Ever since the prime minister announced his plan for unilateral withdrawal from Gush Katif, the northern tip of the Gaza Strip and northern Samaria - or, as he prefers to call it, the disengagement plan - speculation has been rife regarding the reasons for this move. What sense does it make to hand the Palestinian terrorists a sense of achievement at this time? Why go counter to the positions of the Likud party he heads? Why break up the most stable government coalition Israel has had in many years? Why reverse the position he presented to the voters at the last election? And why plunge the country into the trauma of uprooting settlers from their homes without receiving any Palestinian concessions in return?
What in the world made him do it? The most bizarre reasons have been proposed to explain this U-turn in Sharon's policies. But now the cat is out of the bag. Dov Weisglass, the prime minister's former bureau chief, in his interview with Ari Shavit (Haaretz Magazine, October 8) has revealed the secret - put the blame on Yossi Beilin. "Because in the fall of 2003 we understood that everything is stuck. And even though according to the American reading of the situation, the blame fell on the Palestinians and not on us, Arik grasped that this state of affairs would not last. That they wouldn't leave us alone, that they wouldn't get off our case. Time was not on our side. There was international erosion, internal erosion. Domestically, in the meantime, everything was collapsing. The economy was stagnant, and the Geneva Initiative garnered broad support," Weisglass explains.
Few in Israel will recall the fall of 2003, exactly one year ago, in such dark colors. Almost the contrary. The economy showed the first signs of picking up. The battle against Palestinian terror was beginning to show results. Relations with Washington were good. But, as has been frequently remarked, things look different when viewed from the Prime Minister's Office. But Yossi Beilin's Geneva initiative? Any astute observer knew that this ludicrous "agreement" was stillborn and would go nowhere. By now it has been long forgotten, and not because of the "disengagement" plan. Was this a reason to announce that Israel was going to uproot the settlers of Gush Katif?
The critics of the prime minister's change of position were reminded by his supporters that the late Moshe Dayan had said that only donkeys do not change their minds. A more appropriate aphorism was coined by the great economist John Maynard Keynes who is reputed to have said: "When the facts change, I change my mind. How about you?"
The facts have changed in Gaza since the fall of 2003. If the prime minister expected that the announcement of the impending unilateral withdrawal would lead to quiet in the Gaza Strip, he was sorely mistaken. Since the announcement, violence there has hit a record, with Sderot and Gush Katif receiving an almost daily dose of Qassam rockets and mortar shells. Rather than deciding to quietly await the Israeli withdrawal from Gush Katif, the Palestinian terrorists have decided to compete for the glory of having chased Israel out of the area.
If for some strange reason the Prime Minister's Office believed that after the announcement that we were leaving the area, some of our friends who had been badgering us to return to the 1967 lines would decide to leave Israel alone and tell the Palestinians that now the ball was in their court, that has not come about.
And the Palestinians? From Arafat to the Hamas, they saw in the withdrawal from Gush Katif a sign that terrorism pays off. Only an appetizer, increasing their appetite for further Israeli withdrawals, their mouth watering as they visualize Ashkelon coming into range of the Qassam rockets after the Israeli withdrawal. It is beginning to look as if the disengagement plan has turned into a prescription for dragging Israel deeper into the morass of Gaza.
So the facts have changed and maybe the time has come to change policy and to abandon the disengagement plan. After all, only donkeys don't change their minds.
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