This week marked four years since the Gaza disengagement, and it seems that the Strip is becoming increasingly radical - that peace is more distant and the settlers who were removed from the enclave are more embittered. Did Ariel Sharon and the majority of the Israeli public that supported the move make a bad deal?
The settlers in Gaza won big time. They had two goals: to extract huge amounts of compensation from the government and to keep the issue on the public agenda as an open wound, as a traumatic and costly experience in the extreme so that all politicians who might dream of a similar solution in the West Bank would tell themselves that it is impossible.
The Sharon government made every possible mistake in its handling of the evacuees. Instead of giving all 1,751 households a respectable sum of money and telling them, "from this point you're on your own" - the way we absorb immigrants - it established a large and cumbersome administration that quickly became the address for endless demands and complaints by the evacuees. And now, just recently, the government approved that this administration continue operating for another year, and the Knesset is debating proposed legislation that would expand compensation to the evacuees. This issue will never end.
The settlers laughed at the government's initial compensation package. They knew with whom they were dealing and recruited a team of lawyers who worked for four years on increased compensation. At this point we have spent NIS 8.1 billion on the evacuation, including NIS 4.9 billion in investment in infrastructure and direct compensation to families. It's a huge, unreasonable sum and it's not final. At the evacuation administration, they expect the final amount to grow to about NIS 10 billion! These are much larger amounts than the Sinai evacuees received, but the former Gaza residents continue to play the role of victims of injustice, demanding more and more so that the wound will never heal.
The situation in Gaza doesn't bear good tidings either. Last week Hamas forces attacked an Al-Qaida faction there, killing 24 people. There are currently many extremist groups in the Strip and they receive public support, which is worrying Hamas. The support stems from the Gazans' bad living conditions - an extended siege that has turned the Strip into one big prison, with frightful poverty and 60 percent unemployment.
The evacuation could have been handled differently. It could have been used to enhance the status of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, but Sharon didn't agree to speak with him. He didn't allow Abbas to gain any advantage from it and carried out the evacuation in an arrogant and unilateral manner, even though Abbas is the most moderate Palestinian leader ever.
At a meeting of the Kadima party leadership a few months after the disengagement, Sharon confidant Dov Weissglas said: "We will put the Palestinians on a diet, but not make them die of hunger." Everyone present burst into laughter. But when the Palestinians discovered that Abbas hadn't managed to ease the suffering and that there was no chance of a normal life on the horizon, they opted for a more extreme leadership - Hamas.
During the entire period of our rule in the territories, we have destroyed the existing leadership, which led to the rise of more extreme leaders. We destroyed the Palestinian Authority and Yasser Arafat, who had agreed to a two-state solution and was capable of "delivering the goods." And we brought about Hamas' seizure of the Gaza Strip. Now we are cultivating the third stage: Al-Qaida.
That's because on our side people don't want to understand that when the oppression increases and there is nothing to lose, the adversary doesn't surrender and grovel. Just the opposite. He becomes more radical. Hate wins out and the desire for revenge becomes the only hope. So when poverty in Gaza increases and unemployment is on the rise, Al-Qaida will take control. It will happen either in a coup or through elections, and we will long for that terrible Hamas.
The Gaza withdrawal was the right decision. It relieved us of a huge burden and could have been a significant step leading to a permanent peace agreement. But the withdrawal was wasted because we carried it out negligently and poorly. But maybe all this was planned in advance, because when Al-Qaida people from Pakistan and Afghanistan take over Gaza, we will be able to say with full confidence that there is no one to talk to. Then we can live by the sword until the end of days, because, in the words attributed to early Zionist leader Yosef Trumpeldor, "it's good to die for our country."
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