In early February 2004, when I realized that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was indeed serious about pulling Israeli troops and civilians from Gaza, I warned against this on the grounds that "Palestinian Arabs will see a pullback signaling that Israel is weak, appeasing, and vulnerable. Far from showing gratitude, they will make greater demands." From time to time, I will here assess that prediction by providing quotes in one direction or the other – gratitude or greater demands.
Mohammed Dahlan, formerly in charge of Palestinian Authority security, immediately concurred with this view: "The withdrawal from the Gaza Strip is a victory for the Palestinian people's will. … The Israeli withdrawal is a victory for us and we must celebrate it. Hizbullah turned Israel's retreat from southern Lebanon into victory. The withdrawal of the Israeli army from the Gaza Strip and some West Bank settlements is one of the most important achievements of the intifada. The withdrawal should take place without an agreement and with no political gains [for Israel]. Sharon has decided unilaterally to withdraw, and this is cause for celebration." (Feb. 21, 2004)
Sami Abu Zuhri, the Hamas spokesman: "All the Israeli statements about a withdrawal from Gaza Strip are due to the Palestinian resistance operations. We are completely confident that as the Hezbollah Organization managed to kick the Israeli forces out of Lebanon, the Palestinian resistance will kick them out of the Palestinian territories, and we will continue our resistance." (June 28, 2004)
Avi Yisacharov of Voice of Israel Radio, joint author (with Amos Harel of Ha'aretz) of a forthcoming book, The Seventh War, a study of the Oslo War that erupted in September 2000 based in large part on interviews with Hamas leaders, yesterday said on Israel's Channel One Television that Hamas leaders tell him: "It was the Israeli left and your peace camp that ultimately encouraged us to continue with our suicide attacks." He then paraphrased their viewpoint in more detail, ending up with the Gaza withdrawal:
We tried, through our attacks, to create fragmentation and dissention within Israeli society, and the left-wing's reaction was proof that this was indeed the right approach. When we heard about the "Pilots' Letter" [from 27 Israel Air Force pilots who refused to take part in bombing missions against Palestinian terrorists], and the elite soldiers who refused to serve [in the West Bank and Gaza], it strengthened those in our camp who promoted the idea of suicide bombers.... The disengagement from Gaza is proof of our victory. The fact is that Sharon is willing to withdraw unconditionally, and is essentially raising a white flag and retreating. Only by force can we teach the other side what to do.
(September 10, 2004)
Ahmed al-Bahar, a top Hamas leader in Gaza: As reported by Khaled Abu Toameh in the Jerusalem Post, Bahar sees Israel's decision to withdraw from Gaza as a great victory for the Palestinians.
The painful and qualitative blows which the Palestinian resistance dealt to the Jews and their soldiers over the past four-and-a-half years led to the decision to withdraw from the Gaza Strip. The suicide attacks and the [booby-trapped] underground tunnels have taken their tolls on the Jews, both psychologically and economically, in addition to the high number of casualties. … All indications show that since its establishment, Israel has never been in such a state of retreat and weakness as it is today following more than four years of the intifada. Hamas's heroic attacks exposed the weakness and volatility of the impotent Zionist security establishment. The withdrawal marks the end of the Zionist dream and is a sign of the moral and psychological decline of the Jewish state. We believe that the resistance is the only way to pressure the Jews.
(March 24, 2005)
Mahmoud al-Zahar, Hamas's senior leader in Gaza:
Very simply, nobody can deny that if Israel is going to leave the Gaza Strip and part of the West Bank, that was because of the intifada, because of the armed struggle, because of the big sacrifices of Hamas for this goal. It was not because of negotiations, or the goodwill of Israel, or the Americans or Europeans."
(April 14, 2005)
Israel National News has collected quite a selection of quotes by Israeli leftists worried about the Palestinian reaction to Sharon's planned Gaza withdrawal. Here are some of them.
