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The fallacy of the Gaza withdrawal

By Alon Ben-Meir - posted Tuesday, 18 November 2014


The Netanyahu government has forcefully and consistently promulgated the notion that Israel's withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, its subsequent takeover by Hamas, and the violence emanating from it strongly suggest that the Palestinians aim for Israel's destruction rather than regaining lost territory. Netanyahu argues that Israel must learn from this experience and thus should not withdraw from the West Bank, which is far closer than Gaza to Israel's urban centers. The takeover of the West Bank by Hamas, the argument goes, would make it another staging ground from which to launch rockets attacks, cut Israel in half, and inflict incalculable losses in lives and property.

Unfortunately many Israelis bought into the fallacy of this argument, and indeed, if Israel were to precipitately withdraw from the West Bank, as it did from Gaza, a similar result could theoretically reoccur.

The three violent wars between Hamas and Israel – Operation Cast Lead in 2008, Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012, and this year's Operation Protective Edge – are used by Netanyahu to falsely demonstrate the consequences of the Gaza withdrawal, rather than the consequences of maintaining the fragile conditions between Israel and the Palestinians.

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Using lofty phrases to describe these operations against Hamas is not the answer. Depicting Hamas' behavior and its doctrine of promoting Israel's destruction to justify Israel's treatment of the Palestinians in the West Bank only plays into the hands of extremist Palestinians.

Netanyahu is deliberately misleading the public to justify his obdurate refusal to embark on a significant withdrawal from the West Bank by rewriting the history of the withdrawal from Gaza and linking it directly to national security concerns.

Israeli intelligence at that time knew that Hamas was politically popular and had military capabilities that could overwhelm the PA's internal security forces under Abbas in any confrontation.

But the desire of then-Prime Minister Sharon to rid Israel of a densely-populated Palestinian area, and his belief, as stated in the Kadima Party Platform, that "…in order to maintain a Jewish majority, part of the Land of Israel must be given up to maintain a Jewish and democratic state," provided the impetus to evacuate Gaza first.

To demonstrate his intentions that the withdrawal would not be limited to Gaza, in August 2005 Sharon ordered the evacuation of Sa-Nur and Homesh in northern West Bank, thus setting the nation on a course that could have ended the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

However, Sharon ignored the need to fully coordinate the evacuation of Gaza with the PA and failed to produce a well thought-out plan to implement the withdrawal in stages, which had significant national security implications.

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Ideally, following the withdrawal, the Palestinians should have immediately embarked on building the infrastructure of a state and developing a substantial economic program to provide jobs and opportunities to tens of thousands of young Palestinians while demonstrating their commitment to live side-by-side Israel in peace.

The fact that this did not happen in Gaza should not affect the situation in the West Bank, especially since the PA, following the end of the second Intifada in 2005, officially renounced the use of force to achieve its political objective-an independent Palestinian state.

The PA has begun in earnest to build the foundations of a state with schools, clinics, a network of roads, and private and government institutions. They were even praised by Israel's top security officials for their full cooperation with Israel on all security matters, even in times of increased tension between the two sides.

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About the Author

Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is a professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU. He teaches courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies.

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