The End of the Third Way

The unilateral Third Way is the understanding that the demographic clock is ticking, that the Jewish state is under an existential threat, and that occupation has no future.

Initially, there was the First Way - the occupation, nonrecognition of the Palestinians, a belief in the entire Land of Israel. In the 20 years between the Six-Day War and the outbreak of the first intifada, the Israeli worldview was one of war, and nothing else. We will strike them, we will settle among them, we will solve the conflict through force.

Then, the Second Way appeared - peace, recognition of the Palestinians, belief in a full peace. In the 13 years between the outbreak of the first intifada and the outbreak of the second intifada, that of the suicide bombers, the Israeli worldview was one of peace, and nothing else. We will recognize them, we will talk with them, we will sign deals with them, we will solve the conflict with a peace agreement.

Only afterward, from among the rubble, did the Third Way arise - unilateral withdrawal, separation from the Palestinians, belief in complete separation. In the almost six years between the collapse of peace in October 2000 and the collapse of the disengagement in June-July 2006, the Israeli worldview was one of fences, and nothing else. We will withdraw from them, we will get them out of our sight, we will solve the conflict with a wall.

Our desire was to leave the territories and strike at the Arabs, out of a feeling of "we're sick of it." We're sick of the Palestinians, we're sick of the Arabs, we're sick of the Middle East, and therefore we want to disengage.

But the Third Way, the unilateral way, was more than that. It was also the understanding that the demographic clock was ticking, that the democratic Jewish state was under an existential threat, and that the occupation had no future - but also that there was no Palestinian partner for ending the occupation. Therefore, Israel was obligated to act quickly and decisively.

However, the action that was taken was rash. Even today, with the disengagement crumbling before our eyes, it should be justified. Even today, with the Israel Defense Forces returning to northern Gaza and Gush Katif, it should be argued that liberating 1.3 million Palestinians from the yoke of the Israeli occupation was fundamentally the right move. Even today, with Hezbollah fighters and Hamas operatives doing exactly what opponents of the disengagement warned they would do, it should be said that it was proper to have conducted the disengagement experiment.

Today, however, it is no longer possible to ignore the results of the experiment, which are as follows: With regard to Israel, the disengagement succeeded. It proved that there is a solid majority in Israel that wants to end the occupation, and that there is a government that knows how to act effectively in order to do so. It also proved that Israel is a rational, functioning republic, which is capable of imposing its will on a fanatic minority that made fun of it for generations.

But with regard to the Palestinians in particular, and to Muslim zealots in general, the disengagement failed. It strengthened the extremists among them, and weakened the moderates; it bolstered the ethos of an armed struggle, and brought Hamas to power; it undermined Israel's deterrence, and prompted Hezbollah to attack. The disengagement did not create a new Palestinian order, but utter and complete disorder. Instead of establishing a political structure that would stabilize the Middle East conflict, it created political chaos that is intensifying and inflaming the conflict.

Before the disengagement, some of its critics predicted that there would be a third intifada. The third intifada has already arrived. This time, it is the intifada of the Qassam, the GRAD, the Katyusha and the abductions - a Hamas-Hezbollah intifada, backed by Iran.

This intifada, which has struck at the western Negev and is now striking at the north, is doing to unilateralism what the intifada of the stones did to the occupation and what the intifada of the terror attacks did to peace: It is destroying it. It is making it clear that disengagement is not an option, that there is no withdrawal that will lead to stability, that there is no "we are here and they are there." There is no wall high enough to keep the fanatics away from our homes and the conflict away from our children; there is no way to isolate the Israeli mall from the surrounding Middle East.

The crisis of the Third Way is not the end of the Third Way. Some of the understandings that underlay it are still valid. Israel must act to end the occupation and divide the land. But the naive belief that there is a quick and simple way to divide the land departed this world in June-July 2006. The simplistic belief in a simplistic withdrawal has gone bankrupt.

Therefore, after Israel has struck at Hamas and at Hezbollah in Lebanon, and has restored its deterrence, it will have to go back to the drawing board and think again. Israel is now desperately in need of a new diplomatic idea, a new strategic idea, a Fourth Way.