Every foolish action recently, whether it be the killing of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin or any old bombing that kills dozens of Gaza residents, has been getting a distorted stamp of approval: We can't let the Palestinians get the impression that they're kicking the IDF out of Gaza; we won't allow another Lebanon to occur. There is a double deception in this statement. First, that expulsion has always been the only option for withdrawing from occupied territories, from Gaza or Lebanon. Secondly, that the withdrawal plan - which has yet to be implemented - provides a license for indiscriminate killing.
The withdrawal from Lebanon and the planned withdrawal from Gaza are only analogous in one way: Israel could have withdrawn in a much more dignified fashion and much sooner. The notion sold to the public by the governments of Israel - that remaining in enemy territory boosts security, protects the border more effectively and prevents terrorism - has proved false after 18 years in Lebanon and 37 years in Gaza. In both cases, Israel didn't know when to get out of the stew.
From a war and victory against the PLO it turned into a war against Hezbollah, and later a war against the entire state of Lebanon. Israel hoped to forge a new political order in Lebanon as a result of the war and referred to Lebanon then as "the second country that will make peace with Israel." But this aspiration backfired and Lebanon will now be the last country to make peace with Israel.
The situation in Gaza is similar. The diligence with which Israel has crushed any sign of Palestinian leadership in the territories has turned the war against terror into a war against Hamas in Gaza. Now, if the withdrawal plan is implemented, there is a good chance Hamas will supervise Israel's southern security zone, just as Hezbollah does in the north.
On both fronts, Israel could have reached - at the appropriate time - reasonable agreements. The "Gaza and Jericho first" plan was supposed to have paved the way for the Oslo peace process, but the settlements were then still considered sacred sites that could not be conceded. In Lebanon, the agreement reached in 1983 collapsed not only due to political disputes within Lebanon. Israel demanded at the time that Lebanon agree to allow the South Lebanon Army (under the command of Sa'ad Haddad) guard the security zone along the border. Israel also demanded that Syria withdraw from Lebanon.
The result was that Israel did not achieve an accord and withdrew to the security zone in 1985, only to withdraw from it 15 years later, which was too late. Sharon proposed at the time that the withdrawal should be preceded by a deadly blow to Lebanon, so that it would remember the strong arm of the IDF.
Sharon is now delivering the pounding he proposed for Lebanon in Gaza, ahead of the withdrawal. His outlook is based on the self-delusion that awe-inspiring carnage will prevent the continuation of the armed struggle between the Palestinians and Israel. This is an easy idea to digest, but is dangerous and misleading. The Palestinian struggle is not confined to the borders of the Gaza Strip and the blows the Palestinians have received during the decades of occupation have not prevented the current intifada - or the previous one - from erupting. Does Israel plan to unleash a new concentrated strike on Gaza to summarize the years of occupation?
It would be best to look at this withdrawal - which is still only on paper - directly in the eyes. Israel is only leaving Gaza because it can no longer continue to hold it due to the defense burden. Anyone who fears the expression "Israel's expulsion" had better get used to it. Yes, Israel will leave Gaza as one being expelled, without any pomp and ceremonies marking the transfer of power. It's difficult to find in modern history the case of an occupying state that does not leave as one being expelled from the territory it conquered. It is not a dishonorable club, with members including Britain, France, and the United States.
The truly important question is what are the memories that Israel will leave behind. These memories will play an important role when the time for reconciliation comes. But thinking about the future is not a characteristic of Israeli policy. If it were, Gaza would long ago have become an autonomous district under the control of the Palestinian Authority.
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