Disengagement, Despite Everything

The 2005 disengagement from the Gaza Strip was problematic, but strategically, it was and remains crucial.

About six months before the disengagement, a few dozen Israeli opinion makers were asked what repercussions the unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip would have.

Settlers being evacuated from Gush Katif during the disengagement
Uriel Sinai

Benjamin Netanyahu said a unilateral withdrawal in return for nothing posed an existential threat. Uzi Arad was of the opinion that the disengagement would cause a security and diplomatic avalanche. Moshe Ya'alon argued that withdrawal would give terrorism a boost. Moshe Arens believed the disengagement would create a new strategic situation in which Israel's south would be under constant threat from the Palestinians. Yaakov Amidror predicted Gaza would turn into Hamastan and Palestinian missiles would fall in Ashdod and Kiryat Gat. Natan Sharansky foresaw the strengthening of Palestinian radicalism and the development of processes that could lead to war.

And Eli Moyal, the mayor of Sderot at the time, suggested a wild futuristic scenario: "Thirty Qasam rockets fall on Sderot, six are killed, 10 are wounded. What does Israel do? Enter Gaza. But entering Gaza is not simple this time. Mines, bombs, south Lebanon. Soldiers are killed. Because of the killed soldiers the IDF intensifies the fire. Palestinian civilians are killed. International imbroglio."

The truth cannot be hidden. The right was right. On every point. At a time when much of Israel was experiencing euphoria over disengagement, the right saw reality as it was. At a time when the mainstream media sang the praises of the disengagement, the paralyzed right realized what was going to happen. The settlers' prophesies of doom, which were seen five year ago as hysterical and despicable, turned out to be completely accurate. Hamas' 2006 victory in the Palestinian elections and its 2007 takeover of Gaza proved how far the nationalists saw into the future.

The right was right, but the right was also wrong. It understood the latent dangers in the withdrawal, but completely failed to understand its necessity. It anticipated the near future clearly, but failed to predict the distant future. It saw the military problem in minute detail, but was blind to the strategic threat. The right failed to grasp five years ago exactly what it refuses to grasp today: The occupation virus has turned lethal.

The disengagement plan was full of flaws. It did not create a situation in Gaza that marked a clear end to the occupation, as recognized by the United Nations. It was not accompanied by an international Marshall Plan to rehabilitate Gaza and strengthen the moderates in it. It was not complemented by a tough deterrence policy to prevent the Gaza Strip from becoming a hostile missile base endangering Tel Aviv. It did not create an acceptable equilibrium the West Bank and did not provide Israel with long-lasting diplomatic benefits.

The disengagement plan did have a strength, though: It was a bold attempt, the first of its kind, to deal with the lethal virus. The basic logic behind it was valid and remains so.

According to the logic behind the disengagement, Israel has a crucial and moral obligation to end the occupation. Israel has no Palestinian partner with which it can end the occupation. Israel must therefore take limited, calculated steps to gradually move it toward the end of the occupation. No, there's no chance of a complete peace in the foreseeable future. But neither is there any hope, or point, in the existing situation. So Israel must take its fate in its hands and act wisely to create a border between itself and Palestine. Only thus can it ensure its identity and legitimacy as a Jewish and democratic state. Only thus can it turn the Israeli-Palestinian conflict into a tolerable dispute that will ultimately fade into peace.

Five years after leaving Gaza, the picture is clear. The 2005 disengagement was problematic, but strategically, it was and remains crucial. The lesson from the first disengagement is that the second disengagement must be done differently. We must not retreat to the 1967 lines, we must not retreat without international backing, we must not retreat without quiet understandings with moderate Palestinians. We must not retreat without being assured of a real answer to the missile threat.

But ultimately, there will be no other choice. The disengagement is dangerous, but it is less dangerous than any other alternative.