On its face, the proposed Gaza withdrawal reflects a clear-eyed recognition that peace with the Palestinians is not currently in the cards. As Hillel Halkin states in the June issue of Commentary: "Israel cannot swallow the Palestinians. It cannot drive them out. It cannot arrive at a peaceful settlement with them. All it can do is disengage itself from them."
According to this view, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon decided to take advantage of the favorably disposed Bush administration to separate on the best possible terms for Israel.
Yet from the beginning there were indications that the Gaza pullout plan was something of a tabula rasa upon which everyone could project his own fondest hopes. Last June, Sharon promoted the plan to the Jewish Agency Board of Governors in precisely those terms: "Above all, it gives the people of Israel hope for a better future."
The prime minister offered only the sketchiest outline of his strategic and tactical thinking (perhaps to keep from embarrassing his American partners). And security concerns raised by opponents of the withdrawal have been consistently ignored. The prime minister prefers portraying opposition to the plan as based on a Greater Israel theology - a tactic ably abetted by those who counsel soldiers to refuse to uproot settlements on halachic grounds.
Yet those security concerns are hardly trivial. Ashdod and Ashkelon, home to nearly 300,000 Israelis, Israel's major port and crucial oil refineries, might soon find themselves in the same position as Sderot today.
Withdrawal poses a difficult conundrum for Israel. Only by giving up control of Gaza's borders - air, sea, and overland from Egypt - will the international community recognize that Israel is no longer responsible for the fate of Gaza's residents.
But renouncing the security envelope raises the likelihood of the entry of sophisticated munitions, such as those seized on the Karine A ship. There is nothing to suggest that international or Egyptian forces patrolling Gaza's borders would prove effective in interdicting weapons smuggling. At the same time, their presence would vastly complicate any IDF reentry into Gaza should circumstances necessitate.
The absence of a ground presence in Gaza will dramatically lessen Israel's ability to disrupt terrorist networks. Crucial human intelligence gathering will be much less effective. The IDF will no longer be able to destroy munitions factories. The effectiveness of the security fence around Gaza will be reduced by the loss of the sanitized zone adjacent to the fence. Most importantly, argues Gen. Yaacov Amidror, Israel's deterrent capability will be severely compromised by the widespread Palestinian perception of Israeli flight.
OF LATE, the Gaza withdrawal has begun to transmute in the public mind into an end in itself, much as the Oslo process did. Under Oslo, the "peace process" required a continuous stream of new signed agreements to preserve the illusion of forward momentum. Uncomfortable facts - such as continued incitement in the Palestinian media and textbooks, or Arafat's statements in Arabic reiterating the strategy of slices - were ignored; each terror victim became a "sacrifice to peace," as if their deaths somehow advanced peace.
Something of the sort is happening today. The almost nonexistent press coverage of Shin Bet head Avi Dichter's testimony that the trickle of weapons into Gaza would become a river after withdrawal is one example.
The impact of new developments that undercut the original logic of withdrawal are ignored. For instance, the entry of the more supple Mahmoud Abbas in place of Arafat virtually ensures that withdrawal will become a very temporary first step, not a long-term interim solution, as originally envisioned by Sharon.
The entire Gaza withdrawal plan, as Hillel Halkin explains, was predicated on the assumption that a security fence, including within it the major settlement blocs and Jordan Valley settlements, would constitute a long-term de facto border. Yet today the Supreme Court, not the political and security echelons, is drawing the route of the fence, and it is doubtful it will be completed at all.
Even before last summer's Supreme Court decision on the route of the security fence around Jerusalem, construction was proceeding at a snail's pace. It has now ground to a virtual halt. Moreover, the court's insistence that the government respond to the International Court of Justice ruling that a security fence beyond the 1949 armistice lines violates international law suggests that the court will look askance at deviations from those lines.
The failure to proceed on the fence is crucial. As Haaretz reported last week, car thieves have already found ways to get around the completed sections of the fence, and the security forces are afraid that terrorists will soon follow. And this week's Haaretz quotes security officials as saying, "We may have missed our chance to build the fence, especially in Jerusalem," in light of possible American pressure to stop building.
The failure to build the security fence close to the original route would knock out one of the major predicates of the entire Gaza withdrawal plan. Refusal to acknowledge this dramatic change in circumstances is in some ways more troubling than specific security concerns, for it suggests that messianic furies are once again loose in Israel.