Biden Is Right to Leave Afghanistan, and Israel Was Right to Pull Out From Gaza

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A police officer extinguishing a fire as settlers protest Israel's disengagement from Gaza in 2005.

According to Israel Harel's recent oped in Haaretz, withdrawals are evil, and withdrawal in the face of Islamic extremism is the embodiment of evil. In the process, he comes down on the Americans and their president, Joe Biden, and of course those who supported the withdrawals from Lebanon and the Gaza Strip (withdrawals supported by leftists and right-wingers alike).

According to Harel, the Americans should have stayed in Vietnam … sorry, Afghanistan. This, despite 20 years of fighting and rehabilitation efforts; more than 3,600 deaths among NATO forces (mostly Americans); nearly 4,400 subcontractors, aid workers and journalists killed; a much larger number of wounded, disabled and emotionally crippled; countless bereaved families, direct costs of a trillion dollars and a sharp rise in the national debt (the cost of the adventure in Afghanistan and Iraq will total $6.5 trillion in debt by 2050). Despite all this, Harel believes the United States should have stayed in Afghanistan.

It’s been said in these parts that a stone that one fool throws into a well, a thousand wise men cannot remove. The elder George Bush knew how to go into Iraq and come out in time. No, he didn’t topple Saddam Hussein, but he did weaken him considerably, and most of all, he avoided a presumptuous and unnecessary U.S. military entanglement. With the end of the Gulf War it was clear to all who was the world’s only superpower. His son, George W. Bush, did not learn from this; he went into Afghanistan and remained. Thus was born 20 years of ongoing failure with no chance of success. That’s the story of America in Afghanistan (and Iraq).

Anyone looking for the Israeli lesson ought to recall the failed Lebanon escapade. We could have left the day after Yasser Arafat sailed off for Tunis, and completed the withdrawal from all of Lebanon by 1985; after all, that was the decision made by the cabinet at the time.

The withdrawal from Gaza was a national security imperative that more than anything expressed the futility of protecting 8,600 Jews living among two million Palestinians, when the main settlement bloc was between Khan Yunis and the sea. The nationalist fabrication that the security situation has deteriorated since then ignores some simple facts: The Qassem rocket fire began in 2001, and the scope of Israeli casualties in Gaza and from Gaza plunged drastically over the past 16 years. The serious attack that wounded Border Policeman Barel Hadaria Shmueli doesn’t change the overall picture.

Withdrawal may be evidence of a military failure, but the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan, like Israel in Lebanon and Gaza, didn’t fail at the military level, but at the diplomatic level.

Exaggerated pretenses, ignoring the basic demographic-political conditions, and fear of making tough decisions – these are the political ills that have unnecessarily entangled the United States as well as Israel. The discussion regarding the number of settlers in Judea and Samaria is fruitless and superfluous. In Judea and Samaria there are 2.6 million Palestinians and fewer than half a million Jews. The annexation of such a large Palestinian population, most of whom are poor and infused with hatred for Israel, is an act of national suicide. That we have perpetuated this folly for over 50 years does not turn this stupidity into wisdom.

We must separate from the Palestinians, and this separation won’t be free of security problems and national tests. We would like to imagine two states living side by side in tranquility, but this won’t be happening in the foreseeable future. It’s reasonable to assume that separating from the Palestinians will be accompanied by serious challenges, but since when are we afraid of challenges?

The correct debate is not over the security challenges but the national interest. We must separate from the Palestinians because annexation is the end of the Zionist dream of a national home for the Jewish people, a free and democratic state. There is no middle path or tolerable compromise. The real debate is over “annexation or separation,” and even Israel Harel must admit that separation is the most correct and necessary alternative for Israel.

Yair Golan is deputy economic affairs minister and a Meretz MK.

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