Last week witnessed an unanticipated level and intensity of violence. It was reported that in ten days, 11 Israelis died at hands of Palestinian terrorists – 7 servicemen, 4 civilians. Nine of 11 were victims of escalating Gaza Strip terror offensive against both sides of border, including 2 Israeli infants struck by Qassam missile in Sderot [Debka website 2.10.04]. More recently, the IDF has returned in force to northern Gaza. If one is seeking the official explanation for Israel’s more recent military actions, it is to assure the orderly evacuation of Kush Katif and to prevent the national humiliation that resulted from Ehud Barak’s hasty and disorderly retreat from the security zone in southern Lebanon at the end of May 2000. The Arab world viewed this retreat from as an indication of weakness, and this debacle was one factor which at the end of September 2000 influenced Yasir Arafat to begin the Second Armed Uprising.

When we consider the potential for ugliness, one of the questions we should be asking is how effective will Disengagement be in bringing peace and security for Israeli citizens. Since there has not been an extensive public discussion of the subject, it may be worthwhile to examine some of the basic premises behind Prime Minister Sharon’s main idea. Let us go to the sources. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon published his thoughts on the subject in a number of interviews. For example, he stated in a remarkable conversation with William Safire (New York Times, 16 April 2004) that, “Back in November so many plans were around, from the Saudis, from Geneva, from the Arab League, and I saw we could not resist those pressures without a plan of our own…. What could I do – destroy the Palestinian Authority? No – Israel cannot take on its shoulders the lives of three and a half million Palestinians.” He then said literally, “I discussed this between me and myself and came up with a new initiative.” What is noteworthy about this first person statement is that Sharon, in identifying his strategic goal, chose an improvised half-measure. He rejected the option of breaking the PA, which is probably the only way for Israel to win the war being waged against it. Noteworthy is the manner in which he carried out this discussion (with himself).

Sharon’s basic idea is that Israel should break the stalemate and go forward without the Palestinians. His logic may be orderly, but the premise upon which he based it is faulty, so therefore the end result cannot be valid. There is absolutely no proof that the demise of the Palestinian Authority would make Palestinians dependent on Israel, any more that after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989 the citizens of Russia became the responsibility of the United States. Sharon, in fact, repeated the same claim in his new year’s interview the Jerusalem Post of 10 September 2004 where said, “I thought that it would be a mistake [to dismantle the Palestinian Authority], because that would mean Israel taking upon itself the responsibility for the welfare, jobs, education and health of more than three million Palestinians. I thought that would be a mistake; Israel cannot take this upon itself.” It should also be noted that following this rationalization, one the advocates of Disengagement promoted the plan as the best way of assuring democracy in Israel. As if it were possible to preserve democracy by carrying out a scheme which does not have democratic legitimacy. If the truth be told, the Palestinians want to have as little to do with us as we would with them, and the situation which Sharon would have us reject in fear is highly hypothetical.

There is one other unstated element in Sharon’s train of thought which has been tested and failed. The late Yitzhak Rabin also made this mistake by assuming that what happens within Palestinian society is really of no interest to Israel. Natan Sharansky described the pervasive belief at the time of the signing of the Oslo accords in 1992 that the undemocratic nature of Arafat’s regime would serve Israel’s interests, because it would be a crucial asset against terror. Sharansky reported that “Prime Minister Rabin coined the phrase that chillingly summed up the government’s entire approach: ‘Arafat would deal with the terrorists,’ he said, ‘without a Supreme Court, without Betselem and without all kinds of bleeding heart liberals.'” [JINSA Summer, 2001].

Honest historians must also remember that this part of the Rabin Legacy was not only shortsighted, it was also immoral, because Israel – like America – should be on the side of those Palestinians who wish to live in a society ruled by laws, enjoy basic human rights, and choose their leaders through fair elections. It was this public that Yithzak Rabin abandoned as did Prime Minister Sharon. Further, if one wishes to speak about real responsibility, and not that of a straw man argument, maybe Israel (along with the European Union and the United States) has some moral responsibility to set right an injustice which resulted when when recognized Yasir Arafat as “the sole representative of the Palestinian People.” From what we can gather from the news, it may be understood that Mohammad Dahlan, instead of Arafat will become Israel’s contractor in Gaza, and one of the few institutions to be provided for southern Gaza will be a casino. There is no doubt that Dahlan is no more committed to combating terror against Israel than is Arafat.

The fact is that the well being of our neighbors must be a matter of some concern to anyone interested in the security of Israel. If Sharon really wishes to avoid Palestinian dependency, he should want them to be able to run their own affairs, so that they will not need Israel’s help or that of interested parties who are looking to gain a foothold in Israel’s backyard. And besides, Israel, if it has any plans of being a great country, must have a much more compelling argument than wanting to be left alone so that it can do good business and live comfortably.

Without an idea that offers a political solution, it may be possible to win every battle and eliminate nearly every terrorist and still not win. There is a need for an alternative political solution, and this could well come as a result of encouraging the development of democracy on the other side. If the civilians on the other side replace the Palestinian Authority with the institutions of democratic self-government, this will advance the prospects of real stability. There is a need for a major political incentive which can fortify those on the Palestinian side who want democracy and the rule of law, and we should not block this option. For Israel to win, it is necessary to end the existence of the PA. This means eliminating the engineers, the makers of bombs, the drivers, the lookouts, the terrorists who set the detonators, as well as the people who provide the training, the arms, intelligence information, communications, money, the safe houses, forged documents and planning — in other words, dismantling the infrastructure which is the raison d’etre of the Palestinian Authority.

Israel is fighting a defensive war against an enemy, waging a revolutionary war on the ground and in the world media, whose sole objective is bring about its destruction. Our government should be seeking a long-term strategic solution to this problem instead of squandering its human and material resources in quest of improvised half-measures whose benefit, if at all, can only be ephemeral.

This piece ran in Makor Rishon, October 8th, 2004
Dr. Joel S. Fishman is an Associate of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs