Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Historic Moment?

Yesterday the Knesset passed the so-called "Disengagement Bill", which foresees the removal of all settlements in Gaza and some in the northern West Bank. The landmark bill passed by a large majority made up by the center part of the governing coalition (the split went right through the middle of Ariel Sharon's Likud party) and most of the opposition. Surveys say that more than 60% of the general population support the bill, as does practically the whole rest of the world, as one can see in the major newspapers of today. Described outside of Israel mostly as a hawk and war criminal, Ariel Sharon got for the first time world-wide so high approval ratings, that his best buddy George in Washington must have become green from jealousy.

So far the good news. But is this bill really so great as most of the world seems to believe? Here comes in one of my well tested principals: If something is believed by almost everybody, including those which know nothing about the subject matter, it is probably wrong. And it could well be that this test is going to go in the same direction, although I haven't made up my mind entirely. Let's look at the two most often quoted angles:

The peace camp says this is Oslo II, finally there is movement in the Israeli government in the direction of a settlement with the Palestinians. The withdrawal from Gaza will prove to the Palestinians and the World that we are willing to compromise and will ultimately make us safer, even if maybe in the short run we will suffer more Qasam rockets fired from northern Gaza into Israeli cities. It is one first step to end the occupation and return Israel into the circle of civilized nations, and as such well worth the risk.

The other side (I don't want to call them the anti-peace camp, because in the end 90% of the people here do want nothing but peace, one way or another) say yes, this is Oslo once more, only much worse than the first, which was a total failure in it's own right and led us into the catastrophe we are living with today.

When we started Oslo I at least there seemed to be a partner for peace, although this partner was actually imported into the territories by the Israelis from Tunis without asking anybody on the ground there beforehand. Unfortunately the miraculously emerged partner neither had any intention to honor any of the numerous agreements he signed, nor did he want to build a truly democratic and self supporting Palestine, as we know today.

But this time there can be no illusions. We know from the very beginning that there is no partner for peace at this time. There is no one group anywhere to be seen that wants peace with Israel and has the power to control the groups which refuse to even consider a deal. So in effect we are giving up territory that has been under Israeli administration for 20 to 30 years (Kfar Darom was even founded already in 1946) and we get absolutely nothing in return. We only loose the little suppressing power we have over the Qasam launch teams, we'll loose extremely valuable intelligence by not actually being there and we'll also loose the ability to openly or covertly support an eventually emerging Palestinian partner against the Hamas, Jihad and so on extremists. Meanwhile Hamas & Co. can smuggle in and stockpile more and better weapons than ever, turn more children into potential bombs by systematic brain wash, and suppress any remaining moderate and secular groups. To remove this threat will eventually make a military intervention necessary that pales anything we have seen in the last four years of Intifada.

The only thing we will gain is the appreciation of the World for our efforts. But, as history has shown time and again, the World doesn't care about our well-being (just consider the European weapon embargoes at times which Israel was actually at war), with the notable exception of the USA. So what the heck, we can do without the World!

So far the view points of the two main camps. Where do I stand? Well, here is one more angle.

I have always supported the annexation of territory occupied in a defensive (or preventive) war. As such I am totally at peace with the Golan Heights being and remaining an integral part of Israel since the war of 1967, and I would never support a move to return them to Syria for a peace treaty. Who needs a treaty with that screwed up regime anyway?

The same holds true for the West Bank and Gaza - but: They were never annexed. Israel's truly democratic system would have had to deal with the political weight of too many hostile Arabs within it's own borders, so full annexation was not an option. Total withdrawal and return of the old regimes in those areas was not an option either, simply from a security point of view. The additional territorial buffer was thought to be crucial for the next military confrontation. Therefore the concept of ex-territorial settlements was invented and quickly implemented. This is the very source of the mess we are facing today.

It must be obvious to even the most steadfast supporters of the settlement idea: This concept has served us well for 30 something years, but now it is falling apart and something else has to replace it.

So here is finally my 1-2-3 solution for one of the World's thorniest problems:

  1. Israel has to make a simple choice, square meter for square meter: Annex or leave.
  2. Criteria are: Present population distributions, strategic importance for Israel's defense, practical connectivity to Israel proper, economic and administrative viability of the abandoned areas as an independent entity (ultimately a Palestinian state), and then some.
  3. In the absence of a functional Palestinian administration, the decision rests with Israel only and the new borders have to be drawn up unilaterally.
As for Gaza, I am not sure if annexation of the settlement areas is a viable choice in that respect. But I am convinced that this should be the main factor in Ariel Sharon's mind, not the World's opinion, not the pain of the potentially uprooted settlers and not the short term gains for any one party.

And somehow I have the feeling that he knows what he is doing. May the Force be with you, Arik!