The Gaza mistake
The tenth anniversary of Israel’s retreat from Gaza has occasioned a number of interesting commentaries. Perhaps the most innovative comes from Shmuel Rosner, of Haaretz and the Los Angeles Jewish Journal, who views the withdrawal as a kind of triumph for Zionism, surprisingly enough.
We should “rejoice” over the fact that Israel “chose” on its own to leave Gaza, Rosner contends. “We took our fate in our own hands...The Jews were not evicted... We were not driven out.” He is alluding to the classic Zionist concept of Jews taking their fate into their own hands by creating a Jewish state, instead of always having their fate determined by the various other countries in which they lived.
Rosner’s argument is certainly an innovative way of trying to see some good in a withdrawal that most Israelis now think was bad. But Rosner is absolutely mistaken.
The Gaza withdrawal decision was not made in some kind of vacuum. The Israeli government did not wake up one day and decide, on its own, that the time had come to leave Gaza.
The decision to withdraw came in response to decades of international pressure and frequent Palestinian Arab terrorism—not to mention relentless lobbying by the Jewish “peace” movement.
Remember? Peace Now demonstrators and snarky New York Times op-ed columnists insisted that the Palestinians do not want to destroy Israel, they just want to govern their own territory. Get out of Gaza and there will be peace, they declared. “Territories for peace” was their rallying cry, their sound byte, their bumper sticker (literally).
And don’t forget the “demographic argument.” We heard that one only about a million times. If Israel did not withdraw from Gaza, it would soon have an Arab majority or become an apartheid state, the Jewish left and the U.S. State Department darkly warned.
That argument never made sense. It was never a choice between making Gazans into Israeli voters or creating an Israeli version of South Africa. There was always a third choice—the status quo. Let them govern their own affairs and vote in their own elections, while keeping an Israeli security presence to combat the terrorists. Yitzhak Rabin went with an expanded version of the status quo—granting self-rule in Gaza as well as the parts of Judea-Samaria where 98 percent of the Arabs reside. They vote, but in their own elections. They have self-rule, but without the dangers (to Israel) of sovereignty.
But that wasn’t enough. The international community and the Jewish left kept demanding a complete Israeli withdrawal. And the Palestinians in Gaza kept up their terrorism. It was this combination of pressure, lobbying, and murder that made Israel’s administration of the area politically and militarily difficult, and resulted in Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s decision to withdraw. It was hardly a voluntary choice.
Why was Israel in Gaza in the first place? Not because it enjoyed governing a large Palestinian population. It was there for two reasons: because Gaza is situated between Israel and Egypt, and thus was strategically important in the Arab-Israeli wars; and because the Arabs used it as a launching pad for terrorism, and the only way to effectively combat the terrorists was to have troops there. (It also happens to be a fact that Gaza has deep Jewish roots, going all the way back to biblical times but that is a separate issue.)
No, the Gaza withdrawal was not genuinely voluntary, and it is nothing to rejoice over. It was a case of Israel surrendering to multiple sources of pressure, rather than adhering to its strategic and security needs. The result? The rise of a de facto Hamas terrorist state, thousands of rockets striking Israel’s cities, and no sign of that peace which the Jewish left was so sure would follow Israel’s retreat.
Benyamin Korn, the former executive editor of the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent and the Miami Jewish Tribune, is chairman of the Philadelphia Religious Zionists.