In a perfect world, perhaps Netzarim would not have existed. Neither, for that matter, would the rest of the settlements and the huge political and economic price Israel paid for them.
In that perfect world, Israel would be celebrating this summer the fifth anniversary of the signing of the historic final-status settlement between Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat at Camp David. There would be no terror attacks, assassinations and separation fences between Israelis and Palestinians, only mutual respect and fraternity of nations.
But the world is not perfect. It has Palestinian hatred and murderous terror, Israeli occupation and arrogance, ambitions of politicians and generals, and even dozens of settlements that were built shortsightedly and must now be evacuated. This imperfect world sometimes needs imperfect leaders, like Ariel Sharon, to make and carry out decisions, instead of dreaming about peace in Geneva, or analyzing the intricacies of international law in Sweden.
The pullout from Gush Katif did not seem like a fantasy. Far from it. Israel did not hand the keys to the settlers' houses to Mahmoud Abbas in a golden trunk tied with a ribbon and ask his forgiveness for the occupation and the violation of the Geneva Convention. It didn't even contribute to his election campaign. Instead, Sharon insisted on leaving Gaza without asking the Palestinians. He did not think how the evacuation would serve Fatah in its fight against Hamas, but how it would contribute to Israel.
In the perfect world of the left, it would have been better to stay in Netzarim and Morag, as long as they were handed by agreement to Abbas and strengthened his regime. According to this approach, like in a math test, what counts is the way, not the result. But Israeli leaders are elected to preserve Israel's interests, not those of Fatah. Netzarim was destroyed to get rid of an irksome, redundant burden, not to influence the results of the Palestinian Authority elections.
It is sad to discover that both Israeli right- and left-wingers suffer from a stereotypical and superficial view of the Palestinians. The peace agreement foes see them as an incorrigible gang of Jew murderers. The peace aficionados, on the other hand, treat them as though they lacked willpower and act only in response to Israel's actions. Those experts, who now explain that Israeli pressure on the PA is weakening Abbas, said only a year ago that those pressures were strengthening Arafat. At the time they explained that incorrigible Israeli obduracy unites the Palestinians. Now they say only generosity could help. But perhaps Abbas' weakness has internal reasons as well, like lack of charisma, bad management and fear of confrontation?
This controversy is not academic. After the elections, the gradual evacuation of 60,000 settlers living beyond the separation fence will be on the table. If the national interest requires getting out of there, for demographic, political and security considerations, it is important to do so in the most effective way that would not rupture Israeli society.
It is desirable and preferable to achieve an agreement with the PA. But we must not give it the power to veto it and fall again into the "final-status settlement" trap of holding on to the most isolated outpost until the Palestinians do us the favor of agreeing on the Jerusalem and refugee issues. It is more important to enlist domestic accord to pull out and resettle the evacuees in a dignified way and integrate them in Israeli society.
Ideology is significant in shaping public opinion, education and party platforms. Practical statesmanship should take the constraints into consideration and deal with what is possible, not with fantasy. Sharon understood this long ago. Amir Peretz, who believes in a Palestinian partner and in striving for a final-status settlement, also knows the difference between election speeches and post-election actions. He knows peace requires domestic support, and sometimes achieving a little less can gain more in the long run.
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