Four months after the disengagement, it turns out the right was correct. We left Gaza and got Qassam rockets on Ashkelon. Hamas is becoming stronger and Fatah is disintegrating. Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), yesterday's great hope for peace, has turned out to be a doormat. "We told you so," say the leaders of the right proudly in the election campaign they are conducting against Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
The weakness of their claim lies not in the facts, but in the tenuous connection between cause and effect. According to right-wing leaders Benjamin Netanyahu (Likud) and Avigdor Lieberman (National Union), leaving the settlements in the Gaza Strip would have prevented the firing of Qassams on Ashkelon and guaranteed the victory of Fatah in the elections. One can argue as to whether that would in fact have happened, or whether the Palestinians would have succeeded in increasing the range of the rockets even had Gush Katif continued to exist. One can also assume that the success of Hamas stems from internal Palestinian reasons, rather than from the destruction of the settlement of Kfar Darom.
The "strategic right" of Netanyahu, Lieberman and Uzi Landau (Likud) does not speak of the divine promise of the Land of Israel to the Jewish people. It is hard to sell such messages to a Jewish public tired of war; they are reserved for religious leaders of the Yesha Council (of the West Bank settlements). Instead, they are propounding a security-related reason: A display of Israeli weakness, as in the disengagement, encourages the Palestinians to continue waging war. Therefore, we cannot withdraw until the Palestinians turn into democrats, according to Netanyahu, or until they absorb half the Israeli Arabs, as Lieberman proposes. Both support a future evacuation of isolated settlements. Their argument with Sharon relates to the timing and to the compensation to be demanded from the Palestinians, and not to the need to resettle thousands of settlers.
These viewpoints give rise to a difficult ethical problem. We would have expected leaders of the right, of all people, to want to strengthen the residents of the settlements. But in the view of Netanyahu and Lieberman, the settlers are cannon fodder, who are supposed to live at the front until the enemy is appeased. The settlers may believe they are observing a religious commandment by settling the land, but Lieberman and Netanyahu are ignoring the spiritual foundation and see the settlements as pawns. Even if it was not their intention, their words imply the settlements in the Gaza Strip existed to provide easy and short-range targets for the Palestinians, instead of Ashkelon. Their second mission was to guarantee the victory of Fatah in the elections, and to prevent the rise of Hamas (this is the claim of the left as well, which blames the disengagement for weakening Abu Mazen).
It is difficult to accept the cynical attitude that the state has to place its citizens in killing fields, whose occupation is opposed by the international community, only to provide votes for Fatah and targets for Qassams. The debate is not only theoretical and symbolic, since after the elections, the next withdrawal will come up for discussion. The concern for Sharon's health demonstrated by world leaders was not motivated by friendship alone. In their view, the withdrawal from Gaza was only the appetizer for the main course in the West Bank. Sharon and his friends in Kadima are also signaling that is their intention. The debate about the role of the settlements will therefore begin once again and with greater intensity.
Meanwhile, Sharon has not fulfilled the expectation that the disengagement and leaving Gaza would remove the Strip from the cycle of conflict. His threats of a response of unprecedented severity if the terror from Gaza continues have so far been turned out to be hollow. The Palestinians do not honor the Green Line in the south and Israel is afraid of international opposition to punitive actions against citizens. The security system failed to establish a balance of deterrence in Gaza, and it must make more of an effort. But leaving the settlements in place would not have solved a single one of these problems, nor would it have saved Abu Mazen from the failures of his pathetic leadership - as the leaders of the right are claiming.
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