Between disengagement and convergence
We should not reject the next unilateral withdrawal out of hand, but neither should we gallop toward it. We should not ignore the demographic pressure and moral imperative that demand action, but neither should we close our eyes to avoid seeing the risks involved in a hasty and erroneous act.
Criticism over the convergence plan originates primarily from either the right or left. That's why it's easy to label it an anachronistic expression of hawkish messianism or dovish naivete. The criticism coming from the center is more infuriating, because it is not so easy to label. Therefore, when anyone committed to dividing the country claims that convergence is not the right way to do it - he's accused of zigzagging. Kadima's promoters claim that it is impossible for anyone who wants to end the occupation and understands there is no Palestinian partner to criticize the major unilateral withdrawal. It is impossible for anyone who supported the disengagement to oppose convergence.
But it is quite possible. The disengagement had many shortcomings. But its great advantage was that it was low risk. It enabled us to release 1.3 million Palestinian from the yoke of occupation without putting Israel in existential danger. In that sense, the disengagement was a controlled experiment. At a budgetary cost of NIS 8 billion, and at a human cost of uprooting 8,000 people from their homes, it enabled us to put unilateralism to a critical test. It turned the Gaza Strip into a type of laboratory: What happens when Israel withdraws without an agreement and compensation? What fills the vacuum that is created following the withdrawal? Does full withdrawal from Palestinian land create chaos or a stable and durable situation?
Eight months after the disengagement, we can conduct an interim summary of the experiment's findings: As far as Israel and the Israelis are concerned, the disengagement was a tremendous success. It proved that the country has a solid majority for ending the occupation cautiously and gradually, and there is a government capable of ruling and turning the majority's will into policy. The disengagement also proved that Israel has political tools that are capable of implementing the government's policy, uprooting settlements, and reducing the occupation in a responsible and controlled manner.
But as far as the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinians are concerned, the findings of the disengagement experiment are disappointing. The unilateral withdrawal did not strengthen the moderate forces in Palestinian society, but rather the extremists. It was not seen as a step of reconciliation and compromise, but as flight and submission. The vacuum left behind by Israel was not filled by a new order, but by total disorder. The occupation was replaced by an extremist Hamas regime. So instead of bringing us closer to a new balance, to defining a permanent border, and to creating stability, the withdrawal created serious instability, which is liable to lead to a reoccupation and war.
The complex and contradictory results of the disengagement experiment require analysis. This is not the time for belligerence and for formulating firm positions. If Israel is a sane country and its leadership is mature, it must now take time out for thinking. We should not reject the next unilateral withdrawal out of hand, but neither should we gallop toward it. We should not ignore the demographic pressure and moral imperative that demand action, but neither should we close our eyes to avoid seeing the risks involved in a hasty and erroneous act. And under no circumstances should we withdraw unless the line to which we do so is recognized by the international community as Israel's legitimate border.
The supporters of dividing the country who criticize the convergence plan are not zigzagging. Their basic assumption was and remains that which guides Interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and designated ministers Haim Ramon and Tzipi Livni: We should move toward an end to the occupation even without an end to the conflict.
However, as the disengagement experiment teaches us, this movement is dangerous. Therefore, it must be carried out with the right measure in a wise, cautious and patient fashion. It cannot be a hasty cloning of the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. There is no "Let's get this over with." There is no "We have a fence and we're saved." The enterprise of dividing the country must be a large-scale and long-term national enterprise, which will be properly planned after the lessons of the disengagement are thoroughly learned.