The blood of martyrs has led to liberation.” Then, Abbas attended Friday prayers at Caliph Mosque, where the imam announced, “Allah knows that when we offer up our children, it is much better than choosing the road of humiliation and negotiation.” Additionally, the PA’s official radio station - Ramallah Voice of Palestine - continues to broadcast messages that Israelis “want neither a solution nor peace.” These statements are synonymous with those of Hamas, and the Palestinians are listening.
In an effort to show the "Israeli point of view" Abba Gav has given us only the point of view of a few Israelies.
There are the lefties, who believe Israel should give the Palestinean Arabs "all of the Territories", and even if that is done in a totaly naively unilateral fashion, it would eventually bring peace.
Then, there are those who realize that "piece by piece" brings no peace.
It is a question of the legitimacy of the foot hold on the Land. The "Green Line" is only an accidental cease-fire line, suddenly set on the map by mere chance: the defending Jewish forces and the attacking Arab armies stoped there in the eve of the signing of the Armistice of Rhodes in 1949. Yehuda and Shomron (a.k.a. "the West Bank") and 'Aza (Gaza), are not "Palestine" in anybody's book. The very ones that propose the "Arab Liberation of Palestine", the PLO, made their claim when their organization was founded, in 1964. That is, three years before the Six-Day-War! The "Palestine" they aimed to "liberate" wasn't the "territories", it was sovereign ISRAEL.
Either they're right, and the land of Israel is theirs, or they're wrong, and the Land of Israel is ours.
A woman can't be "half pregnant", and you can't have it both ways.
I say... scratch that, the TORAH says that the Land of Israel belongs to the Jewish people. It was promised to the forefathers of the Jewish Nation as an everlasting possesion.
Someone is got to say things right, "dugri", as the Israelies say.
The Dissengagement is, hence, a huge mistake.
The Arabs have learned to win a war against Israel -- not by the might of their weapons, like Hamas claims, but by the growth of their population. Sharon confesed to his reason for quiting Gush Katif: not a surrendering to Arab Terror, but a fear of the Arab population growth.
Yet, instead of launching a campaing to reduce the rythm of population growth among Arabs, the government of Israel does it among Jews. Large Jewish families are cut off from govermnet subsidies. The religious public - by-and-large the fron-line soldiers in the demographic war, suffers painfull loses in their budget, as the government takes funding off the Yeshivah education system.... and it goes on and on.
So let's be honest.
Let's have not shame in saying what masses of Israelies have shown in huge rallies in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, prior to the execution of Sharon's program of uprooting of Jewish population in Gush Katif and northern Shomron: the Disengagement is absolutely WRONG! Sharon is WRONG! And last, but not least, what Israel needs is a leader that will not have second thoughts on expressing the true will of the Jewish people.
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