Yossi Beilin, former justice minister and chairman of the Yahad/Meretz Party:
If the disengagement does not lead to an immediate permanent status arrangement, it will bring a catastrophe upon both Israelis and Palestinians... It is liable to bring a renewal of violence [that] is liable to bring down the moderate Palestinian leadership... There is a concrete danger that following the disengagement, the violence will greatly increase in [Judea and Samaria] in order to achieve the same thing [i.e., withdrawal - ed.] as was achieved in Gaza... A retreat from Gaza with nothing in return and with no agreement will strengthen Hamas.
Shlomo Ben-Ami, former foreign minister and Labor Party:
A unilateral retreat perpetuates Israel's image as a country that runs away under pressure... In Fatah and Hamas, they will assume that they must prepare for their third intifada - this time in [Judea and Samaria]... If we continue these unilateral steps, we will find ourselves establishing an enemy Palestinian state.
Ami Ayalon, former General Security Service chief:
Retreat without getting anything in return is liable to be interpreted by some of the Palestinians as surrender. The plan is likely to strengthen extremist forces in the Palestinians society... There is a high chance that shortly after the disengagement, the violence will be renewed.
Eitan Ben-Eliyahu, former Air Force commander:
There is no chance that the disengagement will guarantee long-term stability. The plan as it stands can only lead to a renewal of terrorism... If there is no quick progress from the disengagement to a comprehensive retreat, [this will lead to] the one-state solution - bringing to an end of the Zionist dream, and the Jewish State will be lost.
(June 14, 2005)
Sami Abu Zuhri, the Hamas spokesman, again: "It's not a withdrawal, it's an escape." To which the Jerusalem Report reporter, Isabel Kershner, adds that
Opinion polls conducted by [Khalil] Shikaki's Palestinian Center for Policy Survey and Resarch over the past two years have consistently indicated that three-quarters of the Palestinian public views the disengagement as a victory for violence.
(June 27, 2005)
Mohammed Dahlan again, now the PA's man dealing with the Israeli withdrawal, is paraphrased saying that the Palestinians "would deal with any Israeli withdrawal from any piece of land as a victory for the will of the Palestinians." (June 29, 2005)
Mahmoud al-Zahar again:
We won't disrupt the Israeli withdrawal, let them get out of here and go to hell. The problem will be afterwards, because in the hearts of every Palestinian, the liberation of Gaza must be accompanied by the liberation of Jerusalem and the West Bank.
(July 11, 2005)
Mahmoud al Zahar yet again:
They are going to leave [Gaza], not because this is a gift from Israel. This is because they failed to confront our people, so don't describe their withdrawal from here...as a gift for the Palestinians. This is because they are defeated here.
The change in view of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon – who two years ago earlier described Netzarim as a vital part of Israel's national security and now is forcefully evacuating it – is due to the Palestinians' "effective armed struggle." (July 14, 2005)
Danny Rubinstein, long-time Arab affairs writer for the left-wing Ha'aretz newspaper, has done some important rethinking of the Gaza withdrawal for the same reasons I stress:
a majority of the Palestinian public sees Israel's decision to withdraw as a sign of the victory of the intifada has long been known. It is hard to argue with this. Years of a peace process and negotiations between the Palestinians and Israeli governments, including Likud governments, have not led to Israeli withdrawal from Gaza. The idea of withdrawal entered the mind of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon only after suicide attacks, Qassam rockets and mortars.
Even if these attacks were not the reason why Sharon came up with the idea of disengagement, the Palestinians are certain that that is the case, and this has reinforced their belief that Israel only understands the language of terror attacks and violence. This belief will now become an absolute certainty - if Israel withdraws unilaterally under fire.
