In Gaza and Elsewhere: Stay Patient, and Stay the Course


 Now that Palestinian terror has gotten out of hand in Gaza, people like me who strongly favor unilateral Israeli withdrawal — from Gaza and the northern West Bank last year, and from the West Bank interior in the coming years — owe an accounting.

With the torrent of Kassams on Sederot in recent weeks, and now the killing of two Israel Defense Force soldiers and the kidnapping of a third, this is obviously not what we hoped or expected the Palestinians to be doing in Gaza 10 months after Israel got out of there.

So was Ariel Sharon's disengagement a mistake? Is Ehud Olmert's realignment plan a mistake? Is Israel's whole post-Oslo policy of unilateralism a mistake?

My answer — based on what's happened in the last six years instead of just the last few weeks — is no, no and no.

For all the condemnations now being heard over last summer's pullout from Gaza, I don't think too many Israelis wish our settlers and soldiers were still in there. Very few Israelis regret that our flag no longer flies in a strip of territory where 9,000 Jews lived alongside 1.4 million Palestinians.

And if they think back, Israelis will remember that the Kassams on Sederot and attacks on IDF soldiers didn't start only after Israel got out of Gaza. No, the terror in Gaza and from Gaza was much, much worse when Israeli settlers and soldiers were still inside the strip.

The two IDF soldiers killed at Kerem Shalom this week were the first two fatalities caused by Gazan Palestinians during the 10 months since disengagement.

By comparison, Gazan Palestinians killed 148 Israelis and 11 foreigners in the five years between the September 2000 start of the intifada and last September's completion of the withdrawal, according to Foreign Ministry statistics.

Stepping back from the bloodshed, anguish and fury of these days — and thinking back over recent years instead — there's just no other conclusion but that unilateral withdrawal from Gaza has made Israel a vastly more secure country than it was before, not to mention a far more Jewish and democratic country.

To those who complain that "we got nothing in return" for disengagement, I'd say that the far-reaching improvement in our security, along with the removal of 1.4 million Palestinians from our demographics and occupation, remain quite a bit more than nothing.

For those who argue that we should have negotiated the withdrawal with the Palestinians and thereby prevented the Kassams and other attacks, I'd say the leftists making that claim are grasping at straws, while the Likudniks making it are doing all they can to keep a straight face.

No realistic person believes that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas can control terror, or that Hamas would do so for anything less than Israel's effective surrender.

So where does Israel go now? Should we plow ahead with the realignment plan and get ready to hand everything on the far side of the West Bank security barrier to the Palestinians? No. Not for now, at any rate.

Something has changed. Gaza has gotten out of control. While Palestinian terrorists there have become much less of a problem for Israel than they were before disengagement, they've become a much bigger problem than Israel should tolerate now that we've gone from their midst.

Gaza has become too violent for Israel to go forward now with the realignment plan. I still support it, but it has to wait until Gaza is basically secured — until safety along the Gazan border is at least comparable to that along the border with Lebanon, where unilateral withdrawal has proven a great success.

I think this is going to happen, too, because I think the government and the Israel Defense Force are going to make it happen. In the last few years, the IDF has worked wonders, beating down the intifada and forcing Hamas to call a truce, which held for 16 months until the current bloodletting.

I'm afraid that I don't have much confidence anymore that the Palestinians will do the right thing or the smart thing, but I do have a lot of confidence that the IDF will ultimately force them into it. The new Israeli unilateralism — "Sharon's way," as it's called — is going through a terrible few weeks, but this is a setback, not a defeat.

Israel has far too much strength, justice and smarts not to win this fight against the Palestinians. I think it's only a matter of time.

Larry Derfner is a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.



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