"By the end of 2005, not one Jew will remain in Gaza."
Thus spake Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on Wednesday morning.
Sharon's statement is troubling on many levels. First, the triumphalism: Why is the prime minister of the Jewish state acting as if it is a good thing to ethnically cleanse Gaza of Jews? It sounds like something Yasser Arafat would say. It is unseemly.
On a deeper level, the statement points to the fact that Sharon's plan to unilaterally retreat from Gaza is not simply a tactical military move. The plan represents a strategic worldview as well. The tactical aspect of the plan is clear enough for what that is worth. The thinking in the prime minister's office is that the IDF can defend the state just as well with our forces deployed outside of Gaza as when they are deployed inside of Gaza.
The strategic worldview is less apparent. It is not simply that settlements must be destroyed because, without the army, they will be overrun. Rather, the aim of making Gaza Judenrein by the end of next year is based on the perception that making certain areas off limits to Jews will accrue to the stability and security of the rest of the country.
This must be the case because, in truth, it is not at all clear that in order to secure Alei Sinai, Nissanit and Dugit – the three communities on the northern edge of Gaza – it is necessary for the IDF to be deployed in the area. These communities may well be able to be protected by the forces outside the area augmented by a well trained civil guard made up of their residents. The fact that such an option has not been discussed makes clear that Sharon perceives the Gaza withdrawal as somehow being in the best interest of the rest of the Jews in the country.
What is troubling about this view is that it has been repeatedly adopted and has repeatedly failed for the past seventy years.
In the 1930s, the British authorities in the Palestine Mandate prevailed on their king in Trans-Jordan, Abdullah I to bar Jews from purchasing land in his kingdom. Abdullah had initially welcomed the Jews to the land, believing, rightly that they would develop it to the benefit of all the people in the area. But in the aftermath of the Arab revolt of 1929, the British were of the firm opinion that to ensure public order, it was necessary to prevent the Jews from living in Trans-Jordan. This view did not stop the Arabs from revolting against the British again from 1936 to 1939. But its failure to bring stability did not stop the British from expanding their policy.
In 1940, as part of the implementation of the 1939 White Paper, the British set out to render the Zionist movement incapable of building a Jewish state in Palestine. They did this not only by barring desperate European Jews from entering the one place in the world that wanted them, thus sealing their fate. They did this by outlawing Jewish land purchases in Judea, Samaria, Gaza, the Northern Galilee and the Negev. The British move was again in response to the Arab revolt led by the Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin El Husseini.
This British policy, aimed at mollifying Husseini and his terrorist underlings, did not appease Husseini or dampen his appetite for war against the British. While pocketing the concession from his exile in Iraq Husseini fomented a Nazi-supported revolt against the British colonial authorities. From Baghdad Husseini fled to Berlin where he spent the rest of the war inciting the Arab world to make common cause with Hitler and fight the British.
When the British finally resolved to abandon the Palestine Mandate in 1947, the UN repeated the British policy of land partition, again with the hope that if the Jews were limited to a defined area of the land then the Arabs would accept the Jewish state. This view again was proved wrong in the 1948 War of Independence when five Arab armies invaded Israel with the intent of physically destroying the nascent state while fighting alongside Husseini's local terror brigades.
The fact that Judea, Samaria and Gaza, like east Jerusalem, were devoid of Jewish residents from 1949-1967 did not stop the Arabs from launching terror attacks against Israel throughout the ensuing years. Nor did the partition of the land dissuade Egypt, Syria, Iraq and Jordan from fomenting the Six Day War in 1967.
This week, The New Yorker published a long article by Jeffrey Goldberg on the Israeli settlements in Judea, Samaria and Gaza. The gist of the article was, as the prime minister now intimates, that there is a direct correlation between the proximity of peace between Israel and the Palestinians and the speed and scope of the removal of Jews from Judea, Samaria and Gaza.
Yet, in spite of Goldberg's best efforts to show this to be the case, the thesis was dispelled by two key voices. First, PLO lawyer, Michael Tarazi explained quite frankly that the notion of viewing the Jewish settlements in the territories as the core of the conflict was based on a misunderstanding of the conflict. In his words, "Stop scapegoating the settlers! I think you're [Goldberg] in denial, I really do. It's very typical. You want to find a reason for why all of this is happening, but you don't look at the practice of Zionism itself."
So, from the perspective of the PLO, as from the perspective of the Mufti and the Arab League in the past, the problem is not the size or scope of the Jewish state. It is its very existence.
Then there's Dror Etkes, the head of Peace Now's Settlement Watch group, which reports to the US embassy and to the EU about any building activities in the settlements. Etkes admitted to Goldberg that the removal of settlements will not bring peace. In his words, "Will a one-hundred percent pullout lead to a peaceful Israel and a peaceful Palestine? Now I'd have to say no. It wouldn't be an end of the conflict."
So even as Sharon is actively forcing his hesitant ministers to adopt the view that the settlements must be uprooted, history, PLO spokesmen and even Left-wing activists are telling us clearly that the removal of Jews from the territories will not bring peace.
The question then is what is actually gained by expelling Jews from Gaza and parts of Samaria as Sharon proposes? The actual direct consequence of Sharon's policy has less to do with prospects for peace than with internal Israeli political considerations. Stated bluntly, Sharon's move to distinguish the Jewish communities in the territories from those in the rest of the country serves to create a new political landscape in which the settlers are beyond the pale.
For years the delegitimization of the settlers has been the central aim of the Israeli Left. The need to do so was self-evident. The settlers make up the core of grassroots support for the Right-wing parties. Demonizing these citizens domestically as "obstacles to peace" transforms them from electoral assets into electoral burdens. Not wishing to be associated with those considered sub-par, the thinking has gone, Likud leaders like Sharon would be forced to adopt leftist policies.
The recent talk of Sharon creating a new political party comprised of his supporters in the Likud together with Labor and Shinui is the direct result of the adoption of the Leftist view of the settlers by Sharon. Why Sharon has taken this view remains something of a mystery. The rejection of the Left by Israelis in the last election would seem to indicate that such a move is unnecessary to secure Likud leadership of the country for the foreseeable future. Yet the fact that he has adopted this view is clear.
Aside from the tragedy that Sharon's new policy will inflict on settlers as well as Israeli society as a whole, the prime minister's decision has the military consequence of handing the Palestinians a great and unnecessary victory. It has also damaged t
he US-led war on global terrorism.
This was made abundantly clear by US President George W. Bush in his address before cadets at the US Air Force Academy on Wednesday. In the course of his speech, Bush laid out a clear vision for how the war against Islamic terror must be fought and won. Terrorists and their state sponsors must be actively targeted militarily and politically while democracy, the long-run antidote to jihad ideology which fuels the war, must be aggressively cultivated throughout the Arab world.
This view was comprehensive in every way except one. As applied to the Palestinian conflict with Israel, Bush applauded Sharon's plan to retreat from terrorists in Gaza and restated his view that a Palestinian state must be established in the territories. In a very real sense, the president's insistence on viewing the war against Israel as separate and distinct from the war against the US – to be appeased rather than fought – is to the war what locking the front door while leaving the back door open is to home protection.
It is impossible to blame Bush for his mistaken characterization of the war against Israel. The president and his advisers have been duped into believing that internal Israeli political wars have geostrategic significance when in fact they have none.
In point of fact, to win this war, the jihad against Israel must end the same way as the jihad against America: by force of arms and the spread of democracy. In spite of what the prime minister declares, it surely will not be won by expelling Jews from their homes.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.