The nightmare stories of the Likud are well known. After all, they promised Katyusha rockets from Gaza as well. For a year, Gaza has been largely under the rule of the Palestinian Authority. There has not been a single Katyusha rocket. Nor will there be any Katyushas. — Yitzhak Rabin, Radio Interview, July 24, 1995
I am firmly convinced and truly believe that this disengagement … will be appreciated by those near and far, reduce animosity, break through boycotts and sieges and advance us along the path of peace with the Palestinians and our other neighbors. — Ariel Sharon, Knesset address, Oct. 25, 2004
These two excerpts, from addresses made almost a decade apart, indicate just how grievously the Israeli public has been led astray for years by its elected leaders.
Distressing record of misjudgment
Indeed, there is a distressing record of documented evidence, underscoring the gross misjudgment of the senior echelons of Israel’s leadership on the “Palestinian” issue, in general, and the Gaza one, in particular.
Sadly, time and again, we have elected leaders seemingly willing to jettison every shred of prudence and principle to preserve their positions of power and privilege, even if it meant defending the most absurd policies; even if the ruinous consequences of their actions were not only eminently foreseeable, but explicitly foreseen.
The introductory citations by two past prime ministers, both with rich military backgrounds, are startling in the magnitude of their mistaken assessments.
Indeed, Rabin’s disdainful dismissal of clear and present dangers, and Sharon’s massively misguided prognosis of the political benefits that would ensue from abandoning Gaza, can hardly instill confidence in Israelis as to the competence of their leaders.
No less troubling is the display of inane imbecility seen in the debate that followed Sharon’s previously cited Knesset address, in which the disengagement plan was approved.
Indeed, some of the more embarrassingly erroneous assessments were exposed in a Channel 2 review of the vote, four years later, during “Operation Cast Lead.” It recorded for posterity the “pearls of wisdom” of many of the nation’s then-senior politicians, who, all at some stage, have held ministerial positions in the Israeli government.
The English-language transcript, in order of appearance, reads as follows:
Meir Sheetrit (at the time Likud transportation minister), with a marked tone of disdain: “Some claim that there will be a danger, a danger in retreating [from Gaza], a danger to the Negev communities. I have never heard such a ridiculous claim.”
Ran Cohen (Meretz, previously served as minister of industry and trade), in a voice both pompous and patronizing: “The disengagement is good for security. Right-wing representatives warned about Kassam rockets flying from here and from there. I’m telling you, if you really care about both Sderot and Ashkelon, both of them … we have to understand that if we don’t pull out of the Gaza Strip, in two to three years or even a year, the range will reach Ashkelon.”
(To Cohen’s “credit,” as someone belonging to the left, his position did not comprise betrayal of his political credo, something the Likud Knesset members could not claim. His words do, however, reveal much about the “sagacity” of the Israeli left.)
Orit Noked (subsequently agriculture minister for Ehud Barak’s Independence Party): “I want to believe that as a result of the evacuation of Gaza, the moderate Palestinian factions will be strengthened. Terrorism will be reduced. [Yeah, right—MS.]”
Shaul Mofaz (then Likud defense minister): “I am convinced the [disengagement] process is necessary and correct. It will provide more security for the citizens of Israel, and will reduce the burden on the security forces. It will extricate the situation from its [current] stagnation and will open the door to a different reality, which will allow talks towards achieving coexistence. [And we all know how splendidly that worked out—MS. ]”
Ophir Paz-Pines (served as interior minister for Labor): “Before I arrived at the Knesset, I took my son to Tel Hashomer [the Israel Defense Forces induction center]. He received his call-up papers. I wish to thank Ariel Sharon, because he has given me and my wife hope that my son, when recruited, will not have to serve the people of Israel in the Gaza Strip.”
(Ironically, at the time of the Channel 2 broadcast, Paz-Pines’s son was in fact in Gaza, taking part in “Operation Cast Lead,” despite his father’s heartfelt thanks to Sharon.)
The program even caught Benjamin Netanyahu in a moment he would perhaps like to forget. For although Netanyahu is perceived as opposing the disengagement (and, in fact, often expressed his reservations, to his credit eventually resigning because of it), the Channel 2 camera tells a different story, or at least records a temporary lapse.
In an exchange from the Knesset floor, with the National Union’s MK Uri Ariel at the podium, Netanyahu, then finance minister, declared: “Let there be no mistake. In a referendum, I will support the disengagement plan.”
The final speaker featured was Yuval Steinitz (Likud, then chairman of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, later Finance and Energy Minister). He stated: “I think this plan, given these restrictions, is appropriate. It’s not an easy plan, but it has a good chance of improving our geostrategic position.”
Then came the vote and the disengagement plan was approved by a substantial margin, 67-45. All the Likud ministers, including Netanyahu, supported it, despite being elected on a platform that urged voters to oppose an almost identical proposal, put forward by Labor chairman, Amram Mitzna, who was overwhelmingly defeated at the polls.
The myth of managing the conflict
It is with this dismal history in mind that the Israel public should evaluate the declarations and decisions of its government in the present and the future. This is true with regard to what appears to be the underlying rationale of the current policy—or lack thereof—of “managing the conflict.”
While in some conflictual contexts, “conflict management” may have some merit, this is certainly not so in the case of the conflict with the Palestinian Arabs in general, and in the case of Gaza in particular.
