Operation no penitence
Assuming the security forces complete the mission and the evacuation from Gaza is accompanied by the IDF marching band, what will Mofaz tell the residents of Sderot if on the following evening, the thunder of the rockets once again shakes them awake?
The people of Sderot can heave a sigh of relief. Shaul Mofaz promised that the government "won't allow terrorism during the disengagement process." Those of Sderot of little faith, unappeased by the promise, were told that the prime minister ordered the Israel Defense Forces "to do everything" to make sure the evacuation from Gaza does not take place under fire and even promised that Operation Days of Penitence will "change the basic situation in Gaza." It has also been announced that Sharon "ordered" the Qassam launchers moved beyond the range of the settlements inside the Green Line. Assuming the security forces complete the mission and the evacuation from Gaza is accompanied by the IDF marching band, what will Mofaz tell the residents of Sderot if on the following evening, the thunder of the rockets once again shakes them awake? What will Sharon do a month or a year later, if Hamas follows through on its vow to send rockets at Ashkelon?
You can say that in the spring of 1999, before the withdrawal from Lebanon, Hezbollah threatened it would not let the residents of the north sleep soundly in their beds. Maybe Israel's departure from the Strip will calm things down for the settlements of the western Negev. The comparison would be relevant if the disengagement was even slightly similar to the withdrawal from Lebanon. But the mere use of the term "disengagement" rather than "withdrawal" shows there is a significant difference. With the withdrawal of Israel to the northern, internationally recognized border, the control of the area of southern Lebanon, formally at least, went into Lebanese government hands, and practically speaking, into Syria's.
Furthermore, the withdrawal to the border demarcated by the United Nations turned the withdrawal from southern Lebanon, as far as the international community was concerned, into the end of the territorial dispute between Israel and Lebanon.
If there is any room for comparison between the two areas, the disengagement is much more similar to the withdrawal to the Awali River in September 1983, or the redeployment into the "security zone" in June 1985. Those partial withdrawals from occupied Lebanese territory perpetuated the bloodshed on the northern border.
The Palestinians, like the international community - and the settlers - treat the Judea, Samaria and Gaza areas as one entity. There is no hint that the partial disengagement indicates that a full withdrawal from the West Bank is in the offing in the foreseeable future. Sharon himself confirmed in his New Year's interviews with the press that the disengagement is not meant to revive the peace process, but to bury the road map. Therefore, there is no sign that the process will halt the bloodshed in the south, or for that matter, in the center of the country, as well.
A report on the situation in the West Bank by the International Crisis Group, headed by Robert Malley, who was a member of the American team at Camp David, describes a broken political system, on the verge of disintegration, incapable of making basic decisions about how to respond to the disengagement plan. The report says the regime is incapable or lacks the motivation to establish order in Gaza, thus proving to the world there's someone from whom to disengage. The solutions the report is proposing, on the edge of disaster, are aimed at all the sides. The Palestinian Authority - meaning Yasser Arafat - is told to complete the reforms; appoint government officials who are not corrupt; conduct a speedy negotiation with all the political groups for an end to attacks on civilian targets; and to hold elections this year for president, the legislative council and the local authorities.
Israel is required to cease military activity in Palestinian towns and lift the constraints it has placed on the civilian population; to open negotiations with the PA with the goal of ending the ban on PA police carrying weapons; to allow elections in the territories, while withdrawing from the cities.
For the resuscitation process to work, the Quartet is asked to brush the dust off the road map, which is meant to lead to a permanent agreement, on the basis of the principles of a two-state arrangement. At the same time, the Quartet is supposed to pressure the sides to cease violence, and unilateral steps. The alternative, warns the report, is total chaos. Sderot won't be alone.