August 17, 2005.
FOR ALMOST 40 years, the conceit has been growing around the world that
Palestinian terrorism can be explained and even excused by Israeli occupation
of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
This was always a dubious proposition in light of the fact that Arabs
have been fighting Israel since its formation in 1948, not since its conquest of
those territories in 1967. The Palestine Liberation Organization began its attacks
while the West Bank was still part of Jordan and Gaza was part of Egypt.
Now the Israeli decision to remove its settlers from the Gaza Strip and a small
portion of the West Bank should provide a further test of the belief that Jewish
settlements are the root cause of this conflict.
If this were in fact the case, you would expect that a partial pullout
would lead to at least a partial melting of Arab hostility toward the Jews.
Maybe this will occur; and maybe the Gaza Strip will overnight become as
peaceful as Switzerland.
The early signs are not good – literally. Gaza City is decked out with green
Hamas banners proclaiming, “Resistance wins, so let’s go on.” The banners
from the supposedly more restrained Palestinian Authority reveal the same
mind-set: “Gaza today, the West Bank and Jerusalem tomorrow.”
Far from being sated by Israeli concessions, the Palestinians are
emboldened to demand more. Many will not be satisfied until – in the words of a
15-year-old would-be suicide bomber quoted in the San Francisco Chronicle –
there are no more “Jews on this world.”
So does this mean that Ariel Sharon is making a big mistake? It certainly means
he is taking a risk – the risk of creating a Hamastan where terrorism will flourish
– but, on balance, it is the right decision.
The Gaza settlements were simply not sustainable. Approximately 8,500 Jews
could not live safely among 1.3 million Arabs. That may be a sad commentary
on the Arabs, considering that a million Arabs live safely among 5 million Jews
in Israel, but that’s life.
The Gaza settlers had a right to risk their own necks but not the necks of
soldiers who had to protect them. Sooner or later they would have had to go. If
Sharon had waited, like his predecessors, for a comprehensive peace treaty
with the Palestinians before the inevitable pullout, he would have waited until
kingdom come. In the meantime the settlements would have remained an easy
debating point for Palestinian propagandists.
By removing the settlements on his own initiative, Sharon has helped to regain
the initiative – moral and political – for the Jewish state. The international
opprobrium into which Israel had sunk was not fatal to its existence, but it was
not good either. Israelis feel themselves part of the West, and it is deeply
dispiriting for them to be shunned by every Western country except the U.S.
The pullout, on top of the concessions offered by Ehud Barak at Camp
David five years ago, eases (if not erases) the onus on Israel and puts pressure
on the Palestinians to get their own house in order.
Opponents of the withdrawal cite parallels with the 2000 Israeli evacuation of
southern Lebanon, which helped spark the second intifada, but the danger now
is much less. Even if Palestinians want to attack Israel – and they do – they will
be hard-pressed to do so. All of Gaza is fenced in and so is most of the West
Bank, reducing opportunities for suicide bombers to penetrate Israel.
If the Palestinians fire rockets from Gaza, Israel will be free to mount a
military response – more free, in fact, when the threat comes from a sovereign
Palestinian state than when it emanates from Israeli-occupied territory. The
Palestinians will no doubt stockpile heavy weapons in Gaza but, as is the case
with Hezbollah in southern Lebanon, they can be deterred from using them.
The real danger from Gaza may not be to Israel but to the rest of the West. The
Israeli army has battled terrorist groups in a way that the Palestinian Authority
has neither the power nor, in all likelihood, the desire to do.
If, following the Israeli pullout, Gaza becomes another training ground for
Islamo-fascist fanatics – a successor to Afghanistan under the Taliban – the
resulting terrorists will find the U.S. and Europe much easier targets than Israel,
which is the world’s most heavily defended state.
Irony of ironies, perhaps in a few years enlightened Westerners will rue
the day when Israel gave up control of Gaza.