Monday, August 08, 2005

Eyeless in Gaza

Israeli finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has resigned, citing his opposition to Ariel Sharon's plan to withdraw from Gaza. According to the Boston Globe:

Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, one of the highest-ranking figures in Israel's government, quit yesterday to protest next week's planned withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and, sometime afterward, from parts of the West Bank, saying it would create an ''Islamic base" on Israel's doorstep. ... ''I'm not willing to be a party to a step that endangers our security, divides the nation, and reinforces the principle of withdrawing to the 1967 lines," Netanyahu, who is Sharon's main rival in the ruling Likud party, said during a news conference in Jerusalem hours after quitting. He said he had been ''torn inside" for months but decided he did not want to go down in history as an accomplice to the unilateral withdrawal. ''A leader must ask himself . . . 'What do you represent?' " he said.

The Israeli withdrawal plan had its genesis, not as part of the "Road Map" to a comprehensive Israeli-Arab peace settlement but as a unilateral action by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. According to a Congressional Research Service study (made available through a US State Department link. It is also available through CRS Gallery Watch)

In early December 2003, Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced that Israel would give up its Gaza settlements.3 On December 18, 2003, Sharon stated if the Palestinians were not meeting their commitments as outlined in the “Road Map” peace proposal,4 Israel would disengage unilaterally from the Palestinians “within a few months.” (page 2)

It lurched on, by fits and starts until it reached its present form. One of the most common reasons for advocating withdrawal is that it will shorten Israel's defense lines. The Gaza strip is home to 7,500 Israeli settlers, most in settlements which are not contiguous to Israel proper, living among 1.325 million Arabs, circled wagons if you will, which the IDF must always be ready to rescue. A withdrawal would free up forces for other duties. Another reason given is the hope that these concessions may create a wave of goodwill among the Palestinians which will further a comprehensive peace settlement, a suggestion that is often met with ridicule. Even the Congressional Research Service reports concedes that withdrawal is only likely to increase, not decrease Palestinian ambitions.

For the most part, Palestinians accepted the Sharon plan, but only because they saw the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza as a first step to full Israeli withdrawal from all the territories occupied since 1967. Most Palestinians distrust Sharon and the Israelis and do not believe that Israel will adhere to the timetable, and most Palestinians are concerned that Israel’s unilateral steps will bypass the peace process.

The more likely political target of the withdrawal is the Western Europeans, many of who see Israel as illegitimate. By unilaterally withdrawing from Gaza, Israel may take some of the wind from the sails of Europeans who support more aid to the Palestinians and tighter sanctions on Israel. Both in terms of economy of force and political positioning, the withdrawal is presented as a tactical sacrifice in exchange for strategic gain.

But Netanyahu argued in an August 4 interview with Caroline Glick of the Jerusalem Post that a withdrawal from Gaza would open up a highway into Israel's vitals, becoming to its western settlements what the Euphrates insurgent ratline is to Baghdad. Although Sharon maintained his intention to retain control over Gaza's external borders, Netanyahu argued that it would be understood -- correctly -- as the first step to the total crumbling of control over the entirety of Gaza.

Q: Will the withdrawal from Gaza affect the western Negev? If so, how?

A: First of all, we allocated NIS 300 million in order to protect communities in the western Negev. The very fact of the allocation in the wake of the withdrawal shows that there is a realistic possibility that there will be a deterioration in the security situation because, after all, we did not need to protect these communities beforehand. ... 

Q: Will there be consequences from the opening of Gaza to the Sinai through the IDF's withdrawal from the Philadelphi corridor and from the opening of Gaza to the world through the operation of a seaport and an airport after thewithdrawal?

A: Not only is Hamas getting stronger in front of our very eyes, and not only are they openly announcing that they will move their missiles from Gaza to Judea and Samaria in order to rain them onto the suburbs of Tel Aviv. There exists an additional problem of outside terrorists and deadly weapons far worse than what we have seen so far that are liable to stream in from the Sinai to Gaza the minute we abandon our control of the boundaries of the Strip. ... Everyone remembers the Karine A [the weapons ship the Palestinian Authority purchased from Iran, that Israeli naval commandos intercepted in the Red Sea in January 2002]. If that ship had managed to penetrate, it would have brought in arms that could have easily threatened Ashkelon and Ashdod. Now there will be a Karine A, Karine B, Karine C and Gaza will be transformed into a base for Islamic terrorism adjacent to the coast of the State of Israel.

Leaving aside the political rivalry between Sharon and Netanyahu, the question is which of the two has correctly anticipated events. The Boston Globe quotes political scientist Shmuel Sandler's summary: ''If the withdrawal turns into a big mess, Netanyahu has a chance. If not, he'll look like the bad guy." Netanyahu seems willing to bet on the villainy and treachery of Israel's foes, saying in his Jerusalem Post interview:

It's true that people think this withdrawal will help calm the region. If it were to take place as part of an agreement with a responsible party capable of stabilizing the area, it would be possible to argue this case. But that is not the situation we have today. Because of this, the real danger is the transformation of Gaza into a base for global Islamic terror and it doesn't have to happen immediately.

In 1993, in the midst of the euphoria over the Oslo agreement, I warned that terrorism would plague us from all the areas we transferred to the Palestinians and that there would be missiles shot at us from Gaza. It didn t happen immediately. It took time.

In 1995, I warned that Muslim zealots would bomb the World Trade Center in New York. It didn't happen immediately. It took time. But it happened. Today as well, when I warn about the establishment of a base for Islamic terrorism in Gaza, the realization of the danger doesn't have to happen immediately but, sadly, the possibility that it will happen is very tangible and only increases as time passes.

I would be very happy if this prognosis were proven wrong for a change. I would be very happy if we saw thousands of members of the peace camp in Gaza demonstrating with banners reading, "Thank you Israel for the just peace" and releasing thousands of doves into the sky.

But this isn't what we are seeing. We are seeing thousands of new members of Hamas who are waving their rifles in the air and crying out, "Today Gaza, tomorrow Tel Aviv."

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