LEAVING GAZA: IS THE WITHDRAWAL GOOD FOR ISRAEL?
By Dr. Meyrav Wurmser
Supporters of the withdrawal were dressed in blue, the national color.
However, the Israeli people are not fighting a war of colors. They are fighting a war of ideas, which shows no boundaries or restraints. The concern is that civil unrest reaching across Israel will spark a civil war.
For the mainstream opponents of withdrawal, the struggle is not simply to prevent evacuation of settlements. In addition, and most importantly, it is "a struggle for the soul of the Zionist enterprise." Their primary concern is not the Gaza settlements themselves, which supposedly were never part of Biblical Israel, though I recently learned that they actually are a part of what was Biblical Israel. Gaza is not considered as holy as places in the West Bank. It is complex to explain, so I suggest that you take out the words "which are not a part of what was Biblical Israel."
The primary concern of the disengagement opponents is the possibility of further withdrawals from the "Territories" (Gaza and the West Bank). Representing the "modern Orthodox" camp in Israel, the Israeli settlers in Gaza view themselves as the only followers of the word of God and the pioneers of the Jewish state. The settlements were created by this camp at the behest of both Labor and Likud governments, in the face of great odds, and their children comprise a significant proportion of the nation's combat leaders and pilots.
Their beliefs and sacrifices are now being challenged by non-religious Israelis, and also by a Rightwing prime minister. "Their ideological confusion, their feeling of hurt could not be deeper or more genuine." Their struggle is not just for land, but for their own identity and that of Israel as a Jewish and Zionist society.
At the opposite end of the Israeli political spectrum, are Israelis who believe that Israel's occupation of the Territories is profaning and demoralizing. According to Israelis on this end of the political spectrum, the Zionist enterprise requires withdrawing from places like Gaza and Hebron as a means of normalizing the Jewish existence and making Israel a Western society at peace with its neighbors. For one faction, this is welcome, since it offers the opportunity to end the influence of Judaism and Jewish nationalism in Israel entirely and to create a secular, post-national society.
Since the 1970s, and especially since the Oslo agreements, the Leftwing of Israeli society has adopted peace at any price as its ideology. But, since the assassination of Prime Minister Rabin, this has changed into a form of post-national identity. "Being Israeli" means a variety of cultural behaviors, without any formal beliefs. Belonging in the "peace camp" today means abandoning Jewish components to Israeli identity and doing so in defiance of observant Israelis.
The essence of the conflict between opponents and proponents of withdrawal is Israeli identity, the goals and essence of Zionism, and the relationship between Judaism and nationalism. The manifestations of wearing orange cloth, undertaking protests and roadblocks, and calling on soldiers to disobey orders are regarded by the settlers as a legitimate campaign of civil disobedience. But proponents of withdrawal see this as defiance of the state that must be suppressed by force. Leading proponents of withdrawal on the Left, including commentators and editors, have called for counter-demonstrations and for the full force of the law to address opponents who defy the government.
The settlers believe that mobilizing public opinion is the key to stopping disengagement, and recent polls have indicated steadily dropping support for this policy among most Israelis. Over 20,000 soldiers serving in the military have announced that they will not follow orders to evacuate settlers. The new Chief of Staff has, in turn, threatened to shut down the modern orthodox hesder yeshivas that permit students to combine religious studies with military service.
The settlers believe that their refusal to use violence against fellow Israelis and their ongoing protests will diminish Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's public legitimacy and convince soldiers to refuse to obey orders. In their view, an "orange wave" will roll back the "disengagement disaster." But their greatest crisis stems from a growing realization of the failure of religious Zionism to take root in Israeli society. Their efforts and contributions did not legitimize them in the eyes of broader Israeli society, or in those of the Rightwing Prime Minister. Prime Minister Sharon and Israeli society have rejected the settlers as messianic zealots.
In addition to defining Israel's borders, the disengagement from Gaza will define Israel's soul, namely, the nature and goals of Israeli society. Disengagement from Gaza could mean that the Jewish state is disengaging from Zionism, but would this be worth the internal divisions created in Israel? The Palestinian response could help define whether disengagement and its internal price is worthwhile.
Disengagement is a questionable policy, since it will provide, at best, only a few months of calm. The Arabs view the withdrawal as a retreat, a continuation of the withdrawal from Lebanon. Groups such as Hamas, Hezbollah, and Islamic Jihad will use the withdrawal to enhance their war-fighting capabilities. Hamas will also use it to build an army to complement its rocket and mortar capabilities, in order to protect itself against a crackdown by the Palestinian Authority and to protect its share of the spoils after the withdrawal.
Handing terrorists a safe haven in the region should not be done until a broader portion of Palestinian society rejects terrorism as immoral and not simply impractical. Withdrawal will increase the violence, such as was seen before the retaking of the territories in March, 2002. Withdrawal also undermines the Bush administration's revolutionary belief that what matters is how government and society interact internally. Peaceful Israeli-Palestinian relations are contingent on the transformation of "Palestinian" Arabs dwelling in the Territories from their current existence as a revolutionary, warlike, and totalitarian society into existence as a stable, peaceful, and free society.
Moreover, Israeli disengagement from Gaza threatens American interests by promising to transform Gaza into an Al-Qa'ida refuge as well as a Hamas and Hezbollah refuge. A new local group aligned with Al-Qa'ida has already carried out attacks on Israelis and promises to do so against Americans as well.
The twelve-year-old diplomatic process -- the socalled "Peace Process," the "Roadmap to Peace" -- is exerting severe pressure on the constitutional democratic fabric Israeli society, as can be seen by the actions of both sides. Recognition on the "Palestinian" side of the Jewish right to self-determination remains remote, and the State of Israel and the United States of America are "setting themselves up for a fall" by prioritizing the "Peace Process" over internal reform of the Palestinian Authority. Primary focus on the "Peace Process" will allow the old and corrupt nationalist approach of the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Palestinian Authority to continue, or for Hamas and Hezbollah to seize political control of the Territories and make the situation even more lethal than it already is.
The Israeli-Arab Conflict
The Middle East & the Arabs
Radical Islam & Islamic Terrorism
War & Peace in the Real World
Islamist Terrorist Attacks on the U.S.A.
Osama bin Laden & the Islamist Declaration of War
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Meyrav Wurmser is Director of the Center for Middle East Policy and Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute. She was formerly Executive Director of the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), and has taught Political Science at the Johns Hopkins University and the United States Naval Academy. Dr. Wurmser is a frequent guest on radio and television, including BBC, Fox News, CNN, PBS, and CNBC.
The foregoing briefing by Meyrac Wurmser can be found on the Internet website maintained by the Middle East Forum. Dr. Wurmser addressed the Middle East Forum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on June 28, 2005.
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