Since Ariel Sharon coined the term "disengagement," opponents of Israeli territorial withdrawals have complained about the Orwellian nature of the term. And yet, as hard as opponents of the leftist view that Israel's security is enhanced by Israeli land transfers to Palestinian terrorists fought against the withdrawal policy and pointed out its dangers, their warnings were no match for the concept of "disengagement."
In Israel's geographic, ethnic, and military contexts, the term "disengagement" is first and foremost a psychological concept. It is concerned not with reality but with the deep-seated Israeli yearning to escape from our hostile environment. It holds the promise that Israel can determine a border that will separate us from our hostile neighbors.
In an article published immediately after the conclusion of Israel's withdrawal from Gaza and northern Samaria last August, Ha'aretz commentator Ari Shavit upheld the notion of the border. He claimed that the significance of the operation was that "after the era of the settlement ethos and after the era of the peace ethos, the turn has now come for the border ethos."
The problem is that a border can only be meaningful if the people on both sides of the divide recognize it and understand its meaning in the same way. Since the Palestinians do not recognize Israel's right to determine its borders, any border that Israel chooses will only operate in one direction. While Israel will honor Palestinian territorial integrity, the Palestinians will insist on their "right" to cross the border at will.
But reality is no match for psychological yearning. Israelis want to disengage.
Israelis are not unique in their desire to cut themselves off from their culturally alien – not to mention hostile – neighbors. The one-way border syndrome has stricken wide swaths of the Western world. For instance, the conflict between the US and Mexico over regulation of their border is becoming increasingly acute as the Mexican government continues to encourage its citizens to illegally migrate to the US.
Similarly, the leaders of the Arab states along the Mediterranean, such as Morocco, Tunis and Algeria, have obstinately refused repeated European requests to take steps to prevent the massive illegal immigration of their citizens into Europe.
These examples illustrate the complexity of the concept of a border when people on its opposite sides differ on their interpretations of its meaning and importance. Yet Israel's border syndrome is even more hazardous than that suffered by the Americans and the Europeans because at least the Mexican, Algerian, Moroccan and Tunisian governments accept the fact of American and European sovereignty. Their conflicts are limited to divergent interpretations of what that sovereignty entails. In Israel's case, the Palestinians have never accepted Israel's sovereignty along any borders whatsoever.
The fact of the matter is that in the wake of the global jihad and the increased rejection of assimilation by cultural and ethnic minorities in Western states, among large and growing sectors of the Western societies, citizens yearn to isolate themselves from an increasingly hostile international environment. In Europe as in sectors of America, citizens ignore the war cries of their enemies and focus their energies on debating their rights in their welfare societies.
Like the Europeans, Israelis crave the luxury of ignoring the country's primary need to ensure its security and the preservation of Israel's character as a Jewish state. Sharon's coining of the term "disengagement" enabled this unrealistic desire to be transformed into a socially acceptable world view and an attractive government policy much as the abstract, amorphous concept of "peace" became the only socially acceptable aim of government policy in the 1990s.
Sharon and his political followers sold the public the belief that if Israel "disengages" from its neighborhood, then Israeli society will finally be able to turn its attentions to "truly important" issues like government welfare payments to single mothers and gay marriage.
The Israeli media has played a critical role in advancing the notion that the dream of disengagement is a realistic policy option. The local media coverage of events in the Palestinian Authority is so superficial and indifferent that an Israeli news consumer would be perfectly justified in believing that events in Ramallah, Jenin and Gaza bear little influence on his life and well-being.
Newscasters speak in the same breath of missiles falling on Ashkelon, al-Qaida attacking from Lebanon and Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom undercutting the authority of his party leader Binyamin Netanyahu. In the best of cases, the three stories are viewed as equally important by our newscasters. In most cases, Silvan's attempts to humiliate Bibi are covered with far greater passion and attention to detail than attempted missile strikes on the Ashkelon-Eilat oil pipeline and the increased activity of al-Qaida in Lebanon and Gaza.
AGAINST THIS backdrop of Israeli societal self-obsession, the elections to the Palestinian legislative council are scheduled to take place in 12 days. Most of the news coverage and commentary regarding these elections has focused on short-term issues: Will Hamas emerge victorious in the elections? Will Arab residents of Jerusalem be allowed to vote? Although these are interesting issues, they miss the larger reality.
That reality is that regardless of what happens in the elections, and regardless of whether Israel and the Palestinians ever renew negotiations, the contours of the Palestinian state are well known and have been known since the establishment of the Palestinian Authority in 1994. The anarchy, terror, corruption, poverty and ideological commitment to the destruction of Israel that have been the consistent characteristics of the Palestinian Authority since its inception provide us with a precise description of what the realization of the vision for a two-state solution to the Palestinian conflict with Israel entails.
