There is no doubt in my mind that disengagement from the Gaza strip was an absolute necessity for the future of Israel’s security. The program of dismantling Jewish settlements in occupied territory marks a historic step for both peoples involved – the chance for Palestinians to develop a state while Israelis focus on more important security issues than administering the lives of 1.3 million Palestinians and protecting about 8,000 settlers.
The necessity for the move comes at this point because for both Israelis and Palestinians an occupation is no longer feasible. Of course, for the Palestinians, occupation was never a feasible option. Military rule by the Israeli government combined with the ineffective and corrupt Palestinian Authority stewardship under Yassir Arafat proved a disastrous combination. For Israelis, however, at least when ignoring its ethical and moral implications, occupation was a successful security strategy for the majority of the time that it was in place.
This is the most troubling aspect of the recent disengagement for anyone concerned with a revival of the peace process. Disengagement cannot be confused with a first step in a new peace process. Before anything else, dismantling the Gaza settlements is a security program.
The father of the settlement movement and chairman of the conservative Likud party, current Prime Minister of Israel Ariel Sharon, did not present the disengagement plan a year and a half ago because he suddenly became a peacenik. Rather, Sharon is and always has been concerned with Israel’s security first – a concern that will inevitably outweigh the desires and needs of the Palestinian people. This security concern allowed a democratically elected government to embark on a program of popular support, wholly unconnected from a peace process, while engaging in and allowing dialogue from outspoken domestic and international critics.
The irony in the situation is that while Israel’s removal of settlers exemplified the strength and robustness that is Israeli democracy, it is also showcasing the shortcomings in Palestinian democracy. While there was no shortage of protests by Israeli extremists on either side of the disengagement debate, Israel was able to overcome the protests and move forward with peaceful and successful removal of the settlers. On the Palestinian side, however, extremist organizations Hamas and Islamic Jihad have forced Palestinian President Abu Mazen to pander to their ridiculous hopes of the destruction of the Jewish state. In recent speeches, Abu Mazen even classified the Israeli withdrawal as a “victory” for the Palestinians over Israel – similar to the rhetoric espoused by the extremists who view the Israeli withdrawal as a victory for terrorism. Abu Mazen even wants to bring these organizations into the political fold, an indication that he has not consolidated the power of the Palestinian Authority and will not be able to effectively govern a newly formed Palestinian state without implementing aspects of these terrorists’ desires.
The only hope for peace is that the international community stops looking at Israel’s failures over the past decades and focuses on the development needs of the Palestinian people. The Palestinian Authority will never build Gaza into a viable, democratic state when the people must rely on Hamas to provide social services.
There is nothing that I would like to see more than a Palestinian state – composed of most of the Gaza strip and West Bank – living in peace and cooperation with Israel. I believe that most Israelis and a large segment of Palestinian society share my dream. I wonder, however, how committed the leadership of either side is to making the difficult concessions necessary for peace in addition to the unilateral concessions already made strictly for security.