I called the Ariel-Sharon orchestrated retreat from Gaza at the time it happened "one of the worst errors ever made by a democracy" but have generally refrained from refrains of "I told you so" in the 2½ years since. Yossi Klein Halevi's analysis in the Los Angeles Times today is too compelling to ignore, however, so some extracts and comments on it.
Yossi Klein Halevi reconsiders the Gaza withdrawal.
His basic argument, as reflected by the title, "The end of the ‘guilty Israeli': Empathy has become a victim of the Palestinian attacks from Gaza
," is that the intifada
of 1987-92 created "a substantial bloc of guilt-ridden Israelis ready to take almost any risk for peace." He calls these guilty Israelis "the most potent source of Palestinian empowerment" because they "tried to understand for the first time how Palestinians experienced the conflict, in effect borrowing Palestinian eyes and incorporating elements of the Palestinian narrative into [Israel's] own understanding of history." Even as Yasir Arafat proved himself to be "a fraud," Israelis persisted in their hope that concessions would win tranquility. And even after four years of violence, 2000-04, "Israelis still felt so desperate to end the occupation that they withdrew their army and uprooted their settlements from Gaza."
Halevi, a senior fellow at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem, sees that withdrawal as the final, failed gamble:
Had Gazans begun at this point to create a peaceful state from their new, self-governing territory, the Israeli public almost certainly would have endorsed substantive negotiations over a West Bank withdrawal. Instead, they elected a government led by Hamas, whose theology calls for the destruction of Israel and war against Jews around the world, and whose terror attacks are small pre-enactments of its genocidal ambitions. Palestinian rocket attacks that had previously been aimed at settlements were simply redirected toward towns and villages within Israel. … Gaza was a test case for Israeli withdrawal, and the experiment was a disaster. How, Israelis wonder, can we evacuate the West Bank and risk rocket attacks on Tel Aviv and Jerusalem?
The "guilty Israeli" has been rendered extinct, replaced by an Israeli with an improved understanding of the Palestinian problem.
Just as we came to realize during the first intifada that the occupation was untenable, so we have now come to realize that peace is impossible with Palestinian leaders for whom reconciliation is a one-way process. … So long as Gaza refuses to heal itself, Israelis will rightly suspect that the Palestinian goal remains Israel's destruction. Not even a full withdrawal from the West Bank, they fear, will end the war, any more than the pullout from Gaza stopped the rockets. Israel's crime isn't occupying but existing.
Operationally, this means that Israelis are prepared to go back into Gaza and do whatever needs to be done.
Within the coming weeks, the Israeli army may re-invade the Gaza Strip in an attempt to stop the rocket attacks on Israeli towns and, perhaps, topple its Islamist Hamas government. … Even we Israelis who once wanted nothing more than to leave Gaza forever now realize that we may have no choice but to return, at least until relative quiet is restored to our border.
Comment: Halevi's implication is that the Gaza retreat has served as a grand object lesson for guilt-ridden Israelis, that it has woken them from a stupor at a real but not devastating cost. It's a silver-lining way to see what remains "one of the worst errors ever made by a democracy." (March 2, 2008)
Related Topics: Arab-Israel conflict & diplomacy, Palestinians
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