Gideon's Blog

In direct contravention of my wife's explicit instructions, herewith I inaugurate my first blog. Long may it prosper.

For some reason, I think I have something to say to you. You think you have something to say to me? Email me at: gideonsblogger -at- yahoo -dot- com

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Monday, August 15, 2005
I should reiterate (for those who are not fanatical readers of this blog) that I've been a supporter of the Gaza withdrawal from the beginning. I also think it should have been clear from Sharon's first campaign for Prime Minister that this was where he was headed; it makes all the sense in the world in terms of his own history and ideology. Sharon is the bulldozer and, as he showed at Yamit, he's perfectly willing to bulldoze settlements if he thinks it's in Israel's interest.

I don't want to rehash all the arguments for the withdrawal, but here's a brief rundown. Israel would be crazy to want to hold on to Gaza because it cannot plausibly govern the territory without making the Gazans Israeli citizens, and it cannot plausibly do that and remain in any meaningful sense a Jewish state. No one will take Gaza off Israel's hands, and remaining in Gaza will do nothing to improve the prospects for the emergence of a pro-coexistence party within the Palestinian Arab leadership. Whether or not it makes sense for Israel to take the war to the enemy and continue military operations in Gaza, it makes no sense for Israel to keep its civilians there if it has no intention to hold on to the territory. Unilateralism lets Isarel set the terms and timetable of the withdrawal, and does not commit it to any diplomatic concessions as the price of getting a piece of paper blessing what they've already decided is in their interest.

But now that the withdrawal is going forward, I thought it behooved me to discuss the risks and likely downsides of the decision. Just as in 2002 I berated supporters of the Iraq war for not taking seriously the arguments of those who predicted dire consequences (many though not all of which have transpired, and some of which have been worse than predicted by opponents of the war), I think it's appropriate for supporters of the withdrawal from Gaza to reckon with the likely negative consequences.

There are five, I think, of importance. These are not in order of importance.

1. Hamas will gain strength relative to Fatah. This seems very likely. Hamas is growing in popularity in Gaza, and can claim to have pushed Israel out. And a Hamas takeover of Gaza is not a good thing; Hamas is a violent terrorist group dedicated to the destruction of Israel (and is, incidentally, closely connected with the Islamists who would seize power in Egypt if they could). But Israel, to a considerable extent, created Hamas by empowering Fatah through Oslo. Israel thought Arafat would be "their thug" and take care of Hamas for them. Instead, Arafat's manifest corruption and utter failure to produce anything positive for Palestinians has done more than anything to generate support for Hamas. If Israel remains in Gaza, Hamas will only gain strength. If Israel leaves Gaza, Hamas will likely take power. This doesn't strike me as a decisive point against withdrawal.

2. Terrorism will increase. Yes, it will. The rockets that now fall on Gush Katif will now fall on Ashkelon. The Egyptians will do little if anything to prevent weapons smuggling into Gaza, so the terrorists will have easier access to arms. And Gaza's port will be opened, making import of more sophisticated arms more feasible. Finally, the Palestinian Arabs will feel the wind at their backs, the Israelis having been driven out. The simplest answer to this point is this: nothing prevents Israel from continuing to fight a war with Gaza, simply because the settlements have been dismantled, just as nothing prevents Israel from retaliating against Hezbollah attacks from Lebanon simply because Israel withdrew. Depending on how pragmatic the Gazans are, we might see an upsurge of terror from Gaza (if they are less pragmatic) or an upsurge in terror from Judea and Samaria inspired by the success in Gaza (if the Gazans are more pragmatic). Regardless, I think it's hard to argue that Israel's deterrent won't be weakened by the appearance of having fled under fire, but I also think it's not true that Israel's offensive and defensive options in the event of war have been meaningfully narrowed by the withdrawal from Gaza. I've said many times that I don't think the IDF is leaving Gaza for good, even if the settlers are. Right now, the settlers are one of the things making it hard for the IDF to be effective, so that's not an argument for them to stay.