(July 18, 2005)
Survey research of Palestinians living under the Palestinian Authority have to be treated with great caution, but these statistics make sense to me. According to a poll taken on July 13-15, 2005, by the Center for Opinion Polls and Survey at An-Najah National University, Gazans answered the question "Do you believe that the approval of the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip by the Israeli Government and the Knesset came as a result of … ?" this way:
- The pressure caused by the Palestinian resistance: 45.6
- The Security and Economic inexpediency of staying in the Strip: 32.4
- The international pressure on Israel: 16.4
- No opinion/I do not know: 5.6
Comment: Nearly half of Gazans, this says, see terrorism (a.k.a. "resistance") working. Another third are saying the same thing in a more diluted way (things are getting too difficult for Israel), leaving a mere fifth of the population that does not see Gazans as having pushed the Israelis out. (July 18, 2005)
Trudy Rubin, Philadelphia Inquirer columnist, suggests recalling the Lebanon 2000 precedent to understand what is going to follow in Gaza:
A drive around the hilltop villages of Lebanon's south provides a clear and powerful warning: Any Israeli pullback carried out unilaterally - and not as part of a negotiated deal with the Palestinians - will undercut Israel's security and the shaky future of the peace process itself.
Israel withdrew unilaterally from southern Lebanon in 2000 for its own security reasons. But most Lebanese credit the Shiite Muslim militia, Hezbollah, with driving Israel out. The United States labels Hezbollah a terrorist organization, yet Hezbollah now controls the south. It is viewed throughout the region as the one armed Arab group that has defeated Israel - by suicide bombers and guns. …
The prestige of "expelling" Israel has also made Hezbollah's political wing one of the most powerful players in Lebanese politics, more potent than Amal, the more moderate Shiite party. Hezbollah will soon get seats in the new cabinet.
What are the lessons from this South Lebanon tale for the Gaza pullout? A pullout from Gaza that is carried out unilaterally and not as part of broader peace negotiations will backfire. It will lead Palestinians to the conclusion that the best way to end Israeli occupation is not by negotiations - but by force.
Comment: In the over twenty years that Trudy Rubin has covered the Middle East, I don't remember ever agreeing with her until today. That she sees the negative impact of the Israeli retreat on Palestinians is a remarkable thing. (July 20, 2005)
Ismail Haniya, a Hamas leader in Gaza: "Hamas sees in the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza Strip a national achievement by the Palestinian people. It is the fruit of the resistance and steadfastness of the Palestinian people." (July 25, 2005)
Which Palestinian faction gets to claim victory over Israel in Gaza? That's the key question as the withdrawal looms.
The Associated Press reports that the Palestinian Authority and Hamas are preparing for this fight
in print shops, flag factories and back alley sewing workshops. The Palestinian Authority has commissioned tens of thousands of national flags as well as mugs, bumper stickers and posters with the slogan "Today Gaza, tomorrow the West Bank and Jerusalem"—props for planned mass celebrations meant to portray the pullout as an achievement of the Abbas government.
Hamas is striking back, preparing for military-style victory parades. Hamas supporters are sewing thousands of martial uniforms and flags in the group's trademark Islamic green and activists are buying up privately owned jeeps and pickup trucks to lead the marches.
The winner of the competition, AP goes on, "may well be the next ruler of Gaza." Toward this end, the PA
is spending $1.7 million on withdrawal celebrations. It has ordered tens of thousands of Palestinian flags, from small pennants to two-story banners, that are being sewn in small workshops across Gaza. A Gaza City flag shop is sewing about 200,000 Palestinian flags. "They want the whole country to be carrying Palestinian flags," said the owner, Tareq Abu Daya.
For the victory rallies, the government will give away to its supporters 128,000 pairs of blue jeans along with white T-shirts, either with Palestinian flags or pictures of the late Yasser Arafat. Posters, caps, mugs and bumper stickers are being printed with slogans.
Hamas is reduced to having its flags and headbands sewn in private homes and hidden workshops because "the larger factories have been told they would lose government contracts if they make Hamas flags." (Aug. 2, 2005)
Khaled Mashaal, a Hamas leader, told Al-Hayat newspaper that Israel's withdrawal from Gaza marks "the first step on the way to complete liberation" of Palestine (i.e., complete destruction of Israel) and "the beginning of the end for the Zionist program in the region." In contrast to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who intends the Gaza exit "to be the first and last," Mashaal said Hamas sees the withdrawal as the "first step for full liberation and achieving all of our legitimate rights. Today Gaza and tomorrow the West Bank and later every inch of the land." As such, Mashaal considers the withdrawal from Gaza is an "historic turning point in the Arab-Israeli conflict."
