View From a Height
Commentary from the Mile High City
Tuesday, February 03, 2004

Strategic Retreat 

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is taking quite a bit of heat for his plan to evacuate the Gaza Strip of settlers. Yoni (for Knesset), on Hugh's show yesterday, said that it would be little short of a military disaster, all but eliminating Israel's ability to patrol Gaza, and inviting rocket attacks on Israel proper.

Certainly, Gaza settlements are seen as the least politically controversial in their own right. Gaza has never been part of historical Israel. According to Michael Oren's superb Six Days of War, Israel only took Gaza reluctantly in the first place, more or less by default as part of the campaign against Egypt. The settlements there have only attracted relatively few members, whereas the villages in the West Bank have been able to draw on a feeling of repopulating our historic homeland.

Polls seem to support the plan. While Yediot Achronot is a fairly left-wing paper, the Dahaf poll shows a 59-37 percent support for Sharon's overall plan. It's unlikely that even a poorly-done poll would be off by more than 5-10 points. The picture that Yoni painted of a country in shock just doesn't ring true, and people have had plenty of time to absorb the implications. Only a quarter said that the plan was an attempt to divert attention from the corruption investigation going on, another scenario posited by Yoni.

What if Sharon pulls back the settlers in order to give the army more flexibility in intervening in Gaza? Without having to defend a vulnerable civilian population, the army won't have to tie troops down defensively in a vulnerable spot, but could maintain a presence there, free to move about at will. There's no reason for the military to redeploy out of Gaza altogether, and no reason why it can't continue to blow up tunnels at Rafah, or move again Palestinian rocket or grenade launchers. On its face, I'm not really sure this is such a bad deal.

What is very disturbing is the notion that Israel is considering trading Israeli Arab land inside the Green Line for Jewish population centers in the West Bank. The Israeli Arabs, complain as they may about Israel and its treatment of them and the Palestinians, have shown no desire to trade democracy for dictatorship. Even floating this kind of proposal further alienates Israeli Arabs and plays into the hands of the very poor leadership they've elected recently.

Again, one wonders if this is actually a political ploy designed to get the Israeli Arabs back on board. Certainly, for Ahmed Tibi, erstwhile advisor to Arafat, even as he served in the Israeli government under Labor, propose that dictatorship is good enough for the West Bank Arabs, but not for him, is at least slightly disingenuous. Still, as large areas of the Galilee are Arab, there's no telling where the line ever gets drawn, and one hopes this is a discussion that stops before it ever gets started.

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