3. Israel will come under diplomatic pressure to take the "next step" by withdrawing from Judea and Samaria. This will definitely happen. And Israel will, properly, respond by doing what is in its national interest. I believe this includes withdrawing from the bulk of Judea and Samaria, which I think Sharon or his successor will plan to do after the next election (to better establish popular support) and after establishing that Israel's deterrent has not been eroded (that is to say: if widespread violence erupts after the Gaza withdrawal, then the next phase could take many years, while if violence is limited then the next phase could happen more quickly). But the "world community" is not going to be solicitous of Israel's deterrent, and will push heavily for the next "logical" step. I don't have a good answer to this; I actually think net-net the diplomatic cost of withdrawal will outweigh any diplomatic benefit, on the first-principles ground that no good deed goes unpunished. But be that as it may: this should not be decisive, as Israel can perfectly well resist such pressure, even if it comes from the United States.

4. The Palestinians will refuse to "accept" a state. This is very likely, and far more worrisome than most people realize. Israel needs to get out of Gaza for the same reason that Israel needs a two-state solution - because the alternative is a one-state "solution" that abolishes the Jewish state. As has been abundantly clear from the beginning of Oslo, a one-state "solution" was what Arafat wanted and that is what his heirs want. The Palestinian Arabs are going to do everything they can to make separation impossible; they will not be demanding that Israel get out but that Israel remain "involved" with the Palestinian Authority's operations in every way possible. This is a real danger for Israel, since the major reason to withdraw from Gaza is to begin establishing a border within which the Jewish State can define and defend itself. Ehud Ya'ari articulates this point better than I can. I don't have a good answer to this problem. My only comment is that this is one of the reasons the Palestinians are likely to win the next phase of the diplomatic war - because Israel is going to be seen as "abandoning its responsibilities" as it does what it can to cut ties with Gaza.

5. The Likud will collapse. Sharon has maintained tenuous control over his party while steering it in a direction completely opposed to its founding ideology. Sharon has, effectively, inherited the mantle of David Ben-Gurion, with the Gaza withdrawal as the contemporary incarnation of the sinking of the Altalena. Those who remain faithful to the Likud's original ideology - or who embrace more dangerous and alarming right-wing ideologies like the "Jewish Leadership" faction - are now looking for a home. I think it is very unlikely, but not impossible, that they will succeed in taking over Likud. It strikes me as much more likely that the Likud will split, and that Netanyahu, Sharansky, Landau and the rest of the opposition to the withdrawal will wind up leading a large faction out to form a new party. If Likud is taken over by its right-wing faction, then Israeli politics will be dangerously polarized. If Likud splits, then Israel will have no governing party, as Labor is still not trusted with the reins of power, and it will be very difficult in such circumstances for Israel to make any kind of real policy decisions. This is a real risk, but my own suspicion is that the Likud will hold together, and remain Israel's governing party for a good ways into the future, simply because (a) peace is not at hand, and the Israeli people no longer trust Labor to lead them in wartime; (b) a substantial majority of Israelis favors getting out of the bulk of the territories, and therefore won't defect to the right; and (c) as the various populist "constituency" parties of Israel have begun to lose steam (due to changes in Israeli electoral law, the "fall" of Shas leader Arieh Deri, and the return of wartime voting patterns) the Likud's natural electoral base has grown. Medium-term, I think Likud has serious problems - no obvious successor to Sharon, a massive corruption problem, a contradictory collection of impulses (I won't dignify them by calling them principles) on economic matters, etc. But short-term I suspect they'll hold it together. And no one should doubt that Likud holding it together is a precondition to executing any additional withdrawals.

What can America do to help? Not much. This is Israel's problem. We can offer them some diplomatic support if the going gets tough, but we can't fight their wars for them, nor can we make peace for them. That's something Israelis forgot for a while back in the 1990s (and Bill Clinton encouraged them to forget it), but I don't think they'll forget again soon. (American Jews, on the other hand, may still need to learn this lesson.) What we could do to make things worse is invest too much energy and hope in this batch of Palestinian leaders. That's a mistake Israel has learned not to repeat, but I'm not sure America's leadership class has learned it as well.