Searching for a middle ground
by Jonathan Rosenblum
London Jewish Tribune
June 24, 2005
Hillel Halkin has a fascinating article in the March 2005 Commentary Magazine. His subject is the quasi-messianic aspects of the thought of Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah Kook, the intellectual father of the settlement movement, and the future of that strain of thought in light of the expected Israeli withdrawal from Gaza this summer. Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah Kook frequently spoke of the "holiness of the state [of Israel]," a holiness, which, in his view, was in no way conditioned on the Torah observance of its citizenry. What happens now, Halkin asks, when the settlers find themselves betrayed by the very secular state that they hallowed?
In response to Halkin's piece, a number of Commentary readers argued that there were plenty of valid security reasons for opposing the Gaza withdrawal having absolutely nothing to do with a Kookian vision of the redemptive process being brought about by the state of Israel. Far from being of negligible security value, they argued, only an Israeli presence in the Gaza Strip prevents the Strip from becoming a launching pad for Palestinian missiles aimed at Askelon and Ashdod port.
In truth, Halkin never denied that there are valid security arguments against withdrawal. His point, however, was that the settler movement is driven by a messianic agenda, and that the further one goes beyond the projected security fence the truer that is. The trauma of the Gaza withdrawal, in the eyes of theologically driven settlers, lies in the fact that it is perceived as a dress rehearsal for further withdrawals from the ancient heartland of the Jewish people in Judea and Samaria.
Halkin freely admits the force of the security concerns raised by several of his correspondents, but responds to their challenges with a question of his own: "Since the Arab population of the territories is in the neighborhood of 3 million and growing at a rate of roughly double that of Israeli Jews, which of the following proposals [do you] support: (a) forcibly expelling these people; (b) letting them remain where they are without civil rights as the inhabitants of an apartheid state; (c) granting them full Israeli citizenship in a democratic bi-national state in which they will eventually comprise a majority; (d) trusting in G-d. (Even though Halkin is not religiously observant, one need not view (d) as a cynical response. From the time of Rabi Yochanan ben Zakkai, Torah leaders have made security decisions for the Jewish people without factoring in Divine intervention.)
In Halkin's view, the lack of chance of any peace agreement with the Palestinians in the foreseeable future, the growing opprobrium directed at Israel in the world, partly as a consequence of the long "occupation"; and the presence of a favorably disposed administration in Washington all mitigate in favor of unilateral withdrawal at the present time.
Given that none of the first three alternatives offered by Halkin is remotely plausible as a long-range strategy, we are left to ask: Is there nothing between messianic faith and entering into an uncharted unknown fraught with great danger?
We had better hope so. A year ago, a case could have been made for unilateral withdrawal as proof of Israel's strength and a Palestinian defeat. In effect, Sharon was telling the Palestinians: You don't want peace. So we will just draw the borders we want without consulting you.
But the death of Arafat greatly reduced the unilateral aspects of the withdrawal. With the United States pushing for a renewed constructive dialogue with Mahmoud Abbas, Sharon cannot leave Gaza with guns blazing, which would have been his preferred method of egress, lest the Palestinians claim that terror drove Israel out.
And though Halkin is obviously convinced that there are far-reaching agreements with the Americans that justify the risks of withdrawal, there is enough counter-evidence to give pause. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice stated at a June 17 press briefing that Middle East peacemaking has been "bedeviled" by looking too far ahead, and that for now all focus must be on the Gaza withdrawal. Still she emphasized that "there has to be a day after the withdrawal from Gaza. . . . It cannot be Gaza only."
Thus she was already looking towards further Israeli territorial concessions before the Palestinians have taken the first baby steps towards uprooting terror groups (not just reemploying them in the Palestinian Authority security services), as required by the Road Map. Indeed senior Palestinian officials have stated explicitly that they have no intention of confronting the terrorists. Rice thus reinforced the traditional Palestinian view that there will never be a real price to pay for the failure to comply with previous agreements.
In addition, Rice's firm insistence that Israel not build 3,000 housing units around Ma'alei Adumim belies Halkin's assumption of a firm American commitment to Israeli security blocs. Ma'alei Adumim and the area connecting it to Jerusalem are well within the areas that Israel would insist on maintaining in any imaginable final peace settlement.
Even leading figures on the Left are now predicting that unilateral withdrawal will only lead to the outbreak of greatly increased violence, chiefly emanating from Judea and Samaria. Yossi Beilin, father of the Geneva Initiative, argues that in the absence of a political settlement, unilateral withdrawal will only lead to a great increase in violence from Judea and Samaria aimed at achieving a similar Israeli withdrawal from those areas. Shlomo Ben-Ami, the foreign minister at the time of Camp David, charges that unilateral withdrawal will only "perpetuate Israel's image as a country that runs away under pressure."
Former Deputy Chief of Staff, Uzi Dayan, argues that withdrawal from the northern Gaza Strip is a mistake from a security standpoint because it will bring Palestinian missiles closer to Ashkelon. And he adds that the unilateral Gaza withdrawal is also dangerous diplomatically because it creates a precedent for treating the 1967 borders as Israel's proper borders. Similarly, two former Mossad heads, Ephraim HaLevy and Shabtai Shavit, predict that the withdrawal will precipitate a diplomatic crisis with America, not to mention the Europeans, who will press for further concessions.
None of these critics can be accused of any attachment to Gaza on religious grounds, and many of them certainly agree to the force of Halkin's question to his critics.
Perhaps the most pessimistic assessment was that offered by outgoing Chief of Staff, Moshe Ya'alon. He predicts an imminent eruption of open warfare emanating from Palestinian areas in Judea and Samaria in the wake of the Gaza withdrawal. Hamas has appropriated the Gaza withdrawal as proof of the efficacy of terror, he told Ha'aretz's Avi Shavit.
The central goal, as Ya'alon sees it, is to sear into the Palestinian consciousness the idea that terrorism will gain them nothing. The ability to do so, in turn, depends on an Israeli ground presence that makes terrorists scared to sleep in their beds at night.
The stumbling block to any two-state solution, in Ya'alon's view, is that while Israel is willing to grant the Palestinians a state, the Palestinians are not willing to grant the Jews a state. So long as Palestinian thinking does not change, and they continue to dream of right of return, any territory given to them will only become the launching pad for the next outbreak of violence.
In effect, Ya'alon is saying the same thing that Natan Sharansky said when he resigned from the current government: Without a dramatic change in Palestinian thinking, all territorial concessions are nonsensical. They only reinforce in the Palestinian mind the idea that they will never be forced to pay a price for the repeated renewal of warfare and terrorism against Jewish targets.
Sharansky and Ya'alon are prepared for Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and much of Judea and Samaria, for many of the same reasons that Halkin enunciates. But not if such withdrawals do nothing more than provide a brief respite before the next war, which will be fought closer to Israel's major population centers.
Rather territorial withdrawal only makes sense in the context of the transformation of Palestinian society from what Ya'alon calls its current "gang-based" reality to one of a functioning democratic polity. That, in turn, depends on the Palestinians' recognizing that they will not achieve all their dreams, just as most Israeli Jews have recognized that we cannot achieve all ours and we will not awaken one day to find the Palestinians have simply disappeared.
Related Topics: Disengagement
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