Barack Obama has been exerting pressure on Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu to freeze settlement construction, including natural growth, in towns in the West Bank. His rationale - so that the Palestinians can establish their own state, side by side with Israel, and live in peace with their neighbours.
Apart from raising the vexing question as to why, in a situation of peace, 1.5 million Palestinian Arabs can live in Israel but no Israelis can live in Palestine, Obama’s apparent strategy fails to take into account, even the most recent history.
In September 2005, Israel, under the leadership of Ariel Sharon, unilaterally disengaged, or withdrew, from Gaza. Sharon believed that the only way to peace was by territorial concession, and was prepared to make painful sacrifices and risk political oblivion to achieve peace.
Israel dismantled every settlement and withdrew from every centimetre of Gaza (as well as four settlements in the West Bank). Not one Jewish family could remain in the homes and communities they had built - every one of the 9,000 people living in those towns was relocated, sometimes forcibly, to other areas in Israel.
The Jewish residents of Gaza turned their communities into a high yield modern day agricultural miracle which employed 20,000 Gazans. This infrastructure and its technology was handed over intact to the area’s Palestinian population.
This gesture was made so that the Palestinians would have their own, independent territory. Here was the long awaited opportunity for economic, political and social independence and growth. High tech greenhouses were gifted to the Palestinian residents. Israeli citizens were relegated to temporary caravans, their communities dismantled. All for the cause of Israel’s continued search for peace.
The first response of the Palestinian population of Gaza to the withdrawal was the systematic destruction of the synagogues left behind followed by the uprooting of the greenhouses that were to have been the Palestinians’ springboard to economic success.
The second was to bring to power the terrorist government of Hamas which propagates and funds a Palestinian culture of hate and martyrdom, permeating through the Gaza education system from infancy.
The third was Hamas’ increased barrage of rockets and missiles from Gaza into southern Israeli towns such as Sderot, which since 2002 has suffered through the firing of more than 8,000 rockets targeted at its citizen population.
Was Israel naïve in this endeavour?
In hindsight, it’s easy to say yes. Indeed, many in Israel said so at the time, and the disengagement was the subject of vigorous dispute and dissent, not only in Israel, but around the Jewish world. But it was not the first time that territorial concessions had been implemented.
In 1979 Israel negotiated with Anwar Sadat, the Prime Minister of Egypt, a sovereign state. And Sadat held his word, as have his successors. As part of that agreement Israel withdrew from the Sinai peninsula.
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