After all, the underlying rationale of conflict management is the belief that, at some unspecified time, the Palestinian-Arabs of Gaza will, for some unspecified reason, and by some unspecified process, morph into something they have not been for more than 100 years—and show no signs of morphing into in the foreseeable future. (Indeed, it would be intriguing to discover just how “conflict management” enthusiasts envision dealing with Gaza in 20 years time if no such miraculous metamorphosis occurs.)
With its threadbare intellectual underpinnings, it is little wonder that “conflict management” (aka “kicking the can down the road”) has been a monumental failure. In this regard, see: “Mowing the lawn” won’t cut it and “Conflict management”: The collapse of a concept.
After all, while Israel has been “managing the conflict” with Hamas in Gaza (and even more so with Hezbollah in the North), we have seen what was essentially a terrorist nuisance evolve into a strategic threat of ominous proportions. Perversely, after every military clash with Israel, designed to debilitate their military capabilities, the terror organizations have eventually emerged with those capabilities greatly enhanced.
Indeed, if when Israel abandoned the Gaza Strip in 2005, anyone had warned that Hamas, and its more radical affiliates, would acquire the offensive arsenal they have in fact acquired, they would have doubtlessly been dismissed as unrealistic scare-mongers.
Gaza: Disaster foretold
But, of course, what has unfolded in Gaza should not really surprise anyone. Indeed, as mentioned previously, for anyone willing to face up to the inclement realities, it was not only entirely foreseeable, but easily foreseen.
Indeed, as I have pointed out before, as early as 1992—more than a quarter century ago and well over a decade before Israel pulled out of Gaza in 2005—I published, in both English and Hebrew, a detailed prognosis, predicting precisely what the security, socio-economic and diplomatic ramifications of Israel abandoning Gaza would be. Sadly, my ominous forecast proved accurate in almost every detail.
But perhaps more significantly—and certainly, more disturbingly—in the same year (1992), Sharon himself, the driving force behind the 2005 disengagement, wrote a similar article himself in the Hebrew daily Maariv, explicitly elaborating the perils of the very policy he later so resolutely endorsed and enforced.
In the article, Sharon recounts how the proactive measures undertaken in Judea-Samaria in the 1970s quelled the terrorist violence there. He then goes on to write: “These experiences prove not only that terror can be eradicated, but also the principle by which this is to be accomplished. It is imperative not to flee from terrorism, and it will be smitten only if we control its bases and it engage its gangs on their own territory.”
Disaster foretold (cont.)
He then turned to Gaza: “And Gaza is the prime example. The populated sections of Gaza had become in 1970 an area controlled by the terrorist organizations because the Defense Minister [Yitzhak Rabin] decided to evacuate the towns, villages and refugee camps. Fortunately we returned to the correct policy before the Gaza Strip exploded like festering abscess, which could have poisoned the entire surroundings. But because of mistaken policy—of fleeing from the population centers and refraining from eliminating the danger in its early formative stages—we had to conduct a much more difficult and lengthy campaign.”
Sharon warned against repeating the same mistake: “If now we once more fall into the same mistake, the price will be much heavier than before—because now the terrorists and the means they have at their disposal are different and more dangerous than before.”
He accurately predicted: “If we abandon Gaza, it will be taken over by the terror organizations. Palestine Square [in Gaza] will become a launching site for rockets aimed at … Ashkelon.”
He then asked: “ … what will the IDF do then? Will it once again recapture Gaza? Shell and bomb the towns and refugee camps in the Gaza Strip?”
Finally, noting that, “We all aspire to a political settlement … ,” he prescribed, “… but we not will reach it by way of surrender but only after crushing terrorism and we can only eliminate terrorism if we control its bases, and fight its gangs there and destroy them.”
Time for a paradigm shift: Evacuation-compensation for Gazan Arabs
Albert Einstein was attributed as saying, “We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.”
The problem of Gaza was indisputably created by the patently ill-advised attempt to foist self-governance on the Gaza Strip. Accordingly, it is not a problem that can be solved by persisting with the same level of thinking that created it—i.e., by persisting with the attempt to foist self-governance on the hapless enclave and its inhabitants.
Accordingly, then, that paradigm must be jettisoned and replaced by another.
As recent history has demonstrated, Israel can only determine who rules Gaza if it rules it itself. For even if Hamas is toppled, there is no guarantee that its successor will be any less irksome. Moreover, if it is significantly weakened, there is no guarantee that it would be able to withstand challenges from more radical rivals, especially given the involvement of Iran in the region and the presence of jihadi forces in adjacent Sinai.
However, the only way for Israel to rule Gaza without imposing that rule on “another people” (i.e., the Gazan Arabs) is to remove that “other people” from Gaza. The only non-violent way to remove that “other people” is by installing a robust system of material incentives for leaving and disincentives for staying.
Accordingly, the current paradigm, envisioning a two-state/land-for-peace outcome, must be replaced by one entailing incentivized emigration for the Gazan population, which will allow the non-belligerent civilians to find a more prosperous and secure life in third-party countries.
None of this is “rocket science,” and one can only wonder why the Israeli leadership has not embraced it—instead of pursuing the two-state pipe-dream which they knew, or should have known, was predestined for disaster. The fact that the incentivized immigration paradigm may be immensely difficult to implement does not make it any less imperative. Indeed, the alternative of not doing so is far worse.
It is, after all, the only level of thinking that can solve the problem, in which two-state/land-for-peace thinking has tragically embroiled both Jew and Arab for more than a quarter-century. The sooner Israeli policy-makers come to terms with this grim reality, the better.
Martin Sherman is the founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies.
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