Regardless of who emerges victorious in the coming elections (if they actually take place), it is absolutely certain that the Palestinian leadership will be comprised of terrorists, terror sympathizers and terrorist organizations – because these are the only people and parties who are running. The Palestinians themselves explain that in everything relating to the desire to destroy Israel (or what the media and the international diplomatic corps refer to as the parties' "diplomatic platforms"), they see no difference between Hamas and Fatah. For Palestinian voters, the principal difference between the two movements is that Fatah is viewed as corrupt and Hamas is viewed as honest. This stark distinction has prompted even Christians to support Hamas.
And so we arrive at the main fact that we have refused to acknowledge since the Palestinian Authority was established. We already know what a Palestinian state is because we have been living next to it for 11 years.
For Israel, that state has four significant attributes. First, the Palestinian state is a failed state comparable to Somalia and will remain a failed state comparable to Somalia. The Palestinian state will never be ruled by law. It will forever be ruled by gangs that thrive on chaos. It will never fight terror, but rather will always enable terror. It will never build the physical, economic or ideological foundations upon which a healthy economy can grow but rather will continue to divert its funds to financing terrorism and will continue to indoctrinate its people in the culture of jihad. The transformation of the former Israeli communities in Gaza into terror training camps is just one example that illustrates this general principle.
Secondly, the Palestinian leadership, whether it comes from Fatah or Hamas, will always speak in two voices. When dealing with Arab and other Third World states, its members will present themselves as the leaders of the sovereign state of "Palestine" and sign accords as the leaders of that state. In their interactions with the West and in the UN, the Palestinians will claim that they cannot accept the status of an independent state because, they will claim, they are still living under "Israeli occupation." Just as on the eve of Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip the PA's leaders redefined Gaza's boundaries to include the pre-1967 community of Netiv Ha'asara in order to argue that the "occupation" hadn't ended, so too if Israel were to withdraw from 90 percent of Judea and Samaria the Palestinians would argue that they remain under occupation. Were Israel to vacate east Jerusalem, the Palestinians would turn to the 1947 UN partition plan and claim that the Negev and the Galilee remain "occupied." That is, the Palestinians will claim to live under Israeli occupation for as long as Israel exists in any borders.
Thirdly, as happened in Gaza over the past few months, and as happened after Israel withdrew from the Palestinian population centers in Judea and Samaria in the 1990s, the Palestinians will continue to use all lands that Israel vacates as operational bases for the augmentation of their terror capabilities. This week, Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) Director Yuval Diskin testified in the Knesset that since Israel vacated Gaza, weapons smuggling into Gaza from Egypt has increased by 300 percent. Diskin also noted that from October to December, terror attacks and attempted terror attacks increased nearly sixfold.
In the international arena, the national interests of EU member states – securing the flow of oil imports from Persian Gulf states, placating their increasingly irredentist Muslim minority populations and continuing to challenge US power on convenient diplomatic battlefields – dictate that further Israeli withdrawals will in no way impact their position on Israel or the Palestinians. The Europeans will continue to support the "national rights" of the Palestinians regardless of their actions or Israeli attempts at appeasement. In the absence of a concerted and consistent Israeli diplomatic offensive, the Americans too will continue their current policy of pressuring Israel for further territorial concessions to the Palestinians to buy diplomatic support from the Arabs and the Europeans.
ALL OF this leads to one simple conclusion. Israel's desire for a border cannot be translated into an effective policy. The fact of the matter is that no Israeli security interest is advanced by transferring territory to the Palestinians or by continuing to support the establishment of a Palestinian state that in point of fact already exists and in point of fact will never acknowledge its own existence.
The question then is what is Israel to do? The answer lies in recalling Sharon's actions as premier before his leftist metamorphosis. In March 2002, when Sharon ordered the IDF to carry out Operation Defensive Shield in Judea and Samaria, he proved one thing. When our leaders uphold Israel's right to defend itself, the Israeli people rally behind them.
Since the Palestinians are not going to cure themselves of their national pathologies any time soon, Israel's national policies must be built not on the dream of a border that will never be recognized, but on the necessity of guaranteeing its security. Happily, Israel has the ability to defend itself.
But in order to realize our abilities, our national leaders have to make the majority of the public recognize that the reality in which we live is a reality from which we cannot disengage. The ethos of the border is a false ethos. The only national ethos that we can reasonably unite behind and prosper from for the long haul is the ethos of national security.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.