Comment: I disagree with Mashaal's near-apocalyptic analysis – Israel still has plenty of fight left in it – but I find it more correct than the woolly hopefulness coming out of officialdom both in Jerusalem and around the world. One can only wonder how the foreign affairs establishment so blithely manages to ignore Palestinian sentiments such as this one. I certainly do not ignore it, but see it as a plan of action for Hamas, the Palestinian Authority, and many others. (Aug. 16, 2005)
Palestinian Media Watch marks the withdrawal with a collection of quotations. The Palestinian Authority claims the Israel retreat as a "great victory for Allah." A Hamas poster states that "Our Koran proves that we were right and your Talmud proves that you were wrong." And which Palestinians will disagree? And who in the chancellories notes this? (Aug. 18, 2005)
In the most aggressive Palestinian statement to date, a video was released today with a statement by a person whom specialists confirm is Mohammed Deif, a Hamas arch-terrorist leader. Addressing the Israelis just after the completion of their withdrawal from Gaza, he said: "You are leaving Gaza today in shame. Today you are leaving hell. But we promise you that tomorrow all Palestine will be hell for you, God willing." He also praised the jihad against Israel and called for attacks to continue until Israel is destroyed.
Comment: It is bad enough to lose a round of war; it is far worse not even to recognize being defeated. (August 27, 2005)
Palestinian Media Watch has an important round-up of the Palestinian interpretation of the withdrawal:
From the Palestinian perspective, most significant is that this unilateral withdrawal by Israel was brought on by the "victory" in the "resistance" - the Palestinian Authority euphemism for terror. Accordingly, the Palestinians have rarely used the Arabic equivalent of Ariel Sharon's term, "disengagement," but rather, refer to Israel's actions with various other words: insikhab, which means either "withdrawal" or "retreat;" tard, meaning "expulsion;" or dakhr and indikhar, which mean both "expulsion" and "defeat."
These expressions are used throughout Palestinian society. Not only are there no meaningful differences among the PA, Hamas and Islamic Jihad terminology but the groups seem to be competing to take credit for the terror that caused Israel to retreat. The political and social conclusions the PA and terrorist groups have drawn from the unilateral withdrawal will have important ramifications for the region's future. Some of these conclusions, which have been stressed repeatedly in the months leading up to and during the evacuation, are:
- Terror ("resistance") has proven itself the most effective tool to force political concessions from Israel
- Terror can work either independently or as part of a cycle with diplomacy: "The gun sows and diplomacy reaps"
- Palestinians see Israel retreating to the 1949 Armistice lines as the complete and unconditional acceptance of PA demands, and as an historical precedent that will be repeated in all other areas of dispute: the West Bank, Jerusalem and refugees
- Terror will be renewed if Israel does not leave the West Bank and Jerusalem and accept PA demands on refugees. This is a uniform message across the political spectrum
The authors of this study, Itamar Marcus and Barbara Crook, then go on the document these four points in detail. (Sept. 1, 2005)
And then, in defiance of expectations, the Boston Globe publishes an article by Thanassis Cambanis, "Some shunning the Palestinian hard stance," that makes quite the opposite claim, that Palestinians do understand the realities of Israeli power.
After his 12-year-old son died in a hail of bullets in 2000, Jamal al-Dura became the public face of Palestinian suffering as the second intifadah began. He traveled across the Arab world, standing as a symbol of perceived Israeli brutality and growing wealthy from the largesse showered upon him. Nearly five years later, however, Dura says he has tired of mouthing the counterproductive mottos of Palestinian hard-liners. Instead, with Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip last month, he has turned to building a grand new home for his eight surviving children and he has forbidden his eldest son from joining any militant movement, at least until he finishes university. "One martyr from this family is enough," Dura, 43, said at his home in Bureij.
