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All the polls show that a large majority of the Israeli public supports the prime minister's plan for getting out of Gaza and uprooting the settlements there.

Most of the public doesn't seem to care what you call it - separation, unilateral withdrawal, you name it; let's just get out of there, kit and caboodle. And no wonder. What are we doing there in the first place? Why didn't Begin insist that Sadat take the Gaza Strip when he turned the Sinai over to the Egyptians so that we could have ridden ourselves of this headache?

A few hundred Israeli settlers making a living by employing Palestinian and foreign workers; is this Zionism? Wedged in among over more than one and a quarter million Palestinians who are living in poverty and squalor in one of the most densely populated areas of the world. And why burden the Israel Defense Forces with providing protection for these isolated settlements? Should we not have left there a long time ago?

Things were different a long time ago. In retrospect, it all seems so clear: The Labor Party's idea that we needed Israeli settlements in the Rafah salient to constitute a wedge between the Palestinians in Gaza and the Egyptians was infantile. Begin's belief that Gaza, unlike the Sinai, was an integral part of the Land of Israel and therefore not an inch of it could be given up was anachronistic. Sharon's idea of expanding these settlements after the withdrawal from Sinai made no sense at all.

Is that all there is to it, or is this another example of tunnel vision - not seeing the wood for the trees? How is this unilateral withdrawal going to affect the biggest threat facing Israel over the past three and a half years, ever since Arafat launched the war of terror against the people of Israel - a war in which over a thousand Israelis have been killed, and great damage has been done to the Israeli economy? Will it bolster Israel's ability to score a decisive victory, or will it prove to be a setback for Israel?

To those who argue that the war against Palestinian terror cannot be won, these questions will seem irrelevant. But one look at the Israeli casualty statistics during the past years provides convincing evidence that we are in the process of winning. Ever since the Passover eve massacre at the Park Hotel in Netanya in March 2002, when the IDF was ordered to enter Palestinian towns and villages, the casualty rate has decreased; and during the past few months, it has dropped off dramatically. What should have been clear from the very beginning, then became so: The war against Palestinian terror cannot be waged successfully by remote control. Unpleasant as it may be, Israeli security forces have to be on the spot - in Judea, in Samaria and in Gaza.

And there is an important psychological element involved. The Palestinians know that they are no match for the IDF in open combat; but they have had cause to believe that they have found something to match Israel's vastly superior forces - the suicide bomber, the sense that terror in the streets of Israel's cities can ultimately bring the country to its knees. Didn't Hezbollah show that a few hundred guerrilla fighters can force Israel to withdraw from southern Lebanon and even cause it to abandon its allies in the South Lebanon Army? Why can't the Palestinians follow their example?

In recent months, Palestinians have had good cause to wonder if their terror campaign stands a chance of success, whether the suffering it has brought the Palestinian population in Judea, Samaria and Gaza will ever be balanced by a victory over Israel. The announcements of an impending unilateral withdrawal and the uprooting of settlements is bound to give encouragement to the supporters of the Palestinian terror campaign. Just as we are close to victory, we will be strengthening their determination to continue with their campaign of terror. And how are we going to fight Palestinian terror after the withdrawal? By remote control?

Withdrawal from Gaza looks great at first sight; but on second thought, it is a bad idea at this time. We are likely to pull defeat from the jaws of victory.