The repercussions of the uprooting of 8,000 Jews from Gaza are likely to be felt on Israeli society for years to come. And that trauma is but the tip of the iceberg of what is yet to come.
Returning from talks in the United States last week, Dov Weisglass, Prime Minister Sharon's closest advisor, trumpeted the fact that the American government recognizes that 180,000 of the 240,000 Israelis currently living in the territories (including various neighborhoods and suburbs of Jerusalem) will remain in place for the foreseeable future. Thus even now Weisglass acknowledges that another 60,000 Jews in Judea and Samaria will ultimately be uprooted from their homes. Nothing about the Gaza uprooting suggests that the larger ones yet to come will proceed more smoothly.
The aftershocks of the Gaza withdrawal will be so numerous and of such a magnitude that it is impossible to predict them all in advance. But it would be a mistake to think that the consequences will be limited to the national religious community itself.
At the end of his term in office, outgoing Chief of Staff Moshe "Boogie" Ya'alon was interviewed by Ha'aretz's Ari Shavit. His vision of the future could hardly have been bleaker. He predicted that soon after the Gaza withdrawal the Palestinians will intensify all manner of terrorist attacks from the West Bank. But Ya'alon's most startling reply came in response to Shavit's question whether he feared for Israel's very existence. "A combination of terrorism and demography, with question marks about the rightness of our way, are a recipe for a situation in which there will not be a Jewish state in Israel," Ya'alon responded.
The Palestinians, Ya'alon argued, would present a uniform narrative of the withdrawal: Palestinian terror caused the Jews to flee. On the Israeli side, however, there would be no such unified narrative. Certainly, Prime Minister Sharon's claim that the "unilateral" withdrawal represents a defeat for the Palestinians because they have been denied any say in where Israel draws its borders is only one of many competing Israeli narratives, and by no means the most common.
Many on the Left, like Yossi Sarid and Shulamit Aloni, are regaining their voices, after temporary respite caused by the cataclysmic failure of the entire Oslo process at the cost thousands of Jewish lives. And they are doing so by demonizing the entire settlement enterprise in the most apocalyptic language.
Sarid, for instance, declares all settlement to have been "a crime against Zionism . . . , [and] the evacuation of Gush Katif [to be] the beginning of our redemption." Aloni charges the settlers with having been "born in sin" and of robbing "the impoverished inhabitants of the land and employ[ing] them on their farms on subsistence wages." Most of those leaving Gush Katif will be moved into temporary homes less than half the size of their present ones, and many will lose their entire source of livelihood. Yet Aloni goes on to complain that they will end up on "Israel's rich list."
Sarid and Aloni are old darlings of the media elites. And their vision of the Gaza withdrawal – repentance for the original sin of settlement – could become one of the main Israeli narratives. In that narrative, of course, it is the Jews who are responsible for the failure to make peace with the Palestinians since 1967. Who remembers the three no's of Khartoum adopted by the entire Arab world in response to Israeli offers to withdraw from captured territory in the wake of the Six Day War?
In this narrative, the 1949 Armistice borders – the so-called Auschwitz borders – are acknowledged as the proper borders of Israel. Everything beyond is theft. Unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, with Israel receiving nothing in return, will foster that narrative by appearing to acknowledge that Israel has no right to any lands captured in 1967. Should this become the dominant, or even a major, Israeli narrative, then Ya'alon's concerns about the future of the state are well taken.
ISRAELI DEMOCRACY TOO HAS BEEN TESTED by the battle over withdrawal and can hardly be said to have passed with flying colors. Opponents of withdrawal are accused today of undermining Israeli democracy by their refusal to accept the decisions of the sovereign Israeli government.
But supporters of withdrawal can hardly claim to have shown themselves champions of democracy. As in the case of Oslo, the "peace camp" has demonstrated that it views winning as more important than the niceties of democratic procedure. Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin secured Knesset support for the first Oslo Accords by bribing two unknown Knesset members, elected as members of a far-right wing party (one of whom now languishes in prison after having been convicted of drug-running and credit card fraud), with offers of becoming deputy ministers.
If the supporters of Oslo suffered any pangs of conscience over the manner that the majority of "50% plus one" was secured, they managed to stifle them. And they are similarly stifling any pangs of conscience today over the quality of democratic procedures. Few and far between have been the voices of withdrawal supporters troubled by the way that Prime Minister Sharon first declared himself bound by the results of the Likud Party referendum on withdrawal and then shifted course after being defeated, or the manner in which he fired dissenting ministers to secure the necessary majority in the cabinet.
Democracy, as our Supreme Court frequently reminds us, is more than just the sum total of Knesset votes. It includes, as well, the access of citizens to information and the quality of public debate. In announcing the Gaza withdrawal, Prime Minister Sharon made only the most perfunctory attempt to explain what had changed since he campaigned against the identical proposal of his Labor opponent Amram Mitzna. While undoubtedly true that "the view from here [the prime minister's chair] is not the same as the view from there [opposition leader]," Sharon was already the prime minister at the time. Moreover, assurances that the prime minister sees things we do not see hardly constitutes the basis for public debate on the most momentous political decision facing Israel in more than a decade.
By rejecting a national referendum, Sharon prevented any serious national debate on a host of security and diplomatic issues surrounding the Gaza withdrawal. In his efforts to cut short political debate – and instead create turn the national debate into a confrontation on the roads – Sharon was well served by the press. Leading commentator Amnon Abramowitz called on the media to protect Sharon "like an esrog" from charges of personal corruption, in the period leading up to the withdrawal. And a large swath of the media complied. Even worse, the media provided scant attention to even the most pessimistic assessments of the security implications of the withdrawal offered by leading figures in the IDF and the intelligence community.
Already prior to the actual Gaza withdrawal, the fabric of Israeli society has been stretched to the breaking point. And we have not even discussed yet the implications for relations between religious and non-religious Jews and among various groups of religious Jews. That is next week's topic.