He's only the most famous of a minority of Gaza Palestinians who are rejecting the all-encompassing culture of intifadah, jihad, and martyrdom that has turned camps like Bureij and Jabaliya into locomotives of the Palestinian militant factions. These Palestinians believe Gaza has reaped few results from decades of war and militia leadership; now, these disenchanted Palestinians say, it's time to replace calls to arms and total victory over Israel with real improvements for Palestinians, like better education, housing, and jobs.
Cambanis provides some good quotes. "Look at them," said Jamal abu Nasser, 52, the owner of a taxi fleet in Jabaliya, as hundreds of youth wearing Hamas baseball caps and headbands entered the mosque near his business and prepared for a militia rally. "They act like it's some kind of wedding." Abu Nasser calls the Palestinian leaders "corrupt, delusional militants" and states out loud that "We cannot defeat Israel. Jerusalem will never be a Palestinian capital. This is empty talk," Abu Nasser said. "Most people don't understand this reality."
Mohammed Ahmed Moussa, 62, a grocer in Jabaliya, recites the usual blather: "I am happy, but my joy is not complete, because Israel still controls the sea, the sky and the crossings." He goes on, however: "Let's be frank. If Israel didn't want to leave Gaza, no one could have forced them out. Those who claim the rockets and attacks made them leave are kidding themselves."
Comment: It's good to hear such common sense but its importance at this time seems hard to credit. (Sep. 6, 2005)
A Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research poll of 1,369 adults in the West Bank and Gaza, interviewed face-to-face on September 7-9 in 120 randomly selected locations, found that "84% see the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip as victory for Palestinian armed resistance and 40% give Hamas credit for it while 21% give the credit to the Palestinian Authority and 11% give it to Fateh." (Sep. 11, 2005)
Ehud Ya'ari, the well-informed Arab affairs reporter for various Israeli media, makes known a new Hamas and Hizbullah attitude toward the Jewish state, whose territorial contraction they see as signs of in inexorable decline:
Hamas leader Khaled Mashal infused this argument with colorful rhetoric during a "victory speech" in Beirut on August 17, the first day of the evacuation of the settlers of Gush Katif. Israel, he explained, a nation that was constantly committed to territorial expansion and the colonization of newly conquered land from the tip of the Sinai peninsula up to the peaks of Mount Lebanon, has sunk into a shrinking process, divesting itself of the assets it seized and erasing its settlements. According to Mashal, it's a one-way, irreversible trend. "It took time," he declared, "but that is now the direction."
Palestinian history professor Isam Adwan is already doing the calculations for the Islamic Jihad. The Soviet Union, he notes, rose and fell within a single lifetime (1917-1990) and he promises the same fate for Israel. Israel's power reached its peak in 1967 and has been on the wane ever since - a deterioration, Adwan believes, that will lead to its total withering no later than 2022, when the state will be 74 years old, more or less the same age as the Communist empire when it expired. Till then, he says, Israel will exist on vitamin supplements and with the help of its American caregivers.
This prediction elaborates the slogans that Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah often repeats about Israel being like a spider's web, which gets ever thinner the more it spreads, and echoes the prophecies of the late Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, who forecast the year of Israel's demise as 2025.
The implication is that there is no necessity for the Palestinians and their partners to storm Israel. They needn't go for an all-out, decisive confrontation. All they have to do is carry out a stubborn and grinding campaign of attrition.
Lieutenant-General Dan Halutz, Israeli chief of staff.
In a late October poll of more than 2,600 respondents in Morocco, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, conducted by Zogby International, one quarter saw Israel's withdrawal from Gaza due to "Palestinian resilience," one quarter saw it due to the "armed attacks on Israel by Palestinian factions." 20 percent saw the purpose was so Israelis could "focus control on the West Bank," and a meager 5 percent saw the goal of disengagement being a resolution of the conflict. (Dec. 4, 2005)
Lieutenant-General Dan Halutz, the Israeli chief of staff, told a news conference. "The restraint which we showed over the course of years is interpreted by those among the terrorists as weakness." Comment: Finally, an Israeli official has recognized the obvious, thirteen years late. (July 22, 2006)