I think there are two main reasons: First, living in Israel it's hard to escape from Israeli politics. On my blog I'd rather explore less pressing topics - or at least those, like American politics, which don't surround me daily. (In general, over the last year-plus I've come to regard politics substantially as a form of entertainment, a spectator sport not to be taken too seriously. One of these days I'll blog about that.)
Second, others have their fingers closer to the pulse of Israeli politics and can often express what I'm thinking better than I do. Some of the best writing about Israel's predicament today comes from Jerusalem Post columnists. I highly recommend Evelyn Gordon, Caroline Glick, Barry Rubin and Sarah Honig. Amotz Asa-el and Saul Singer are also well worth reading. Though, to be honest, I spend less and less time with the newspapers these days.
Yet today promises to be a historic day for Israel. Today, the Knesset is set to approve Sharon's "disengagement" plan from Gaza and part of northern Samaria. For the first time ever, the State of Israel will vote to evacuate areas of the historic Land of Israel of their Jewish communities, totalling some 8,500 residents. Such an event deserves commentary.
First, let me emphasize what this plan will not achieve:
- It will not advance Israel towards peace. Not even its proponents claim it will. This is a unilateral, non-negotiated project (at least with regards to the Palestinian Arabs. Israel has apparently had discussions with the US and Egypt).
- It will not win Israel any diplomatic concessions from its Arab neighbors, such as recognition or trade.
- It will not put an end to Israeli military action in Gaza. Gaza will remain a military threat in several realms, including potential terrorist action by land, air or sea. Israeli forces will need to operate in Gaza to foil such activities as become known to us, whether or not our civilians or troops are permanently based there. Needless to say, this will be more difficult without a presence on the ground. (This point is all the more true for northern Samaria.)
- It will not earn Israel sympathy from overseas. Europe will not start loving us and the UN will not stop condemning us. Their reaction will not be "Well done!" but "What took you so long?"
- It will not ease the diplomatic pressure for further Israeli concessions. Israel will still be blamed for occupying the rest of the "West Bank", including Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights. We will be accused of holding Gaza under seige by controlling access to it by land, sea and air and cutting it off from the outside world. We will be condemned for continuing attempts to defend ourselves, including building the security fence. We may win some American acceptance of our long-term need to retain the largest settlement blocs, but it is questionable if even that achievement is diplomatically sustainable over the long term. In short, the expectation that disengagement will bring even temporary respite is an illusion.
- It will not stop the daily flow of Palestinian laborers from Gaza into Israel. The plan provides that Palestinians will continue to work in Israel, security permitting.
- It will not significantly reduce Israel's exposure to terrorism. Maximum, withdrawing settlements from Gaza makes it harder for Gaza-based terrorists to target Jews. But most of the terrorism Israel has suffered in recent years has not been based in Gaza anyway. There may be advantages to be gained in troop redeployments from Gaza to other fronts; those are legitimate security considerations. But the fundamentals of the situation will remain unchanged.
- It will not make Israel "more democratic". It is not more democratic to rule over 2.3 million stateless Palestinians than over 3.6 million (CIA estimates). It is not more democratic if Jews are 51% of the population between the Jordan and the Mediterranean than if they are 49%.
- It will not solve the demographic problem. More than 20% of Israel's electorate is not Jewish; this will not be affected by withdrawals from Palestinian-claimed areas. Whether 8,500 Jews live on one side or the other of the Gaza security fence does not change the demographics of the State of Israel.
Next, what the disengagement plan will likely achieve:
- By taking Gaza off the table for good, pressure for Israeli concessions will shift to the remaining outstanding disputes. The intensity of the pressure will not lessen, but it will be focused solely on issues where Israel can less afford to compromise.
- Israel's bargaining position in any conceivable future negotiations will be compromised, having already forfeited some of our assets unilaterally.
- The Palestinian terror groups - indeed, Muslim terrorists the world over - will be encouraged by what they will perceive as the success of their war against Israel. We will have demonstrated to them that if they remain stubbornly intransigent and continue to attack us, we will eventually give them what they demand, without even requiring them to sit down and negotiate, let alone lay down their arms or even compromise their positions. If they can win the evacuation of Jews from Gaza without negotiations, without even ending their terror assault, why should they ever negotiate with Israel in the future?
- Our claim to any of the remaining disputed territory will be undermined. Unilaterally withdrawing from Gaza, and especially from part of Samaria, will raise expectations around the world that this is the start of a process to culminate eventually with a full withdrawal from all disputed territory. By doing this unilaterally, we are implicitly withdrawing our very claim to the land; otherwise, we would at least demand something in return for it. Again; this is particularly evident regarding northern Samaria - how does that piece of land differ from the rest of Samaria, Judea, or even Jerusalem?
- Pointing to the "demographic threat" as a motive for disengagement will further entrench Palestinian intransigence. By all demographic projections, the Arab percentage of the population of the Land of Israel will only increase over time, since they have more children than we do. If we withdraw from territory in response, we further convince the Arabs that they are destined to defeat us eventually through sheer numbers. This is why they've recently started talking about a "one-state solution" - they know it would mean an Arab state with a Jewish minority. Why should they negotiate with us today when their demographic position will be even stronger tomorrow? Someone who knows his bargaining position will only improve has no incentive to compromise.
- In exchange for this extensive list of benefits to Israel (note sarcasm), thousands of Israeli families will be forced out of their homes at the hands of their brethren. Businesses will close, jobs will disappear, communities will be scattered. Synagogues and Jewish cemeteries will be relocated. The expense to Israel, both financially and emotionally, will be colossal.
And for what?