All tactics and no strategy
Although a good strategy should generally take precedence over good tactics, coming up with a good tactical move is a lot easier than developing a good strategy. There is nothing like saying `I'm sorry, I made a mistake, you were right all along' to endear yourself to your former political opponents.
Although a good strategy should generally take precedence over good tactics, coming up with a good tactical move is a lot easier than developing a good strategy. Strategic moves deal with the more distant future, and as is well known, predicting the future is a hazardous enterprise.
These considerations come to mind as the Prime Minister's current tactics seem to be focused on maintaining Israeli control over the larger settlement blocks. At the same time, Talia Sasson's latest revelations - nothing new there for many Israelis - are a reminder that much of the settlement effort in Judea and Samaria for many years suffered from a total absence of strategic thinking. It was based on micro-tactics that did the settlement effort no good, only succeeding in giving it a bad name, and came at the expense of developing large settlement blocks.
Now most Israelis are hoping that once the security fence gets built around them, Israeli control over at least Ma'ale Adumim and Gush Etzion will have been assured, while the future of Ariel will be left hanging in the balance. The case being made, that uprooting the settlements in Gush Katif - the first large settlement block, established more than 30 years ago - is part of a trade-off that assures control over the remaining settlements blocks is pretty hard to prove.
From the domestic political point of view, the disengagement plan seems at first sight like a clever tactical move. It has made Ariel Sharon the most popular politician in Israel. Even those who used to be his worst enemies now love him. There is nothing like saying "I'm sorry, I made a mistake, you were right all along" to endear yourself to your former political opponents. Moreover, many of his party comrades go along for reasons best known to them. But what are the long-term implications of this tactical move? On the Likud? And on the country?
It certainly does not look as if the Likud's electoral base will be broadened. It is bound to lose votes to the right, to parties that object to the disengagement plan, and it is unlikely that it will pick up votes from the left, from voters who look at the withdrawal from Gush Katif and northern Samaria only as the beginning of further withdrawals.
On that score, the Likud will have a hard time competing with the Labor party. Sharon's current popularity in the polls is an expression of support for his leadership in pushing through the disengagement plan, but is certainly not an expression of support for the Likud, whose image in the voters' minds must be pretty blurred at this stage. The implementation of the disengagement plan may well turn out to be the beginning of an "electoral dry spell" for the Likud.
But if it's good for the country, who cares about the Likud?
Whether it is good for the country we will learn in the years to come. But what is already clear is that Israel will be paying a very heavy price for the disengagement plan. A good part of the Israeli public - not a majority but a significant minority - feels a strong sense of identification and loyalty to the settlers about to be uprooted. This segment of Israel's population is by no means on the margin of Israeli society. As a matter of fact, in many ways it represents the best of Israel, as expressed by their participation in all walks of life, including the Israel Defense Forces. Pushing them over the brink, brutally forcing the will of the majority on them, might very well have long-term negative effects on the fabric of Israel's society. All the benefits claimed for the disengagement plan may not be worth that cost.
In encouraging at first the establishment of scattered small settlements without any clear direction, and then launching a plan for the unilateral uprooting of small settlements and the Gush Katif settlement block, there seems to have been an abundance of tactical moves but certainly no evidence of a long-term strategy. The basic variables of the problems facing Israel - the Palestinians, demographics and national security - have not sufficiently changed in past years to warrant this kind of a turnaround. It is unlikely to lead Israel in the right direction.