Ehud Olmert's Kadima party ran on a platform of disengagement in the West Bank, which is evidently the legacy of Ariel Sharon. The plan was to evacuate isolated settlements and consolidate large settlement blocs, setting the Israeli border at "internationally recognized" frontiers unilaterally, in the absence of a Palestinian partner. The status of the remainder of the West Bank, which would no longer have any Israeli settlements, was never clarified. It was not stated whether or not the IDF would withdraw from these areas.
The plan was attractive to most Israelis because it promised to rid Israel of the burden of occupation despite the stalled peace talks, solve the security problem presented by ruling over large numbers of Palestinian Arabs, and gain for Israel, for the first time, internationally recognized borders.
The plan may require some rethinking, for a number of reasons:
The election of the Hamas to leadership of the Palestinian authority poses new challenges and uncertainties.
The Gaza disengagement has not brought the peace and quiet that was promised. Qassam rockets rain down on towns in southern Israel with disturbing regularity. The IDF seems to have no solution for these. At present it has a strategy of apparently ineffective and brutal retaliation, which is earning the opprobrium of various humanitarian organizations. As an alternative, security experts are considering an invasion and reoocupation of part of Gaza, which will earn even more opprobrium, and expose soldiers to attacks within Gaza.
The Gaza strip has been effectively sealed off from the world to prevent infiltration of weapons. This is causing impoverishment and humanitarian problems that are radicalizing the inhabitants of Gaza, a situation that is bound to have security repercussions in the near future.
No country has recognized explicitly that Israeli responsibility for Gaza, as an occupying power, is terminated.
The latest to join the crowd of skeptics regarding the efficacy of disengagement is Sever Plocker. Plocker is not known as a Greater Israel advocate. He earned a reputation as an astute commentator on economics as a columnist for the long defunct Al Hamishmar
newspaper of the dovish Mapam party, and is now an equally perceptive commentator on economic and political affairs, as well as Deputy Editor at Yediot Ahronot.
. Plocker writes
Almost nothing has materialized in the way pullout supporters promised us would happen.
The Gaza Strip did not calm down and the Palestinian Authority did not take matters there into its own hands in order to establish the Middle Eastern Hong Kong. Gaza is a no-man's land, the country of nobody. The Strip lacks a civilian regime, no currency, no enforcement of law and order, and most of the system tasked with providing the population with basic services is paralyzed, aside from the one run by the United Nations.
Armed gangs rule the narrow, derelict refugee camp streets. The only manufacturing activity is the industry of flying iron tubes that are launched to short distances. The point of launching them at Israel is unclear to anyone, including the launching cells themselves.
The handing over of the border crossing with Egypt to Palestinian control also failed to lead to the expected results. The border is rather porous, checks are inadequate, and smuggling is rampant. There too, the Palestinians failed to implement their sovereignty.
Egyptian Border Guard troops received one kind of order: Preventing at any price the turning of Gaza into part of Egypt. They're carrying out this job, but nothing beyond.
The Palestinian Authority did not use the months between Israel's withdrawal and the general elections in order to reinforce its hold among Gaza residents...
Fatah's armed spine was broken, some of the senior security officials left to the Gulf, and others quickly changed their political loyalty. For a while Gaza became Hamas land. Now, it's not even that: In fact, even the official Hamas has given up in the face of Gaza's collapse and left it to face its destiny.
And Israel, even though it removed its army and settlements, and even though it closed down the crossings to the movement of goods, is still stuck with Gaza as if it was a huge bone in its throat.
We didn't disengage: What is happening, and particularly what is not happening, in Gaza, continues to haunt us.
The responsibly over it, in the eyes of the world and in some ways in our own view, has not been lifted from Israel...
Even the removal of the settlements is no longer perceived as such a huge victory by the Palestinian people. The thousands of good jobs at the settlements have disappeared, and instead unemployment and poverty grew. The ruins of Israeli communities were not cleared, even though the Israeli government pledged (or rather, was forced to) pay for the clearing. It's unclear who the guilty party is, the PA, or Egypt, or International groups.
Did Israel gain from the disengagement? Less than what its planners hoped. The United States didn't grant us even one cent in economic aid...
For a short while, Israel enjoyed international sympathy, with the pullout perceived as the start of a large-scale unilateral withdrawal. Yet the sympathy is slowly evaporating, particularly following Ariel Sharon's illness.
Would Israel really be able to unilaterally set its border vis-ŗ-vis the Palestinians, a border they or the world would not accept? Would Israel be able to "converge" into "settlement blocs" in the West Bank and annex them? Who would finance such a move, which would cost tens of billions of shekels and not be perceived as a solution to anything? Who would prevent a tragic rift among the people? And what would be left behind in Palestine following a pretend-Israeli-withdrawal coupled with pretend-annexation?
These are all good questions, especially as not even the United States has indicated it would definitely recognize the new borders of Israel, or absolve Israel from responsibility in the West Bank. More especially since the United States was adamantly opposed to resettling any of the Gaza evacuees in any West Bank settlements. Why would anyone think that the US or any other foreign government would support expansion of Ma'aleh Edumim or Ariel, even if it is prettified as "consolidation?"
On the other hand, Plocker doesn't tell us that the alternatives to some sort of disengagement are all even less attractive. Is Israel going to continue to subsidize these isolated settlements and pay the expense of defending them indefinitely? Can we maintain the elaborate and onerous system of checkpoints and keep the Palestinian Arabs of the West Bank in what is effectively a big maximum security prison indefinitely? Is it realistic, alternatively, to believe we will be able to conclude a peace agreement or other modus vivendi with the Hamas? Even if the Hamas were to want to conclude such an agreement, could they enforce the peace? Plocker himself tells us they cannot keep the peace in Gaza. Other alternatives that have been proposed are not realistic. They seem to consist of wishing the Palestinian Arabs away or making believe they aren't there at all. There might be a better solution out there somewhere, but nobody has proposed one that is do-able.
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